A historic ferry route that connected Shikoku and the Honshu main island for more than a century ended on Dec. 15, as many people waited in line at both ports to buy a ticket for the final voyage.

“I wanted to show my grandchild the view from the ferry that I used to ride to work,” said Toshiyuki Tokuno, 69, of Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, who came with his 9-year-old grandchild. “I feel really sad."

The last ferry departed at 7:50 p.m. from Takamatsu Port, as many people waved goodbye from the dock.

The Uko route that served as part of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic torch relay route will be sorely missed by locals who have fond memories from their youths and of the piping hot “udon” noodles served on board.

The route opened in 1910 as a central government project to connect Takamatsu Port in Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku with Uno Port in Tamano, Okayama Prefecture, on the Honshu side.

The route immediately became a regular major line with 24-hour ferry services operated by the Japanese National Railways (JNR), today’s Shikoku Railway Co. (JR Shikoku), and private companies.

In 1988, the Seto-Ohashi bridge was built across small islands in the Seto Island Sea, connecting Okayama and Kagawa prefectures.

JR Shikoku abandoned regular ferry service on the Uko route. Other ferries have seen a decrease in passengers over the years.

Since 2017, only the Shikoku Express Ferry has operated five round trips per day.


On Sept. 21, 1964, the Uko ferry carried the Tokyo Olympic torch and relay members from Takamatsu Port to Uno Port, on a bleak day under heavy leaden gray skies with clouds.

At Takamatsu Port, a ship named the Konpira-maru, decorated with flags, was at anchor, awaiting torch runners to arrive and board.

Nobue Saito, 72, was one of the runners who crossed the sea that day on the ferry operated by Utaka Kokudo Ferry Co.

Saito, a senior at Tamano High School in Tamano, was designated to be a runner by her tennis club coach.

“Why me?” Saito recalled feeling about being selected.

Her classmate, the late Shinya Sato, who belonged to a basketball club, ran as the first torch bearer in Okayama Prefecture. He received the torch at Takamatsu Port.

Saito was one of the 20 runners who accompanied Sato and ran behind him.

In a white half-sleeve T-shirt and shorts, Saito and others boarded the ferry and crossed the 18-kilometer route, which took about an hour.

She said she enjoyed talking with other runners and eating “bento” boxed lunches together.

When the ferry passed near Naoshima island in Kagawa Prefecture, many boys and others welcomed the torch relay members using semaphore flag signs from the island.

“I didn’t understand what that flag signaling meant, but it excited me,” Saito recalled. “It was a memorable page from my youth.”

When the ferry arrived at Uno Port, the relay members ran a few hundred meters to the JNR Uno Station, today’s JR Uno Station, where the second group of runners were waiting.

Hideaki Sato, 73, who was a senior at Tamano Commercial High School, today’s Tamano Commercial and Technical High School in Tamano, took over the torch.

Sato, a resident of Okayama, was captain of the high school track and field club.

The station building was overflowing with people and some were even on the roof, Sato recalled.

“I saw the Konpira-maru entering Uno Port, and I became nervous if I could run the way I was told,” he recalled.


After the 1988 opening, the Seto-Ohashi bridge toll was reduced time and time again, which contributed to the decline of ferry passengers.

But many people, including Saito, hoped to see a revival of the glory days of the ferry route when the torch relay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics passes through the area next year.

However, Shikoku Express Ferry decided to abandon the last-remaining regular ferry connecting Takamatsu and Uno ports from Dec. 16.

“I used to ride the ferry to go shopping in Takamatsu," Saito said in disappointment. "The last time I used it was about 10 years ago. The suspension (of the ferry service) makes me sad.”

Sato also said he hadn’t used the ferry service in about three years.

“Considering the passenger volume, it was probably inevitable,” he said. “But I wish the ferry would carry the torch at the next Olympics. The halt of (ferry service) arrived too soon.”

The torch relay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is expected to pass through Okayama Prefecture from May 20. The torch will travel overland from Hiroshima Prefecture.

(This article was written by Itsuki Soeda and Miyuki Kanno.)