Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Winter Cherry Blossoms on the JR East Hachiko Line

DMU JR East KiHa 110 series near Tansho Station on the Hachiko Line

Although there is no designated national flower in Japan, many people think it is the cherry blossom. From March to April, the cherry trees bloom in pink all over the Japanese archipelago. On weekends at this time, major viewing spots in Japan are crowded with people who come to see the flower.

But, some cherry trees also bloom in winter. They are called "Fuyu-zakura (winter cherry)". So, viewing Fuyu-zakura is one of the amusements for flower lovers. Last weekend, I took the JR East Hachiko Line and headed northwest. My destination was Tansho, a small station located in Kamikawa Town, Saitama Prefecture.

Connecting Hachioji, a western suburb of Tokyo and Kuragano in Takasaki city of Gunma Prefecture, the Hachiko Line penetrates the north-western part of the Tokyo metropolitan area from south to north. The operation length is 92km. The Hachiko line is divided into two sections at Komagawa. The southern section is a commuter line, electrified at 1,500 V DC. Meanwhile, the northern section is non-electrified, a typical single track local route. DMU KiHa 110 series is operated hourly on average. So, I had to change from the EMU to the DMU at Komagawa Station (see the top photo). It's a bit inconvenient for passengers.

After arriving at Tansho Station, I took a bus and visited Sakura-yama (Cherry Mountain). It was a steep mountainous area, where 7,000 cherry trees were planted. It was late bright fall. I enjoyed both autumn leaves and cherry blossoms at the same time (see the bottom photo).

I had a great weekend again.

Winter cherry blossoms in the Sakura-yama Mountain near Tansho Station, the Hachiko Line

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Autumn Roses on the Keisei Line

EMU Keisei 3600 series at Senju-ohashi Station, the Keisei Main Line

In Japan, the roses look great when in full bloom in May. But, autumn roses also look beautiful, especially from October to November. So, I took the Keisei Main Line and got off at Yatsu Station to visit Yatsu Rose Garden. Connecting Ueno, a subcenter of Tokyo, and Narita Airport, the Keisei Electric Railway has an extensive network in the eastern part of Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture (see my September 13th's blog). It took only half an hour from downtown Tokyo to Yatsu on the Keisei trains (see the top photo).

Yatsu is located about 20km east of downtown Tokyo. It belongs to Narashino City, which is one of the commuter towns in Chiba Prefecture, the Tokyo metropolitan area. In addition to the function of the residential area, Yatsu has several sightseeing spots as well. The most famous one is Yastsu Rose Garden, which was opened as a part of Yatsu Amusement Park in 1957.

As soon as I entered the garden through the gate, I could feel the lovely breeze blowing off of Tokyo Bay, and it carried the rose-scented air. I associate the smell of roses with my parent's house, as it was full of rose blossoms in spring. I think it's true that the sense of smell and the storage area of memories in our brain are close to each other.

I fully enjoyed red, pink, white and yellow colored roses in bloom in the reputable garden today.

Yatsu Rose Garden near Yatsu Station, the Keisei Main Line

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tokyo's First Linear Motor-Driven Subway

EMU Toei 12-000 series, a linear motor-driven subway train at Tochomae Station

The Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) Ooedo Line is the second newest subway in Tokyo. The line was partially opened between Hikarigaoka and Nerima (3.8km) in 1991. Then, it was extended to Tochomae in 2000. Currently, the route consists of the circle section (Tochomae - Ryogoku - Tochomae, 28.6km) and the branch section (Hikarigaoka - Tochomae, 12.1km). The total operation length is 40.7km.

One of the features of this new subway line is that linear motor technology is adopted for the train driving system. A linear motor is an electric motor that doesn't have a shaft. It moves in a straight line, while a conventional motor has a rotary movement. You can see a special box,"reaction plate" between the rails (see the bottom photo). This technology allowed downsizing of the tunnel section.

