Region
Shikoku
Island
Shikoku
Largest City
Matsuyama
Population
1,493,126

Botchan Train

Book lovers and trainspotters alike climb aboard the little engine that can't turn around.

Botchan, the little train that can’t turn around, is a tiny locomotive found in the small island of Shikoku that locals and tourists alike adore. It runs through the center of Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime Prefecture famous for Dogo Onsen, and exits as a reference to the city’s much-celebrated literary past.

Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama, Ehime prefecture

The historic Dogo Onsen in Ehime is one of the historic areas you can travel to on Botchan!

Botchan is, in fact, an operational replica of the old steam engines that used to serve the city. The little green train is named after the title character in the Japanese classic novel Botchan by Soseki Natsume, widely considered to be the Meiji period’s greatest novelist. Inspired by the writer’s own time in Matsuyama, the 1906 book has references all over the city.

While not an original steam engine from the time, Botchan is a diesel-powered replica with its own charms. Botchan’s speed may seem laughable to passengers whizzing by on the newer trams now connecting the city but the little train that can’t turn is an endearing city attraction for adults and children alike.

Botchan’s route and main event

The train, with a stylish dark wood interior, goes from Matsuyama City station around Matsuyama Castle moat, past the central shopping avenue Okaido to Dogo Onsen station. And then it stops. Everyone gets off. The driver and train crew enthusiastically announce for passengers to follow them to the end of the line for the “grand” finale of the ride: the Botchan train-turning maneuver.

Hey, it’s the little things in life, right? Botchan is not on a circular route, so when it reaches either end of the route, the train crew must uncouple the passenger carriage, hoist Botchan up and spin it around by hand. The crew, in their historic uniforms, do this all smiles, even in the rain. And then the little sightseeing train is off again, back the way it came.

Photo by: aiil_lee Rain or shine, it’s turned around by hand!

The single passenger carriage, described by Soseki in his novel as a “matchbox” has the capacity for just 36 passengers. The original trains were operating from 1888 and served the city for nearly 70 years. The sightseeing trains resumed service in 2001. There is also a Botchan Train Museum for those who want more of the train’s history next to Matsuyama City station.

Other references to the writer Natsume Soseki can be found all over the city, including at the Dogo Onsen, where the room he is believed to have stayed in has been dedicated to him.

For more on trains and other transport in Japan, check out our Japan 101 guide.

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Things To Know

Hours and fees

The sightseeing trains run all year round from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The ride only takes 20 minutes and costs ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children. There is no English translation of the train crew’s tour information.

How To Get There

Address

5 Chome-4-7 Minatomachi, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime-ken 790-0012, Japan

By train

From Tokyo it takes 6 hours to reach Matsuyama by bullet train. Take the Nozomi No 1 from Tokyo and transfer to the Shiokaze No. 5 at Okayama.

By plane

You can easily fly into Matsuyama Airport, serviced by several airlines and low-cost carriers. Flight time is around 1 ½ hours.

By boat

Matsuyama can be reached by boat (as well as a train) from Hiroshima in about an hour.

Where To Stay

Capsule Hotel New Grand
  • Minatomachi 5-4-12 New Grand Building 9F Matsuyama-Shi, Ehime 790-0012
  • 7.8/10
  • 0.0 km
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3LDK Denchi
  • Minatomachi 4-11-6 Starshi Ekimae Building 3F Matsuyama-Shi, Ehime 790-0012
  • 9.2/10
  • 0.2 km
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Tokyo Dai-ichi Hotel Matsuyama
  • Minamihoribata-cho 6-16 Matsuyama-Shi, Ehime 790-0006
  • 8.2/10
  • 0.3 km
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HOTEL MYSTAYS Matsuyama
  • Ootemachi 1-10-10 Matsuyama-Shi, Ehime 790-0067
  • 8.4/10
  • 0.5 km
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