Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Inextricable Labyrinth, Tokyo Station

EMU JR East Shinkansen E2 series at Platform No. 20, Tokyo Station

Three months have passed since I moved from Jakarta to Tokyo. I’m satisfied with my pleasant and comforting office adjacent to Tokyo Station, but the biggest problem is that very Tokyo Station. It’s still a labyrinth for me.

Tokyo station was opened in 1914 as the central terminal of Japan’s capital city. Since then, this station has been expanding its scale and functions. For example, the Tokaido Shinkansen tracks were constructed in the early 1960’s. The Marunouchi subway line was opened underground in 1956. Another underground line, the Sobu-yokosuka Rapid Line was completed in 1972 and so on. As a result of repeated construction projects, Tokyo Station currently has 30 railway tracks aboveground and underground (see the bottom figure).

In addition, I would like to point out two more facts about the complexity of Tokyo Station. One of them is the existence of the “underground city”. There is a large underground shopping mall next to Yaesu Exit of Tokyo Station. There are nearly 200 shops which include restaurants, cafes, fashion, souvenirs, music, sport, and so on.

Another fact is that Tokyo Station is connected with the subway Otemachi Station. So, Tokyo and Otemachi stations substantially form the “greater Tokyo station complex”. I can reach both Tokyo and Otemachi stations directly from my office without an umbrella even on rainy days. It’s quite convenient; however, the labyrinthine station complex is a cause of trouble to me as I get lost a lot.

Yard map of Tokyo Station

Monday, 26 September 2011

Visit to the Spider Lily Field on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line

EMU Seibu 4000 series at Koma Station

Spider lily is an autumn plant with red colored blossom. Some people like it because the blossom is brightly-colored, but some people don’t, as it’s somewhat poisonous-looking. I like this flower very much as it’s a signal of the coming of autumn after a severely hot summer.

The most reputable field of spider lilies in the Tokyo metropolitan area is located in the Koma area, a northwestern suburb. There are large masses of spider lilies along the Koma River. In the middle of September, the bank of the limpid stream changes into solid-red carpet (see the bottom photo), and thousands of people visit there.

In the meantime, to get to Koma, we should take the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line from downtown Ikebukuro. It takes around one hour or so. The Seibu Railway is one of the major railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The route consists of the Ikebukuro Line, the Shinjuku Line and others, extending to the northwestern part of Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.

In the spider lily blossom season, Koma Station expects to receive thousands of passengers. Luxury limited express trains also stop there temporarily. Although seats of the limited express were fully booked, I was satisfied to ride the standard class train, EMU 4000 series (see the top photo). This train has enough facilities such as cozy seats and sanitary toilets for both short commuter sections and long inter-city lines.

By taking comfortable trains of the Seibu Railway and visiting gorgeous spider lily fields, I enjoyed a relaxed weekend again.

Spider lily field near Koma Station

More information about Seibu Railway:

Saturday, 24 September 2011

"Takao Tozan", Japan's Steepest Cable Railway

Funicular (cable car) "Aoba", Takao Tozan Railway   

Mt. Takao is a convenient sightseeing area to hang around. It’s located in a western suburb of Tokyo, and only 50 minutes from Shinjuku by a commuter train of Keio Electric Railway. After reaching Takao-sanguchi Terminal, we have three choices to get to the top... walking, taking a lift or a funicular (cable car). I like the funicular best. The funicular on Mt. Takao was constructed in 1927 by Takao Tozan Railway Company. Although the line length is short (1.02km), it’s famous because it's the steepest railway in Japan. The maximum inclination is 31 degrees 18 minutes.

Look at the top photo. You can see a lovely funicular, “Aoba”, whose colors are yellow and green. Aoba is going up and coming to the midcourse. The inclination of the rail is not so large there, but it gets steeper and steeper toward the top of the mountain (see the upper right in the photo). Eventually, the angle reaches the maximum just before the top station, where a tunnel covers the rail. So, it’s a thrilling experience to pass through a dark tunnel with a 31 degree 18 minutes inclination by the funicular.

Last weekend, I saw innumerable holiday makers at the summit of Mt. Takao because it was a clear and sunny day. There were couples, families with small children and groups of old people. Despite the severe electricity shortage, which was caused by the nuclear power plant disaster in March, Japanese people seemed to be restoring vitality and laughter in daily life.

Superb view of the western suburb of Tokyo from Mt. Takao   

More information about Takao Tozan Electric Railway (in Japanese): 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A Nip of Fall along the Fujikyu Line

EMU Fujikyu 1000 series and ears of silver grass (right) near Kawaguchi-ko Station

It’s still very hot in Tokyo although it’s the end of September. I must escape from the city and visit a cool piedmont on a weekend like this. Next destination should be… Mt. Fuji!

To visit Mt. Fuji, it’s popular to drive or take a highway bus. But, the main problems are traffic jams. Especially on a fine day, the traffic is bumper to bumper. So, it always discourages me from visiting there.

But, wait. I have an alternative transportation. That is the train! Taking the JR East and Fujikyu Railways, I can reach there without any road rage.

