Friday, 29 July 2011

"Tokyo Skytree", New Landmark on the Tobu Railway

634m (2,080ft) high "Tokyo Skytree" and EMU Tobu 10050 series near Oshiage Station on the Tobu-Isesaki line

Back in the mid-2000s, Oshiage was just an interchange station in the Shitamachi (old town) area, a northern suburb of Tokyo. Four railways, i.e., Tobu, Keisei, Toei-Asakusa and Tokyo Metro-Hanzomon lines trains arrived at and departed from this station. Many passengers utilized Oshiage Station everyday, but their purpose was limited just to changing trains there.

Now, some 5 years hence, this is no longer the case. A lot of sightseers get off this station to visit a new landmark. That is the “Tokyo Skytree”, a new TV and radio broadcasting tower in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The construction of the Tokyo Skytree commenced in July 2008, and it reached the target, a height of 634 meters (2,080ft) on March 18th, 2011, just one week after the 3.11 giant earthquake in the eastern part of Japan. It’s scheduled for completion next year and will be the world's tallest, freestanding, broadcasting tower.

The enterprise, which is constructing this new tower, is an affiliate of Tobu Railway. Tobu is the largest private railway company in the Tokyo metropolitan area. They operate 463km of track, and the routes extend from Tokyo to four northern surrounding prefectures; Saitama, Chiba, Tochigi and Gunma. This company expects that people will use the Tobu lines and visit the Tokyo Skytree. It will materialize because a number of people have already been flocking there to see or take photos even before the opening.

Tokyo Skytree… It’s a new landmark on the Tobu Railway.

EMU Tobu 30000 series runs backed by Tokyo Sky Tree near Oshiage Station

More information about Tobu Railway:
More information about Tokyo Sky Tree:

Monday, 25 July 2011

Spiritual Trip on the Enoden in Kamakura

EMU Enoden 1000 series near Shichirigahama Station

After a heavy typhoon passed, the midsummer came back to Tokyo again. Most people go out to the suburbs to cool off at the weekend, and I'm also one of them. The destination is Kamakura, a southern suburb of Tokyo.

Kamakura is known as a historic city where the bakufu (shogunate government) was located from 1185 to 1333. It means that Kamakura was the capital of Japan during those 148 years. Furthermore, this city has another face. It’s also famous for marine sports such as surfing and yachting.

You can get to Kamakura in less than one hour from downtown Tokyo by a JR East commuter train. After arriving there, you should transfer to the “Enoden”, Enoshima Electric Railway, to get around the city. The Enoden, connecting Kamakura and Fujisawa (10km), was opened in 1902. The track is a single, and its electric system is 600V DC overhead.

The EMU 1000 series has been operating since 1979. The lovely green and yellow colored body seems to have fitted naturally into the city. Especially, it’s fun for me that the train threads its way through residential areas (the top photo).

Taking the Enoden, I visited a so called "power spot," which is said to make people healthier and more energetic. It’s a quiet place in the backyard of a historic temple. There were mossy stone steps in the woods (the bottom photo). I felt like time had stopped...

I enjoyed a spiritual trip on the Enoden in Kamakura.

A "power spot" in the woods (?), mossy stone steps

More information about Enoden:

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Umishibaura, Oceanfront Station in Tokyo's Urban Area

 EMU JR East 205-1100 series at Umishibaura Station, the Umishibaura Branch Line

If you would like to experience something unique in the Tokyo metropolitan area, I thoroughly recommend visiting Umishibaura Station in the bay area. The platform is blue ocean front and also you can get a fine view of the elegantly styled Tsurumi Tsubasa Bridge on the Tokyo Bay Highway.

Umishibaura Station is a terminal of the Umishibaura Branch Line of JR East. The line is a single-track railway. You can get there in only half an hour from Shinagawa, a subcenter of Tokyo. The function of this station is to commute people who work for Toshiba Keihin Factory. So, we see trains frequently during rush hour; but, there is only a train once every two hours in the daytime. For your information, passengers, who aren’t Toshiba employees, cannot exit the station, because it’s located within the Toshiba private site. Instead of this restriction, Toshiba kindly provides the public with a lovely small park in front of the platform.