The problem of the Ooedo Line is that it runs very deep under the ground, because underground utilizations in Tokyo, such as existing subways, express roads, parking and water supply systems are in an overcrowded condition. New construction is forced to go deeper and deeper. As a result, the platform of Roppongi Station is located 42.3m below the ground. Passengers have to walk down 7 flights of escalator and stairs. It takes 6 minutes including ticket purchasing time. I think it's a disincentive for potential passengers and weakens the competitiveness of the Ooedo Line.

The Oodedo Line; it was born through exploitation of the state-of-the-art technology, but is a slightly inconvenient subway line in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Rails and reaction plate of the Toei-Ooedo Line at Tochomae Station 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Visit to Cosmos Field on the JR East Yokosuka Line

EMU JR East E217 series at Nishi-Ooi Station, the Yokosuka Line

I visited a vast cosmos field again. This time, I took the JR East Yokosuka Line and headed south.

The Yokosuka Line was initially opened in 1889. Officially, the name Yokosuka Line is defined as the section between Kurihama and Ofuna stations (23.9km), but the passenger service of this line usually extends to Tokyo Station (a total of 73.3km length) or further.

The blue and cream colored train, EMU 217 series is operated on this line. The blue and cream body color has been a tradition of trains on the Yokosuka Line since 1951, when the EMU 70 series train was launched. It is said that the Pacific Ocean is represented by the blue color, whilst the sandy beaches along the line are represented by the cream color.

After arriving at the Kurihama terminal, I visited "Kurihama Hana no Kuni" (Kurihama Flower World) to view a large community of cosmos. Although some areas had been ruined by the typhoon, which hit the Tokyo metropolitan area in September, a narrow valley was filled with a carpet of cosmos flowers (see the bottom photo).

Another attractive spot in this area is "Ashi-yu" (foot bath) adjacent to a herb garden. Visitors can enjoy bathing their feet in a herb-treated hot water tub. I felt the warmth starting from my feet and spreading throughout my body.

For your information, admission to the Flower World, the herb garden and the foot bath are all free. Thank you.

Cosmos Field in Kurihama Flower World

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Enjoying the Autumn Leaves in Hakone

 Odakyu Romance Car EXE, EMU 30000 series at Chitose-funabashi Station

Autumn begins to deepen in Japan. The leaves have begun to turn red in some places in the Tokyo metropolitan area. One of the most famous places for enjoying autumn leaves is Hakone (see also my blogs from October 3rd and July 11th), a western suburb of Tokyo.

I took the Odakyu Romance Car EMU 30000 series, "EXE" (see the top photo), and headed to the Hakone mountains. EXE stands for "Excellent Express". It was commissioned in 1996 to replace the old Romance Car EMU 3100 series, "NSE". Since one set of the train is composed of ten twenty-meter cars (a total length of 200m), it has a greatly increased passenger capacity. One set can be broken up into six and four car sections to enhance operational flexibility as well.

After arriving at Hakone-yumoto terminal, I visited Hakone Glass Forest Museum where we can enjoy beautiful autumn leaves in the beautiful garden (see the bottom photo). The autumn leaves had just begun. I could see some red maple and yellow zelkova leaves there. This year we can view the best condition of autumn leaves in mid-November.

In the museum, the Venetian glass exhibition was going on. Most of the pieces, which were made in 17th to 19th century in Italy, have bird, flower, dolphin or dragon motives. Some of them looked like lace making, combining transparent and colored glass materials. They were very delicate and brilliant.

I enjoyed beautiful nature and antique glass art in the Hakone mountains.

Autumn Leaves in the garden in front of Hakone Glass Forest Museum

Sunday, 13 November 2011

C-Train, the Most Successful LRT in North America

Calgary Transit 2200 series (Siemens 160-SD AC LRV) at Brentwood Station on the Route 201

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit Calgary in Canada. Although I was very busy there, I tried to make an opportunity to ride the reputable C-Train, which is one of the most successful light rail transit (LRT) systems in North America.

The C-Train has been operated by Calgary Transit since 1981. The line consists of two routes, known as Route 201, which serves the southern and north-western areas, and Route 202 in the north-eastern sections of the city. The two routes merge along 7th Avenue in the downtown area. The total operating length is currently 48.8km.