After getting off the JR East train at Otsuki Station, I transferred to the Fujikyu and headed to the foot of Mt. Fuji. This local company operates a unique train, “Fuji Tozan Densha”; EMU 1000 series (see the top photo).

Look at the following site.

The interior of the train looks like a living room. There are even book shelves and showcases! During the trip, I fully enjoyed this “living room” and relaxed as if I was at home. I spotted ears of silver grass, which are typical autumn features in Japan, here and there from the train window (see also the top photo).

At the foot of Mt. Fuji, I visited Hana-no-miyako Park near Lake Yamanaka. As the yellowish colored cosmos blossom is at their best now (see the bottom photo), many tourists flocked to the field and enjoyed it.

Autumn is only just around the corner.

Yellowish colored cosmos field near Lake Yamanaka

More information about Fujikyu Railway (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

"Kantetsu", Two-faced Local Railway

DMU Kantetsu 2100 series near Mitsukaido Station

Kanto Railway, “Kantetsu” is one of the local railway companies in northeastern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. The route penetrates Ibaraki Prefecture from south to north, connecting Toride and Shimodate cities.

Kantetsu has two faces… one as a local railway in the country side, and one as a city line for urban commuters. Please look at the photos. There are no catenaries, pillars or "third rail" along the rail. It means that this line is not electrified. Furthermore, the train consists of only two cars. So, it looks like the kind of local railway in the country side. However, the line is a double track, and the trains operate every 6 minutes during the morning commute. So, it is truly an urban commuter railway as well. The scenery along the line also has two faces. In the northern part of the line, we can see beautiful idyllic views, such as rice paddies and vegetable fields as countryside. Meanwhile there are expanding urban residential quarters in the southern part.

Whenever, I take Kantetsu, I enjoy these two faces in the trains. In the morning, the trains are crowded with commuters, reading newspapers, and high school students in uniform. On the other hand during the day time, I come across only small groups of young mothers with babies or old people, who probably go shopping or see a doctor regularly.

Kantetsu shows a characteristic change by regions and time periods.

DMU Kantetsu 310 series near Mitsukaido Station

More information about Kanto Railway (in Japanese):

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Reminder of My High School Days

8007F (New Color), EMU KRL Jabodetabek (ex-Tokyu) 8000 series at Bogor Station in Indonesia, Photo: Courtesy Faris Fadhli

When I was stationed in Indonesia, for 4 years from July 2007 to June 2011, I often rode the trains in Jakarta. My favorite one was an EMU 8000 series in the KRL Jabodetabek (Jakarta Metropolitan Electric Railway). The 8000 series had been operating on the Tokyu Electric Railway, Tokyo, Japan, since 1969. Then, 3 sets were transferred to KRL Jabodetabek in 2005 and 2007 to spend a new life after their retirement from Tokyu (see the top photo). 

The 8000 series is special to me, as I often rode it in Tokyo as well. When I was a high school student, I took the Tokyu-Toyoko Line from Shibuya, a subcenter of the city, and got off at Gakugei-daigaku Station to go to shcool. It was only a 10-minute trip, but I used the 8000 series everyday.

This train is filled with my high school memories even after several years in Indonesia, there are many remnants from the days of Japan in the train. For example, we can still see the display of the destination with Kanji, Chinese characters (see the bottom photo) on the front of the train. Meanwhile, some cautionary statement stickers, which were written in Japanese, are also still inside the train. Whenever, I rode the 8000 series in Jakarta, I was always encouraged by this train, because it still worked well in operation and was in good condition.

I would like to thank the local railway engineers in Indonesia.

8039F (Old Color), EMU KRL Jabodetabek (ex-Tokyu) 8000 series at J.Kota Station in Indonesia

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Keisei "Skyliner", a Spirit of the Local Railway Company

Airport access super-express train, Keisei "Skyliner" AE series at Higashi-matsudo Station

Railway business in Japan is very competitive right now. Many companies are fighting for survival. For example, if you go to New Tokyo International (Narita) Airport from the downtown Tokyo, you have three choices… bus services, JR East and Keisei trains. So, these transportation companies are being engaged in a battle to attract passengers. As a customer, I welcome this kind of competition, as long as safety is assured.

JR East and Keisei Electric Railway are fated rivals. As I described in April 15th’s article, JR East , which is the largest railway company in Japan, is operating airport access trains, “Narita Express (NE’X)” with a maximum speed of 130km/hour. It takes 60 minutes from the Tokyo central station to Narita Airport.

Meanwhile, Keisei Electric Railway, which is a local company in the eastern part of Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture, isn't weak. Last year. Keisei launched airport access trains, the new “Skyliner” (see the top photo). This super-express train is able to travel between Nippori (one of the terminal stations in downtown Tokyo) and Narita Airport in 36 minutes with a 160km/hour maximum speed. What’s more, the interior of Skyliner is luxurious, and train fare is much lower than that of JR East.

I like this train’s sharp streamlined body like a crow. It’s very cool, isn’t it? I also feel a spirit and a pride of the local railway company with this train.