I was surprised that there are many visitors at the station and the park in the weekend, although it’s not a sightseeing spot. They were couples, families and rail fans who enjoyed this unique station in their own way. How did they learn about this spot? It’s probably because TV programs sometimes introduced there as an ocean front station near downtown Tokyo. According to the TV, the night view is also lovely, so I will visit there during the evening hours next time.

View of Tsurumi Tsubasa Bridge from Umishibaura Station

Sunday, 17 July 2011

EMU JR East E1 and E4 Series, Duplex Shinkansens

EMU JR East E4 series, bi-level Shinkansen train at Tokyo Station

As I mentioned in the last article, Tokyo has been expanding both above and under ground. But, there is another direction as well. It’s horizontal.

When I was a child, I lived in Suginami Ward, which is 10km west of the city center. At that time, vegetable fields could be seen everywhere near my neighborhood. However today, if you visit there, you would have difficulty finding any vegetable fields or even blank spaces there, because of housing land development. Tokyo is an exploding city. Commuting time for workers never seems to get shorter. Is there any solution?

Yes, there is. Take a shinkansen! It transports you to your office quickly. Shinkansens were constructed as interurban transportation at first. But, their function is more than that nowadays. They are utilized as commuter trains as well. But, the question is how to transport large numbers of people during rush hour?

The answer is the “duplex”. JR East started to operate bi-level trains, EMU E1 series in 1994. Then, they launched the EMU E4 series in 1997. The newest model, the E4 series, consists of 8 cars, which can accommodate 817 seats in one set. These sets can be connected, therefore, a maximum of 1634 seats are available, if 2 sets of trains are connected.

I rode an EMU E4 series several years ago and found that it’s much more comfortable than I imagined. The best advantage was its good view from the upstairs window.

Duplex Shinkansens … they are dependable monster trains for daily Tokyo commuters.

Size comparison, Shinkansen EMU JR East E1 (bi-level) and E2 series at Tokyo Station

Friday, 15 July 2011

Subways above Ground, Singularities in the Giant City

EMU Tokyo Metro 02 series near Ochanomizu Station, the Marunouchi Llne

Tokyo is the most congested city in Japan. This giant city has been expanding both above and under ground. Subway lines are typical of the latter. A total of 329km on 13 lines are now operating and most of them are “underground” in the center of the city.

However, there are several exceptions. Look at the top photo. It’s the Marunouchi Line train crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station. This subway train runs above ground. You can see two tunnels both in the right and the left sides of the photo. It’s very rare sight in the center of Tokyo.

You can see another spot in the bottom photo. It’s near Yotsuya Station also on the Marunouchi Line. This part was constructed above ground although it’s located in the center of the city.

Why does the Marunouchi Line train run above ground in some spots? It’s probably because this line is an old subway route of Tokyo. The Marunouchi Line, which is the second oldest subway in Tokyo, was completed in 1959. At that time, the subsurface in Tokyo was still spacious, so people could construct the railway just under the ground. As a result, they could construct it above ground in some areas to save costs.

But nowadays, there are many subway lines and subterranean structures there. People have to construct new lines more deeply underground. Thus, it's no longer possible to construct them above ground.

Subways above ground … they are singularities in the giant city.

EMU Tokyo Metro 02 series near Yotsuya Station, the Marunouchi Llne

More information about Tokyo Metro:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

"Ekinaka", Fast-growing Railway Business in Japan

"Ekinaka" shopping mall on the first basement level, Tokyo Station, JR East

If you are a Japanese working person who spends a long time railway commuting, where do you go shopping after office hours? Do you want to go to a department store near a huge terminal station? “No”, because it takes time to get there. So, do you want to stop by a small shop near your exit station in the suburbs? Probably “No” again, because it doesn’t have a good selection of products. The best solution is to visit an “Ekinaka” shopping mall.

“Ekinaka” means “inside a station” in Japanese. To be more exact, it’s the area inside the ticket gates. For the last several years in the Tokyo metropolitan area, a number of Ekinaka shopping malls have been opened. In the malls, we can see many kinds of sophisticated shops and restaurants, such as sweet cafe stands, liquor shops, Italian restaurants, variety shops, bakeries, bookshops, fashion boutiques, facial massage shops and so on.

