Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ekiben --- a Unique Railway Culture in Japan

Ekiben “Hayabusa-mamegui Bento” sold in Tokyo Station

An "Ekiben" is a meal for railway passengers in Japan. It is packed in a box to be easily carried around and sold at stations and on trains. Many vendors launch thousands kinds of unique ekibens throughout the country and compete with each other in their sales. Generally speaking, ekibens are typically filled with local foods, which are cooked with local recipes. Their wrapping papers usually depict the sceneries or specialties of the particular areas.

The top photo shows an example of an ekiben, which is sold in Tokyo Station. It’s one of my favorite. Unfortunately, Tokyo is a big city without any famous local foods. Instead, this ekiben is sumptuous and healthy. Its layout is colorful and sophisticated as well. A salmon slice and eggs, an eel slice, a chicken egg, a scallop, mushrooms, vegetables and vinegered rice are cooked Japanese-style.

When I was small, railway passengers bought ekibens from vendors on station platforms. As soon as a train stopped at a way station, passengers opened the train windows and called the vendors, who were shouting “bento, bento… (meaning a meal box)”. I was always surprised that vendors were selling dozens of ekibens with brisk efficiency during the train stop of several minutes. But times have changed since then. Nowadays, we cannot open the train windows. So, there is no shouting vendor on a platform and we have to buy ekibens at special shops in station yards or on trains. However, ekibens have survived as a "must-have" for railway travellers in Japan.

Ekiben --- it’s a unique railway culture in Japan.
Hayabusa-mamegui Bento, before opening up

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Culmination of Shinkansen Technologies

Shinkansen N700 series at Tokyo Station

As I introduced before (see the blog of April 23rd, 2011), “Shinkansen” is the train that represents Japan. Its total railway network length is nearly 2400km and there are 1 million passengers per day now.

The history of the Shinkansen started in 1964 when the Tokaido Shinkansen was opened between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka stations. The round-nosed first Shinkansen train; EMU 0 series was launched just before the Tokyo Olympics. So far in the 47 years, Japan National Railway and its successors; JR companies have launched 15 series of trains one after another.

Look at the top photo. It’s the EMU JR Central and West N700 series at Tokyo Station. This train, which was launched in 2005, is the latest model on the Tokaido and the Sanyo Shinkansen. It consists of 16 cars (2 units of 3M1T and 2units of 4M) and its maximum speed is 300km/h on the Sanyo Shinkansen, meanwhile 270km/h on the Tokaido Shinkansen.

The most distinctive feature of N700 series is its improvement in speed on a curve passage. There are a lot of tight curves on the Tokaido Shinkansen because it's the oldest one. Its minimum curve radius is 2500m; therefore, the maximum speed on a curve passage was limited to only 255km/h in the past. However, by tilting the train's body with a high technology, the N700 series achieved operating at a speed of 270km/h on a 2500m radius curve passage.

JR N700 series … it’s a culmination of Shinkansen technologies.

Shinkansen N700 series passes through Atami Station, the Tokaido Shinkansen

Sunday, 26 June 2011

During the Rainy Season … Hydrangea and Train

Hydrangea and EMU Keio 1726F at Higashi-matsubara Station on the Inokashira Line

It’s rainy season just before midsummer in Tokyo. We have been having hot and humid days. At times like that, the only thing that saves my gloomy feelings is viewing hydrangeas which come into flower this season. There are many famous places with hydrangea blossoms in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but one of the undiscovered viewing spots is on the Inokashira Line of the Keio Electric Railway.

This railway company has been working on planting plants on the embankments of the railways to prevent slope failure and protect the environment since 1991. Nowadays, we can enjoy seeing colorful hydrangea blossoms at the side of the railways specifically around Shimo-kitazawa, Shin-daita, Higashi-matsubara and Meidaimae stations in June. The top photo shows beautiful purple and blue blossoms with EMU 1026F at Higashi-matsubara Station. Meanwhile, the bottom one is of pink and white blossoms with EMU 1015F near Shimo-kitazawa Station.