It ain't over till it's over.

 Airport acess standard train, Keisei 3050 series at Higashi-matsudo Station

More information about Keisei Skyliner:

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Nostalgic Electric Cars in the Subway Museum

Electric car, No. 1001 (manufactured in 1927) in the Subway Museum

As I mentioned in April 11th’s article, there are several railway museums in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The “Railway Museum” in Saitama City is very famous, because the scale is quite large. Meanwhile, the “Subway Museum”, which is located near Kasai Station on the Tokyo Metro-Tozai Line, is also attractive, because the exhibitions are replete.

The most precious exhibition in the Subway Museum is the Japan’s first subway electric car, No.1001 (see the top photo), which had been operating on the Ginza Line. Japan’s first subway, the Ginza Line was opened between Ueno and Asakusa (2.2km) in the eastern downtown Tokyo area in 1927. The subway electric car No. 1001 was also launched that year. The sills, headers and rivets on the wall looks very tough, but, the yellowish steel body with a reddish brown colored roof looks very elegant. The large round front light is also quite impressive.

Another important display is the “red subway”, the electric car, No. 301 of 300 series (see the bottom photo), which had been running on the Marunouchi Line, also in Tokyo. The Marunouchi Line is Japan’s second oldest subway line that was primarily opened between Ikebukuro and Ochanomizu in the city center area (6.4km) in 1954. The electric car No.301 was also manufactured in the same year. The reddish body with a wavy patterned white stripe seemed to have a strong impact at that time.

No.1001 and 301 electric cars…they are nostalgic and precise exhibitions in the Subway Museum in Tokyo.

Electric car, No. 301 (manufactured in 1954) in the Subway Museum

More information about the Subway Museum (in Japanese):

Sunday, 4 September 2011

"Petit-zeitaku" on the Way Home

EMU Odakyu "Romance Car" MSE 60000 series near Sobudaimae Station

It was a fraught day today. I worked hard and left my office in a state of complete burnout. So, I needed something as a treat for myself. So, I took the “Romance Car” to go back home!

As I introduced in June 25th’s article, Odakyu Railway Company and Tokyo Metro jointly operate the express train, “Romance Car” from the city center to western suburbs of Tokyo during the evening. The train leaves Kitasenju (a northern terminal), and picks up the passengers at Otemachi (a business center), Kasumigaseki (a civic center), Omotesando (a high-fashion area). Then, the train picks up the pace and takes the commuters directly to their residential quarters.

The two companies launched the newest “Romance Car”, EMU MSE 60000 series (see the top photo), in 2008 for the direct operation between the Tokyo Metro-Chiyoda Line and the Odakyu Line. The train body is a metallic blue color with red and white stripes, and it is composed of 6 or 10 cars. Timbers are heavily used for the interior, such as the passenger seats and the walls (see the bottom photo). It offers the passengers peace and comfort.

Although it costs “one-coin” for a seat reservation, taking the Romance Car is the best remedy for weary businessmen and women. So, I also sometimes use this train on the way home. In the Romance Car, I am just relaxed and enjoy reading or listening music with my “WALKMAN”, while having a soft drink.

Taking the Romance Car on the way home…it’s a “Petit-zeitaku” (small luxury and gratification) for Tokyoites, isn’t it?

Interior of EMU MSE 60000 series, Odakyu "Romance Car"

More information about EMU Odakyu "Romance Car" 60000 series (MSE):

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Access to the Science City and the Tsukuba Mountain

EMU Tsukuba Express TX-1000 series at Kitasenju Station

It’s the end of midsummer in Tokyo. The daytime temperatures have still been above 30 degrees Celsius, but the wind is little bit cooler than before. To send-off the midsummer, I embarked on my one-day trip to a northern suburb...Tsukuba.

Tsukuba is the science city of the Tokyo metropolitan area. A number of national and private research institutes, such as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and Tsukuba University, are located there. In addition, the famous twin-peaked (871m and 877m) Tsukuba Mountain is located in the north of the city.

Back in the mid-2000s, Tsukuba was a “lonely island” in the Kanto Plain. It takes two hours from downtown Tokyo by JR East Line and a shuttle bus, so I hated going to Tsukuba on business or even on pleasure. But, in 2005, there was a dramatic improvement in the public transportation. A new railway, the Tsukuba Express (TX) was opened between Akihabara and Tsukuba (58.3km).

This new commuter line is quite convenient. For example, if you take the “Rapid Service” train with a maximum speed of 130km/h at Kitasenju, a northern downtown of Tokyo, Tsukuba is very close, just 33 minutes away. On the train, I saw many foreigners, who were perhaps visiting research institutes and/or universities in Tsukuba.

After arriving at the Tsukuba terminal, I climbed up Tsukuba Mountain. It was a bright and clear day. I enjoyed superb scenery of the Kanto Plain from the summits of the mountain.

View from "Nantaisan" (Male Summit) in the Tsukuba Mountain (871m)

More information about Tsukuba Express (TX):