Hakubi-sen 伯備線 / San’in Honsen (Kurashiki – Izumo)

An Intercity Express "Yakumo" headed by class 381, no. KURO 381-139, climbs out of Bitchû Takahashi on its way to Izumo. (2015)

Today the Hakubi-sen is the fastest and most important connection between the San'yô (the Inland Sea coast) and the San'in (the Japan Sea coast) in Western Japan. Hakubi-sen trains start in the city of Okayama and travel down the San'yô Honsen for 15, 9 km as far as Kurashiki. Here they branch off onto the Hakubi-sen proper. After 138, 4 km they reach the Japan Sea coast at Hôki Daisen and join the San'in Honsen for the onward journey westward, first to Yonago (4,8 from Hôki Daisen), then to Matsue (33, 7 km from Hôki Daisen), and finally to Izumo (66, 4 km from Hôkai Daisen) and the railway yard 4, 8 km further on. On their way, Hakubi-sen trains have to tackle some very steep inclines with tight curvature. Coming from Kurashiki they first climb along the Takahashi River past the ancient castle town of Bitchû Takahashi up to Niimi. From here they work through the gorge around Nunohara to Bitchû Kôjiro. Then starts the descent along the Hinogawa River. At Kami Iwami the border between Okayama Prefecture and Shimane Prefecture is crossed. Passing the fierce-looking Hôki Daisen extinct volcano (1729 m high), Hakubi-sen trains arrive at the junction of Hôki Daisen, which also has a container terminal served by freight trains from Okayama several times a day. Direct passenger trains go on to Yonago, Matsue and Izumo.

The Hakubi-sen was built bit by bit between 1919 and 1928. Originally, the line was only of minor importance, but after completion of the Shinkansen from Ôsaka to Okayama (with through trains from Tôkyô) in 1972 it completely altered its character to become part of the fastest connection from these big cities to the population centres of the San'in. Many sections were entirely rebuilt (starting in 1968), partly with double-track, and electrification (DC 1500 V) was completed in 1982. To this day, the intercity expresses using the line are class 381 tilting electric multiple units well suited for the line. The Nunohara gorge area with its viaduct saw the last of the famous triple-headed steam freight trains in 1972 (using class D51 locomotives). In October / November 2000 the line was seriously affected by violent earthquakes.

Local services today see approximately 3 trains an hour from Okayama to Bitchû Takahashi, of which one continues up the line to Niimi. Some of these trains work to and from the Akô-sen. On the northern side of the line, there are 3 local trains each (some working through to and from Izumo) in the morning and evening, with 2 during the day and 3 additional trains to Shôyama, 43 km up the line from Hôki Daisen.

Express intercity trains "Yakumo" with only few stops provide an hourly service between Okayama and Izumo. In addition there is a through sleeping car express "Sunrise Izumo"; this train leaves Tôkyô at 22:00, arriving at Izumo next morning at 09:58. The return journey starts at Izumo at 18:51, with arrival in Tôkyô next morning at 07:08.

The name of the line derives from the names of the old provinces of Hôki 伯耆 (today part of Tottori prefecture around the towns of Yonago and Kurayoshi) and Bitchû 備中 (today the western part of Okayama prefecture around Kurashiki and the old castle town of Takahashi); the two characters 伯 and 備 together are read "Hakubi".

# On July 5/6, 2018, the line was badly damaged by torrential rain, flooding and landslides. Train services have had to be suspended between Gôkei and Kami Iwami (71, 4 km). Reopening is foreseen for the beginning of August. #

At Kiyone, 7, 3 km from Kurashiki, a "Yakumo" express (with driving control trailer KUHA 381-113) passes railcar 355-02 of the Ibara Railway, which has come in from the west. (2017)

From the train at Minagi on the way along the river up to Bitchû Takahashi. (2015)

From an Okayama to Niimi local train entering the town of Niimi. (2015)

A container train headed by EF64 1036 at Niimi. (2017)

Passing through Nunohara. Near the line is a very old farmouse still with a thatched roof. (1978)

Deep in the mountains between Nunohara and Bitchû Kôjiro. (2018)

Snowfall in days before electrification - a diesel train crosses at Ashidachi on the descent towards Hôki Daisen. (1978)

Niizato halt on the way down from Niimi towards Kami Iwami. A "Yakumo" express headed for Izumo (with end car class 381 no.KUMOHA 381-7) passes by while the waiting local train (class 115) is reflected in the mirror. (2015)

At Kami Iwami an intercity train "Yakumo" overtakes the local service. At the rear is class 381 panoramic driving control trailer KURO 381-7. (2015)

A local train from Izumo up to Niimi pauses at Kami Iwami. It is formed of KUMOHA 115-1518 + KUMOHA 114-1196 (originally without a driver's cab). (2015)

In the early morning the Sunrise Izumo sleeping car express (led by class 285 no.KUHANE 285-6) from Tôkyô runs through Kurosaka on its way down to Hôki Daisen and Izumo. (2015)

View of the Hôki Daisen from the train between Ebi and Hôki Daisen junction. (2018)

View from the train of Mount Daisen, not far from Hôki Daisen station on the San'in Honsen. (2002)

Between Yonago and Matsue the line follows the Nakaumi sea. From the train near Higashi Matsue at the western end of the Nakaumi. (2018)

From the train in Matsue, with a view towards Lake Shinji (Shinji-ko). (2015)

View over the Lake Shinjiko towards the city of Matsue. From the train west of Matsue. (2018)

At Shôbara, east of Izumo-shi. Diesel car KIHA 47 3014 waits for a "Yakumo" express from Okayama (headed by KUHA 381-132) to pass. (2018)