For example in Tokyo Station, more than 1.1 million passengers per day get on and off the trains there. In addition, many passengers change trains there. So these people create a huge business opportunity there.

Ten years ago, people were thinking that Ekinaka areas were not suitable for shopping malls, because the customers are limited to railway passengers. In other words, railway companies considered that shopping malls should be constructed outside the ticket gates, because non-railway passengers could also visit them.

But today, times have changed. Ekinaka is a fast-growing railway business in Japan.

"Ekinaka" food mall on the ground floor level, Tokyo Station, JR East

More information about Ekinaka shopping mall in Tokyo Station (in Japanese):

Monday, 11 July 2011

Powerful Mountain Climber

EMU Hakone Tozan 2000 series at Hakone-yumoto Station

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, this year's rainy season ended on July 9th in the Tokyo metropolitan area, which means that midsummer began. Yesterday's high was 33.6 degrees Celsius in Tokyo. So, the only thing I can do is escape the city at the weekend and go to Hakone!

Hakone is a famous mountain resort in the western suburbs of Tokyo. By taking a commuter train, a mountain railway, a cable car and a ropeway, we can reach a beautiful and cool highland easily from downtowns of Tokyo.

A dependable transporter that climbs up the mountain is the Hakone Tozan Railway, which connects Odawara and Gora stations (15km). This railway was partially opened as Odawara Horse Tramway in 1888. After electrification in 1900, the entire portion of the route was opened in 1919. It is said that engineers at that time learnt advanced technology from the Rhaetian Railway in Switzerland. So, these two companies have established a sister railway relationship.

It’s a lot of hard work to climb up Hakone Mountain, specifically between Hakone-yumoto and Gora stations. The difference of elevation is nearly 500m and its maximum grade is 80 per-mils, which is the second steepest railway in the world. EMU 2000 series trains, which were launched in 2001, climb the route powerfully.

3 hours after leaving home, I reached Owaku-dani (1050m), a volcanic highland paradise on Hakone Mountain. It was a bright and clear day so I could see the beautiful Mt. Fuji (3776m) from there.

There's nothing like Hakone during the midsummer.


A view of Mt. Fuji (3776m) from Owaku-dani, Hakone Mountain

More information about Hakone Tozan Railway (in Japanese):

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Traditional Access Route to Haneda Airport

Tokyo Monorail 1000 series near Tennozu Isle Station

There are 6 monorail lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area. 3 of them adopt a straddle-beam system; meanwhile the other 3 lines use a suspended system.

The Haneda line of Tokyo Monorail Company is the oldest monorail, which adopts a straddle-beam system, in Tokyo. This line, connecting Hamamatsu-cho and Haneda Airport Terminal 2 (17.8km), was completed in 1964 as an airport access route from downtown Tokyo to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda). There were only 2 terminal stations at first; however, it expanded the number of en route stations later to take a role of not only airport access but also a commuter train.

In 1998, the Haneda line reached a turning point. Keikyu, which is one of the major private railway companies, opened another airport access route from Shinagawa, a subcenter of Tokyo. As a result, Tokyo Monorail Company faced fierce competition from Keikyu. The counterplot against Keikyu was the speeding up of the trains. They launched Rapid and Express trains one after another. Nowadays, the “Haneda Express” train connects Hamamatsu-cho and Haneda Airport International Terminal without stopping in only 13 minutes. As a passenger, I welcome this kind of competition, as far as safety is assured.

In the meantime, I like the Haneda line because of its excellent view from the trains. The monorail is constructed as an elevated track. Furthermore, there is no fence along the railway line. So, the passengers can enjoy magnificent prospects of the Tokyo Bay area from the train windows. That is an attraction during the ride.

An excellent view from the train of Tokyo Monorail near Hamamatsu-cho Terminal

More information about Tokyo Monorail:

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Earthquake Warning System Saved Shinkansen Trains

Front view of EMU JR East E5 series at Tokyo Station, the Tohoku Shinkansen

When the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan on March 11, 2011, a total of 18 super-express trains were running on the Tohoku and the Joetsu Shinkansens. The minimum distance between the earthquake epicenter and the train was only 180km.