Among them, my favorite one is Hagashi-matsubara station, because the side of the railway at this station is illuminated from mid to late June to allow evening viewing of the blossoms. Although, we can see the beautiful blossoms as we have in the past, the night lights were cancelled this year, because of the electric power shortage, which was caused by the nuclear power plant disasters that followed the giant earthquake and tsunami. I’m really disappointed, but it’s inevitable when I think about the disaster victims.

The hydrangeas at Higashi-matsubara Station this year will withstand the test of time for me as a memorable scene of the giant earthquake year.
Hydrangea and EMU Keio 1715F near Shimo-kitazawa Station on the Inokashira Line

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Odakyu Romance Car, Yearning since My Childhood

The existing oldest romance car, EMU 7000 series near Chitose-funabashi Station

In the Tokyo metropolitan area, several private railway companies compete with gorgeous express trains as their flagships. One of the famous and venerable trains is “the romance car”, which is operated by Odakyu Electric Railway Company. Its route extends from Shinjuku; a subcenter of Tokyo to Hakone; a reputable mountain resort in a western suburb.

Odakyu first launched a resort train in 1935 as the “hot spring express”; however, it was forced to stop operating due to World War II in the 1940’s. After the war, Odakyu resumed the operation of the express in 1950 under the name of the romance car.

An epoch-making event occurred in 1957, when they launched the romance car, EMU 3000 series. This train established 145km/hour; the world’s fastest record of a narrow gauged railway at that time. Then, Odakyu launched new romance cars one after another.

Look at the top photo. It’s the oldest existing romance car; EMU 7000 series, which has been operating since 1980. I like this train very much, because the passengers can enjoy the view ahead. The cockpit is up stairs.

Meanwhile, the recent trend of the romance car is not only a resort train but also a commuter express. Look at the bottom photo. It’s the newest model; EMU 60000 series. This train operates between downtown Tokyo, such as Otemachi on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line and Karakida; a commuter town in a western suburb of Tokyo.

Odakyu romance car … it’s a yearning since my childhood.

The newest model of the romance car, EMU 60000 series at Odawara Station

More information about Odakyu Romance Car:

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Yamanote Line, Japan's Most Crowded Trains

EMU JR East E231-500 Series at Tokyo Station, the Yamanote Line

As I introduced in my last article (see the blog of June 22nd, 2011), the Yamanote Line is well known as Japan’s most crowded railway. The train runs every 2.5 minutes in the morning, every 4 minutes in the daytime and every 3 minutes in the evening of weekdays. Meanwhile, it operates every 3 minutes on Saturday, Sunday and national holydays. The train, whose name is EMU JR East 231-500 series, is composed of 11 cars (6M5T). The track gauge is 1067mm and the electric system is 1500V DC overhead.

This busy line is looped through several down town areas of Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Shinagawa. Its total length is 34 km and all the trains run in the same direction throughout the day; clockwise or counterclockwise. The train covers the entire route in about 60 minutes. There are 29 stations and most of them are interchange stations to the subway, private railways and/or other JR lines.

It’s quite intersting that the inside of the Yamanote loop is regarded as the center of Tokyo in general. For example, if you have a house or an apartment there, you would get prestige as being rich or a winner (My apartment is located on the outside of the Yamanote loop unfortunately). Most of the prices inside of the loop are more expensive than those on the outside.

The Yamanote Line … it might be a modern castellated wall, which separates the center and the suburbs of Tokyo City.

An automatic platform gate to prevent passengers from falling off the platform edge at Meguro Station, the Yamanote Line

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Fun at Work, a View of Tokyo Central Station

A view of Tokyo Station

I returned to Tokyo after 4 years’ service in Indonesia. My new office is located on the 21st floor of the building, next to Tokyo Station.

