literally means "Mountain Sunshine Line," but the name refers to the Sanyo
region of Japan
—the southern side of the western panhandle
. The line travels through Hyogo
, and Fukuoka
prefectures, from the western frontier of the Kansai metropolitan area
to the northern tip of Kyushu
The line was built in stages between 1888 and 1901 by the private Sanyo Railway firm, and was brought into the Japan National Railways system in 1906. Until World War II, it was extensively used to bring passengers and freight from Osaka and Kobe to the shipping terminal at Shimonoseki. In 1942, when the Kanmon Tunnel across the Shimonoseki Strait was completed, the Sanyo Line became the only land link between Honshu and Kyushu.
Since the 1970's, the Sanyo Line has been paralleled by a Shinkansen line, intuitively called the Sanyo Shinkansen. Nowadays, most long-distance travelers use the Shinkansen instead of the old line (after all, it is the world's fastest scheduled train service), but there are still some reasons you might want to use the Sanyo Line for intercity travel: it's much cheaper than the Shinkansen (especially if you have a Seishun 18 ticket or something similar), and it's much more scenic.
In 1987, when JNR was broken up and privatized, the Sanyo Line ended up under the control of the West Japan Railway (except for the segment in Kyushu, which is part of the Kyushu Railway).
The busiest portion of the line, between Okayama and Hiroshima, is very well-serviced, and you can catch a rapid service train every fifteen minutes even on a slow day. Towards the western end, services slow down to every 30 minutes or so, and on the eastern end, trains only pass by once an hour.
As far as travel times go, it's not difficult at all to travel the length of the Sanyo line in a day. The entire journey from Himeji to Kokura takes about ten hours. It's possible to get from Osaka to Fukuoka in a day, but if you start in Tokyo at the crack of dawn, you'll only get as far as Hiroshima before the trains stop running at midnight.
At its eastern terminus, the Sanyo Line becomes the Kobe Line. At its western terminus, it becomes the Nippo Line.
Station Distance Transfers
Himeji Shinkansen, Kobe Line, Kishin Line, Bantan Line
Aioi 20.7 Shinkansen, Ako Line
Kamigori 34.8 Chizu Kyuko Railway
Higashi-Okayama 81.3 Ako Line
Okayama 88.6 Okayama Railway, Shinkansen, Tsuyama Line,
Kibi Line, Uno Line, Seto-Ohashi Line
Kurashiki 104.5 Mizushima Rinkai Railway, Hakubi Line
Shin-Kurashiki 113.8 Shinkansen
Fukuyama 146.9 Shinkansen, Fukuen Line
Mihara 178.5 Shinkansen, Kure Line
Seno 234.7 Skyrail
Kaitaichi 242.5 Kure Line
Hiroshima 249.9 Hiroden, Shinkansen, Geibi Line
Yokogawa 252.9 Hiroden, Kabe Line
Nishi-Hiroshima 255.4 Hiroden
Shin-Inokuchi 259.5 Hiroden
Itsukaichi 262.0 Hiroden
Miyajimaguchi 271.7 Miyajima Ferry
Iwakuni 291.3 Nishikigawa Railway, Gantoku Line
Kushigahama 356.7 Gantoku Line
Tokuyama 360.1 Shinkansen
Shin-Yamaguchi 404.4 Shinkansen, Yamaguchi Line, Ube Line
Ube 429.7 Ube Line
Onoda 433.2 Onoda Line
Asa 439.5 Shinkansen, Mine Line
Shin-Shimonoseki 466.1 Shinkansen
Hatabu 469.8 Sanin Line
Moji 479.6 Kagoshima Line
Kokura 485.1 Kitakyushu Monorail, Shinkansen, Nippo Line