Japan, having a lot of earthquakes, has an advanced earthquake warning system on the railways. This system is composed of a network of seismograms and computers. Once a seismogram detects a minor initial tremor of an earthquake, the computer can calculate the epicenter and the magnitude of the earthquake on a real-time basis. Then, this system raises an alarm over the railway lines, where danger is apparent, before full-blown shaking occurs. For your information, the speed of information propagation by electric current and the radio wave is faster than that of seismic wave propagation; therefore, the system can put a brake on the trains automatically, before they are hit by the earthquake. Thanks to the warning system, there was no derailment accident or injured persons on the Tohoku Shinkansen. I really appreciate it that Japanese rail engineers have developed this safety system.

The giant earthquake had caused suspension of the train service for one and a half months; however, on April 29th, the entire route of the Tohoku Shinkansen reopened. It was a long-awaited moment. EMU E5 series, which is the newest train with a maximum speed of 300km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen, also resumed operation (see the top and the bottom photos).

E5 series… welcome back to the Tohoku Shinkansen.

Side view of EMU JR East E5 series at Tokyo Station, the Tohoku Shinkansen
More information about the Tohoku Shinkansen:

Monday, 4 July 2011

Women-only Cars --- Are You in Favor or Not?

 A sign indicating "women-only cars" boarding area, Yoyogi-uehara Station, the Odakyu Line 

In the Tokyo metropolitan area, 8 million people commute to their offices by train every day. The trains are so crowded that passenger’s bodies are squashed together during the rush hour. Because of this, women-only cars are provided on many trains in the mornings and evenings on weekdays, excluding holidays. Platforms (the top photo) and trains (the bottom photo) are marked with signs indicating boarding areas and the times when the cars are women-only.

The history of Japanese women-only cars goes back quite a long way. In 1912, the Japanese Government Railway launched the first women-only cars on the Chuo Line (present JR East Line), but it was short-lived. After World War II, the government launched women and children only cars in 1947 on the Chuo Line. Operation of these cars continued until 1973 when the priority seats, otherwise known as the Silver Seat, for seniors and persons with disabilities were launched.

88 years after the Japan’s first women-only cars operation, Keio Electric Railway Company launched them again in the evenings on weekdays in 2000. That was a start of the permanent introduction of women-only cars in Japan. Nowadays, most commuter railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area operate women-only cars. Many women are quite pleased, but there are complaints as well. For example, some people claim that special coaches for the handicapped and elderly should have been provided instead of women-only cars.

Women-only cars --- are you in favor or not?

A women-only car (see a sticker on the side window), EMU JR East E233 series at Kanda Station, the Chuo Line

Friday, 1 July 2011

News from Jakarta --- "JALITA" New Color

2011 color of EMU 8613F "JALITA", ex-Tokyu 8500 series at Bogor Station in Indonesia
Photo: Courtesy Faris Fadhli

I’ve received news from an Indonesian railfan in Jakarta … “JALITA” has changed its body color. What’s JALITA? It’s one of the commuter trains, which operate in the Jakarta metropolitan area of Indonesia. This train was manufactured in the 1970s in Japan under the name of EMU 8613F in the 8500 series and was operating on the Tokyu Electric Railway for more than 30 years.

In February 2009, JALITA retired from the Tokyu Electric Railway and arrived in Indonesia to spend a new life in Jakarta. This train was ardently welcomed by the Jakartans. In May, 2009, the Indonesian government held a special ceremony to establish a new commuter railway company in the Jakarta metropolitan area. On that occasion, JALITA was gaily-painted (the bottom photo) and selected as the celebratory train. That day, it carried VIPs such as the Transport Minister and the Secretary of State. For your information, JALITA stands for Jalur Lingkar Jakarta, in Indonesian, which means Jakarta Loop Line. Its godfather is the Transport Minister of Indonesia.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, JALITA changed its body color again recently as part of a periodic overhaul (the top photo). I always admire Indonesian people’s color sense, because they use distinct color designs. This time, they created a red, yellow and white colored face … very cool! I hope that this ex-Tokyo train will be active in Jakarta forever.

2009 color of EMU 8613F "JALITA", ex-Tokyu 8500 series at Bogor Station in Indonesia