This station is the largest railway terminal in Japan and was opened in 1914 as a central station of the capital city in Japan. The surface and the elevated 20 tracks are used by the JR conventional and shinkansen (bullet train) lines. Meanwhile, 10 underground tracks are allocated for the JR conventional and the Tokyo Metro subway lines.

Look at the top photo. It’s a view of Tokyo Station from my office. Rails, platforms and landscape look like a diorama (model railway) at the Railway Museum. I can see continuous arriving and leaving trains from the window beside my desk. What an excellent view it is! I cannot expect to concentrate on my work under such circumstances.

Joking aside, look at the bottom photo next. It’s a zooming of tracks number 1 to 4, which are used by commuter services of JR East. You can see typical commuter trains in Tokyo. The light green striped train, leaving from the surface track number 4, is EMU JR East E231-500 series on the Yamanote Line, which is well known as the most crowded commuter train in Japan. Meanwhile, the orange striped train, leaving from the elevated track number 2, is E233 series on the Chuo Rapid Line, which is the second crowded one.

I can see famous commuter trains from my office every day … it’s fun at work, isn’t it?

JR East E231-500 series (left) and E233 series (right) at Tokyo Station

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Steam Underground in London Transport Museum

Steam locomotive, Metropolitan Railway Class A, Number 23 at London Transport Museum

On the final day of my vacation in the UK, I visited the London Transport Museum near Covent Garden Station on the Piccadilly Line of the underground.

One of the most precious exhibits is a steam underground, Class A, number 23. It’s the only existing underground locomotive, built in 1866 by Beyer & Peacock & Co. of Manchester. This manufacturing year is earlier than that of Japan's first steam locomotive, which was also built in the UK in 1871. Number 23 had been operating on the underground lines for nearly 40 years. Then, it was kept as an engineer’s train, because passenger services were electrified in 1905. I give tribute to the people who created the underground railway system in the early years…, but it must have been a terrible experience for drivers and passengers because of the sooty smoke.

Another interesting item was coach number 4728, Q Stock (originally G Stock) electric car for the underground (the bottom photo). It’s built in 1923 by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company as one of 50 manufactured cars. Number 4728 had been operating on the District Line etc. until 1971. I like the design of this electric car very much, for example “hog-backed shape” front windows and black staunch bogies. But, my most favorite one is the unique “topknot of Japanese samurai” style train roof.

London Transport Museum … it’s a treasure house of the early London Underground.

Electric car, Underground Q stock, Number 4728 at London Transport Museum

Monday, 20 June 2011

EMU Class 365, Rapid Commuter Train

EMU British Rail Class 365 near Hatfield Station, East Coast Railway Line

On the fifth day of my vacation in the UK, I visited Hatfield, a northern suburb of London. It’s 32km to the north of Kings Cross Station and takes 22 minutes by a commuter service. Hatfield is famous for its old country house.

From Kings Cross Station, I took a train on the East Coast Railway Line, EMU Class 365, bound for Cambridge. The train operator is First Capital Connect. Class 365 was manufactured in York by ABB from 1995 to 1996. It’s composed of 4 cars (2M2T) with a maximum speed of 160km/hour. The electric system is originally dual voltage, but only 25kV AC overhead is adopted on the East Coast Railway Line.

After leaving Kings Cross, the train stopped at Finsbury Park, which is an interchange station to London Underground. Then, picking up the pace it ran through a suburb of London City. I saw stone built houses at first. But ten minutes later, before my eyes were pasture landscapes. Sheep were browsing under the clear summer sky.

In Hatfield, I visited “Hatfield House”. It’s conveniently situated for visitors, because the entrance is located in front of the railway station. The house was Jacobean style and built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s right-hand man. The adjoining garden was also attractive with beautiful roses.

Visit to splendid country house with the beautiful garden, the fine weather and riding a rapid commuter train …today was a pretty good day again for me.

