Friday, June 30, 2017

Hydrangea Season on the Kawagoe Line

EMU JR East E233-7000 series arrives at Nishi-Omiya Station on the Kawagoe Line

On June 7th, the Japan Meteorological Agency announced that this year's rainy season had begun in Tokyo. From early June to mid-July, the Tokyo metropolitan area has a hot and humid rainy season called Tsuyu. Although it is a gloomy period before midsummer, it is a pleasure for me to see beautiful hydrangea flowers. There are many famous places with hydrangea blossoms in the Tokyo metropolitan area. I visited Saitama City in Saitama Prefecture with my family this year.

Nishi Ward is located in the northwestern part of Saitama City, about 40 km northwest of Tokyo. This neighborhood has recently become a residential area, but it has a long history as a rich agricultural area, where various crops including rice and vegetables are being produced. Nishi Ward also has a historical shrine, Sashiogi-Hikawa Jinja, which dates at least back to 796. In this season, we can see fully blown hydrangeas in the garden of the shrine. More than 1,500 hydrangeas are planted there. Especially, I like to view the large blue colored flowers in the garden.

The nearest station to the garden was Sashiogi on the JR East Kawagoe Line. It took about 45 minutes from Shinjuku, a sub-center of Tokyo, by a rapid service train. A green colored striped train, the EMU E233-7000 series, was our vehicle. The E233-7000 series was launched in 2013 to replace the old 205 series. Along with the Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transport 70-000 series, the E233-7000 series transports 730,000 passengers every day.

Hydrangea are in full bloom in the garden of Sashiogi-Hikawa Shrine near Nishi-Omiya Station

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dancing Girl on the Sunzu Line

EMU JR East 185 series, limited express "Odoriko" travels on the Sunzu Line

On April 8th, a media outlet stated that the EMU 185 series will be retired from the JR East lines within a few years. This retirement will cause JR East to make train transfers one after another. Firstly, the 185 series will be replaced by the EMU E257 series, which is currently operated on the Chuo Main Line as limited expresses Azusa and Kaiji. Secondly, the EMU 257 series will be replaced by a new limited express model, the EMU 353 series, which will debut soon.

What is the EMU 185 series? It is a limited express model developed by ex-Japanese National Railways (JNR), and went into service as a limited express "Odoriko" in 1981. Since then, the 185 series has been transporting millions of holidaymakers from Tokyo to Izu, a reputable resort peninsula. "Odoriko" is operated on the two routes. One is between Tokyo and Izukyu-Shimoda via the JR East Tokaido Main Line and the Izukyu Line. The other one is between Tokyo and Shuzenji via the JR East Tokaido Main Line and the Sunzu Line of Izu-Hakone Railway.

For your information, the name of the limited express "Odoriko" means "a dancing girl" in Japanese. Why is the name of this limited express train so strange? It's because the name comes from the famous novel, "Izu no Odoriko (The Dancing Girl of Izu)" by Japanese author Kawabata Yasunari (1899 - 1972). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, as the first Japanese author to receive the award.

EMU 185 series, limited express "Odoriko", travels on the Sunzu Line backed by Mt. Fuji

Saturday, June 24, 2017

California Poppy Field on the Chichibu Railway

7507F of the EMU Chichibu Railway 7500 series arrives at Nagatoro Station (April, 2015)

Hanabishi-sou (California poppy) is a flowering plant native to the United States and Mexico. It is known as the official state flower of California in the United States. California poppy was introduced to Japan more than 100 years ago for ornamental purposes. Its yellow-colored blossoms are very vivid in the early summer gardens and fields.

One of the famous spots for admiring this beautiful flower is Nagatoro Hana-no-sato (Nagatoro Flower Village), about 100 km northwest of Tokyo. In a total area of 10,000 square meters, one million California poppies are planted. They bloom during the daytime, and close on rainy days and evenings. 

To visit this flower village, the nearest station is Nagatoro on the Chichibu Railway. EMU 7500 series is the main fleet on the line. The 7500 series was moved from the Tokyu lines, and launched in 2010. Its former name was the EMU 8090 series. Currently, a total of 7 sets, 21 cars are operated as local trains. Different from its Tokyu days, the 7500 series has green colored stripes. Really, it looks good in them.

In the meantime, the 7500 series has two kinds of "faces". One has front lights on the green colored stripe (i.e. 7507F); while the other one has front lights under the green colored stripe (i.e. 7501F). Rail-fans like me enjoy the subtle differences in each train. That kind of thing doesn't matter to non-rail-fans, but it makes rail-fans happy. Rail-fans are indeed simple forms of life.

Carifornia poppy field near Nagatoro Station (June, 2017)