Two types of vehicles are operated; one is the old model Siemens U2 LRV (2000s in car number, see the bottom photo), and the other is the new model Siemens SD-160 LRV (2200s in car number, see the top photo). DC motors are adopted in U2, whilst AC traction motors are used in SD-160. 2 cars of U2 (2100s in car number) exceptionally have AC traction motors.

I rode the train during the daytime in the weekend. But I was surprised that most of the seats were occupied. It's more crowded than I had imagined. Another amazing thing was that the downtown section of the line is fare free. What a big-hearted railway it is! The insides of trains were clean, and passengers were well-mannered. So, I had an enjoyable time during my short trip to the suburbs.

LRT will draw more and more attention as a means of transportation in urban areas throughout the world.

  Calgary Transit 2000 series (Siemens U2 DC LRV) at 6th Street Station on the Route 202

More information about C-Train: http://www.calgarytransit.com/index.html

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The East Garden of the Imperial Palace

The newest model, EMU Tokyo Metro 15000 series at Nishi-kasai Station, the Tozai Line

The Tokyo Metro Tozai Line is one of busiest subway routes in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Connecting Nakano and Nishi-funabashi (30.8km), it penetrates downtown Tokyo from west to east. The trains directly merge into the JR East Chuo Local Line to Mitaka and the Toyo Rapid Railway to Toyo-katsutadai, therefore, its maximum operation length reaches 56.4 km. Ten-car trains operate every 3 minutes in the morning, and every 5 minutes on average during the daytime.

One of the features of this subway is the "Rapid Service". In the eastern part of the line between Toyocho and Nishi-funabashi, Rapid Service (express) trains operate to enhance the convenience for long distance passengers.

The Tozai Line runs along the northern border of the Imperial Palace in the center of Tokyo, so, we can visit several sightseeing spots in the palace area. For example, I often wander around the East Garden, which is close to Takebashi Station. There is a castle ruin, which was constructed in 15th century (see the bottom photo). Although the main tower of the castle was demolished in 19th century after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, we can still see the stones of the terraced walls of the castle. It's a viewpoint for the central part of Tokyo.

The Tokyo Metro Tozai Line. It plays an irreplaceable role in the Tokyo Metropolitan area both for commuters and sightseers.

Ruins of the Main Tower, Edo Castle in the Imperial Palace near Takebashi Station

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Good-luck Yellow Trains, Toei 8800 & Tokyu 300 Series

Good-luck Yellow train (Car 8810,Type 8800) on the Toei Arakawa Line

Do you know the Japanese word "Toshi-densetsu"?

Toshi-densetsu means an urban legend, which is rumored by city dwellers. For example, a power spot, which is said to make people healthier and more energetic, is a typical Toshi-densetsu in Tokyo.

Currently, the most popular Toshi-densetsu among Tokyoites is the "Good-luck Yellow Trains". It is said that a person, who rides a yellow colored train, will obtain happiness. I don't know exactly why such kind of Toshi-densetsu is being spread by Tokyoites. But, it's probably because yellow colored trains are rare in this city.

Look at the top photo. It is electric car No. 8810 of Type 8800 on the Toei Arakawa Line. Since this is the only yellow colored tram on the line, Tokyoites may think that it's lucky if they ride this electric car. Similarly, people think that it's very lucky if they ride yellow colored train, No. 306F of EMU 300 series on the Tokyu Setagaya Line (see the bottom photo). It is also the only yellow colored train on the line.

By capturing Toshi-densetsu, Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) and Tokyu Railway Company jointly launched a special campaign to boost passengers. In addition to promotions, they prepared common plates displaying "Good-luck Trains" on the font of their yellow colored electric cars. These two operators recommend riding yellow colored trains to obtain happiness.

Do you take the Toshi-densetsu of "Good-luck Yellow Trains" to be true?

Goodl-luck Yellow Train (306F, EMU 300 series) on the Tokyu Setagaya Line

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Classic Railcar on the Minato Line

Classic railcar Hitachinaka KiHa 2005 (right), 205, 202 and 222 at Nakaminato Station

When I visited Hitachinaka City (see my October 10th blog), a classic railcar was taking some time to rest in the station yard of Nakaminato, Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway.