Hatfield Station, a northern suburb of London, UK

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Class 43, World's Fastest Diesel Locomotive

British Rail Class 43 diesel locomotive with Mark 3 carriages at Bath Spa Station
On the third day of my vacation in the UK, I visited Bath, Somerset in the south west of England. Bath City is famous for its spa in the Roman era and was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 1987. It’s twinned with Beppu City, Oita Prefecture, Japan, which is also well known for its hot springs.

I took a train from London Paddington Station, operated by First Great Western. It was a push-pull train with high power Class 43 diesel locomotives and Mark 3 carriages. Class 43 locomotives were manufactured in the Crewe Works of British Rail Engine Limited from 1976 to 1982. Its power output is 2,250hp with a maximum speed of 200km/h, the fastest diesel locomotive in the world. The train travels a distance of 180 kilometers in only 1 hour and a half.

After arriving at Bath, I saw the Roman baths with an audio guide in Japanese (another five languages are also available) at no extra charge. It’s a very good service for foreign visitors. The most impressive site was the source of the hot spring. It was giving off steam and bubbling up ... a real “onsen (hot spring in Japanese)”! As you know, Japanese people are fond of bathing. I also wanted to enjoy bathing … but it’s prohibited unfortunately.

Traveling on the world's fastest diesel locomotive and enjoying the Roman baths… I had a great day today.
A bright and clear day in Bath Spa Station, Somerset, the southwest of England

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lovely “Kamaboko” Train in London

C77 Stock No.5723 on Hammersmith & City Line near Paddington Station, London, UK
As you are aware, London has the oldest subway system in the world. The construction was initiated in the middle of the 19th century, and its public service began on 10th January 1863. It was still the “samurai” era in Japan.

The size of the train is smaller than that of Tokyo, because the tunnel is low. Overhead lines with pantographs are not used, but the third-rail system is adopted for electric power collection. Subsequently, the shape of the train is similar to the “kamaboko”, a Japanese fish sausage, which has a hog-backed shape.

The top photo is EMU C77 stock on Hammersmith & City Line near Paddington Station, where we can see the train above ground. This train was manufactured in 1978 by Metro-Cammell, in Birmingham. It’s composed of six short length (about 15 – 16m) cars (3M3T). The electric system is 630V DC. Each car has 4 seats against the sidewalls between each door. This interior design is almost same as that of Tokyo.

I tried to take the underground in rush hour from London Bridge Station, on the Jubilee Line. Like Tokyo, there was a long queue on the platform. However, the passengers didn’t push onto the train, if the cars are full; they just wait for the next train. This commuting condition is much better than that of Tokyo. It would be envied by Tokyoites.

London underground … it’s a lovely "kamaboko" train for me.
Train queue at London Bridge Station, the Jubilee Line, London, UK

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

EMU Class 332, the Heathrow Express

EMU British Rail Class 332, No.332004 at London Paddington Station
Before going back to Japan, I visited the UK for my vacation. I lived in North Wales in the early ‘90s, but I had not visited the UK for more than ten years.

After my arrival at Heathrow, I saw a big change in airport access to London; the Heathrow Express. A stylish EMU class 332 operates between Heathrow Central and London Paddington stations with a maximum speed of 160km/h. It only takes 15 minutes. A train is composed of 4 or 5 cars including one first class car. All trains were manufactured in 1997-1998 by Siemens and CAF, Spain. The electric system is 25kV AC overhead.

The interior is divided into 3 rooms by door decks. This interior style is similar to those of the EMU JR Hokkaido 721 series in Japan. The 721 series is also an airport access train, which connects Sapporo City and Shin-chitose Airport.

After leaving Heathrow Central station, which is located in the basement, the train pulled out of the tunnel and ran through the western suburbs of London. I was just admiring the view from a window of the train; green forests, factories, storage facilities and stone-built houses. It was bright early summer, the best season in the UK. How 15 minutes had quickly passed, the Heathrow Express approached Paddington, which is downtown London City.

The Heathrow Express, it’s a rapid airport access in London.

The interior of a standard class car, EMU British Rail Class 332
More information about EMU JR Hokkaido 721 series (in Japanese):