The ultimate experience for train enthusiasts, the Tetsudo Hobby Train (鉄道ホビートレイン) is a celebration of Japan’s rail history on wheels.
It’s no secret that the shinkansen bullet train is a defining feature of Japan’s celebrated rail network. So should it really be a surprise that there is a tourist train in Japan that honours the impressive legacy of the shinkansen? Enter the Tetsudo Hobby Train in the Kochi Prefecture of Shikoku, which has been designed to look like a miniature version of the famed bullet train.
Read on to learn more about this curious hobby train and how anyone with a JR Pass can experience it for themselves.
Background to the Tetsudo Hobby Train
The first clue that the Tetsudo Hobby Train is an experience for train enthusiasts is right in its name. Tetsudo literally translates as “railroad”, providing a clear signal that this is a hobby train obsessed with all things trains.
The Tetsudo Hobby Train is modeled after the first generation of shinkansen bullet train cars, the iconic 0-series shinkansen. It not only features the distinctive “dumpling nose”, but even is equipped with the actual seats used in the original shinkansen cars. Since the 0-series shinkansen cars are no longer operating, with many able to be seen at the Kyoto Railway Museum, this is probably the next best thing to experiencing the real thing.
Because the Tetsudo Hobby Train isn’t actually a shinkansen, don’t expect it to reach their mighty speeds. In fact, the train has been dubbed "Japan's slowest shinkansen". The Tetsudo Hobby Train operates on the Yodo Line in Shikoku and makes a daily journey of 76.3km through the rural mountainside of the Kochi Prefecture between JR Uwajima Station and JR Kubokawa Station.
Onboard the Tetsudo Hobby Train
Like many sightseeing trains, a trip with the Tetsudo Hobby Train is all about the journey. As the Yodo Line follows sections of the Shimanto River, passengers can expect some gorgeous river views, as well as plenty of mountain and rural scenery.
However, there’s plenty to be seen onboard as well. Inside the carriages of the Tetsudo train, the blue interior almost feels like a museum. Display cases exhibit scale model trains of historic shinkansen versions and other region-specific trains. Some stations along the route have their own dioramas of trains or even miniature railways on display. There’s no question, the train fully embraces its focus through and through.
Other Popular Hobby Trains on Shikoku
Interestingly, the Tetsudo Hobby Train isn’t the only joyful train that operates along Shikoku’s Yodo Line. In fact, it’s one of three that together are known as the “Three Yodo Line Brothers”. The two other “brothers” are the Shiman Torocco Trolley and Kaiyodo Hobby Train, each with their own theme.
The Shiman Torocco Trolley is a dulled yellow two-car train that has one open-air carriage, allowing passengers to feel the wind in their hair as they travel the countryside. As for the Kaiyodo Hobby Train, it is themed around the Japanese folklore creature, the “kappa”. Inside the Kaiyodo train there are displays about the kappa, as well as large statues that you can get photos with.
But there are plenty more interesting train journeys around Shikoku, even just in the Kochi area. There’s the steamboat-themed Shikoku Tosa Toki no Yoake no Monogatari, which runs from Kochi to Kubokawa, and the playful Anpanman Train that’s vividly designed around the popular children's program "Go! Anpanman".
Information for Taking the Tetsudo Hobby Train
- Hobby trains like the Tetsudo have very limited timetables. The Tetsudo Hobby train timetable has just three departures each day, with just one scheduled departure each direction running the full route from end to end.
- The journey from one end to the other takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on the direction.
- There are no toilets on board the hobby train, so make sure to use the facilities at the train station before boarding.
- Disruptions to the Yodo Line may result in occasional bus replacement services, which while disappointing, can’t be helped or avoided.
Getting to the Tetsudo Hobby Train with the JR Pass
Travellers can use their JR Pass to get to either end of the Yodo Line and start their journey aboard the Tetsudo Hobby Train. First, either take the train to Uwajima Station on the Yosan Line or to Kubokawa Station on the Dosan Line, then hop aboard the hobby train from there. As JR Shikoku operates these train lines, both the JR Pass and the All Shikoku Pass cover this journey.
For further reading, see JR Shikoku Tetsudo Hobby train (in Japanese only).