Look at the top photo. You can see a railcar, which shows beige colored body with a vermillion stripe around the windows. It is Railcar No. 2005. This railcar was manufactured in 1966 for Rumoi Railway Company in Hokkaido Island. It had been operating on the Coal Mine Line. Then, in 1970, it was ceded to Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway, because the coal mine and the railway were closed.

In the meantime, this railcar is frequently called "JNR type". JNR, which stands for Japanese National Railways, was Japan's largest railway network. It was split into seven railway companies and privatized as the JR Group in 1987 due to financial difficulties. During the JNR era, plenty of railcars like the top photo were introduced to railways all over Japan. They were not only for JNR but also for local private railway companies. You can see the characteristics of JNR type railcars in the front design, body coloring and so on.

After privatizing, all JNR trains had been ceded to each JR company. Since then, JNR type railcars were gradually scrapped or modified and lost the original designs. But, they are still alive and operating in some local railway companies.

I felt like time had stopped and rendered thanks to the railway engineers of Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway, because they have maintained the JNR type railcars in good condition.

Side view of the railcar Hitachinaka KiHa 2005 at Nakaminato Station

Friday, 4 November 2011

"Sunset Yellow" on the JR East Ome Line

EMU JR East E233 series at Nishi-tachikawa Station, the Ome Line

Following my blog on October 29th, I would like to introduce another kind of cosmos in Showa Kinen Park. That is "Sunset Yellow".

This romantic name of a flower originated in Mexico. Then, it moved to the United States and developed a wide variety of breeds there. It is said that the yellow colored cosmos was introduced to Japan in the Taisho Era (1912-1926; the reign of the Emperor Yoshihito). I like the straw color very much. It's neat and clean and shows up against the light green leaves. It seems that the Sunset Yellow field in Showa Kinen Park is a sort of heaven.

To visit this vast field of Sunset Yellow, please take the JR East Ome Line and get off at Nishi-tachikawa station, which is located in front of the Western Gate of Showa Kinen Park. It's convenient for visitors who live in a western suburb, because some of the trains operate directly from the Chuo Line into the Ome Line. The train is an orange colored EMU E233 series, which is same as the Chuo Line.

For your information, please do not forget that you have to push the manual operation button when you get off at Nishi-tachikawa Station, as the Ome Line is a local line in the countryside. The door operation is not provided by the conductor.

You will find a vast and yellow carpet-like Sunset Yellow cosmos field soon after entering the Western Gate. Now is the season when autumn begins to deepen in Japan.

Cosmos "Sunset Yellow" in Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa City

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

EMU JR East 251 Series, "Odoriko"

EMU JR East 251 series, Limited Express "Odoriko" near Tamachi Station

Since I was on the subject of the Tokaido Line in my October 24th's blog, let me introduce a limited express train, which operates on this line. The name of the train is "Odoriko", EMU JR East 251 series (see the top photo). It operates between downtown Tokyo and Izu Peninsula, a famous seaside resort in the southern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Do you know the word "Odoriko"?

Odoriko means "a dancing girl" in Japanese. Why is the name of 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 Yasunari Kawabata. Mr. Kawabata (1899 – 1972) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, as the first Japanese author to receive the award. "The Dancing Girl of Izu" was published in 1926 as the first work of his literature to achieve great popularity.

The story of "Izu no Odoriko" is a youth's transitory love. A twenty-year-old young man, who was feeling lonely because he was an orphan, met a dancing girl in Izu Peninsula while he was travelling there. Through the meeting and heart-to-heart exchange with her, he was healed and was eventually drawn out of his loneliness.

In contrast to the story, the actual "Odoriko" train is very joyful. The EMU 251 series was launched in 1990 as a luxury resort express, and is still very popular among holidaymakers.

The dancing girl indeed got stardom, didn't she?

 EMU JR East 251 series, Limited Express "Odoriko" at Tokyo Station

More information about Limited Express "Odoriko": http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/superviewodoriko.html