Welcome back to another installment of Anime on Rails! Riiko’s continued involvement in this episode means that we get more bug facts, but the focus this week is the pint-sized Railord, Iyo!
Iyo is the smallest character in Rail Romanesque. Wearing a green skirt and jacket with red accents and brass buttons, she follows her Railord colleagues’ trend of matching her outfit with the livery of her locomotive. However, her outfit isn’t the only thing that matches her locomotive. Her diminutive stature fits perfectly with her almost toy-like locomotive, Iyokan Railways Locomotive No. 1, also known as the Botchan Ressha!
Before we talk about how adorable this mini engine is, let’s first cover its technical aspects and history. Based in Ehime on the island of Shikoku, the Iyokan Railway is the third oldest rail company in Japan and home to the adorable Locomotive No. 1: a 0-4-0 steam locomotive manufactured by Krauss & Co that was imported to Japan in 1888. The engine operated on 2’6” (762mm) narrow gauge tracks and was powered by coal. Between 1891 and 1954, it carried passengers on a 4.5-mile long journey between the center of Matsuyama City and the port of Mitsuhama. Locomotive No. 1 was made famous due to its inclusion in Natsume Soseki’s 1906 novel Botchan. The novel is one of the most popular works of literature in Japan, and awareness of the adorable little locomotive grew with the popularity of the book, earning the locomotive the nickname “Botchan Ressha” or Botchan Train.
I love the Botchan Ressha. My heart soars at the idea of riding this mini train, and just looking at it makes me giggle uncontrollably. And this is more than just a personal opinion. The human brain is programmed to find the features of small things like babies pleasant. Pictures of babies and other critters make people smile and can trigger activity in the part of the brain associated with anticipation of a reward. I write this brief lesson on the human brain to prove that the fascination and joy I derive from the mere existence of the Botchan Ressha isn’t just personal — it’s psychological.
These days, the original Locomotive No. 1 has been preserved at Baishinji Garden. The Iyokan Railway also operates a free Botchan Ressha Museum with a 1:1 replica of the train, where you can learn more about the novel and locomotive. Lastly, for those that truly want to experience the same thing as Soseki’s protagonist, the railway also offers rides on a diesel locomotive replica! The replica train service started in 2001 and takes passengers between Komachi Station and Dogo Onsen.