Saturday, 31 December 2011

Railway Heritage and Wintersweet Field in Gunma

Railway heritage, electric locomotive ED 42 1 is preserved at Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park

Usui Pass (960m), which is located on the border between Gunma and Nagano prefectures, has been well-known as a place of heavy traffic. It is about 100km north of downtown Tokyo. If you approach from Gunma Prefecture, you have to climb nearly 600m on foot to the pass within a 9km horizontal distance.

In 1893, the railway, Shinetsu Main Line was opened crossing this steep area. Since then, the 11.2 km section between Yokokawa Station on the Gunma side and Karuizawa Station on the Nagano side had been operated using the rack-and-pinion railway system. It had been used until 1963, when a non-rack operation was introduced. Today, Nagano bullet trains breeze through Usui Pass with a maximum speed of 210km per hour at inclines of up to 30 per mill.

If you visit Yokokawa, you can still see the old electric locomotive, Type ED42 in Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park near the station (see the top photo). Type ED42 was specially-manufactured for the rack-and-pinion system railway between 1934 and 1948. The total number of manufactured units was 28. Among them, the top number unit, ED42 1 is designated as a Railway Heritage

In the meantime, I stopped en route to Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park at Wintersweet Village in Ananaka City near Yokokawa. Wintersweet is a flowering plant, which has yellow colored blossoms from December to February. It has just come into bloom, but I enjoyed lovely flowers and sweet perfume (see the bottom photo).

Gunma is an attractive area, isn't it?

Wintersweet field in Annaka City, Gunma Prefecture

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

At the Year-end in Tokyo

EMU Tokyo Metro 02 series arrives at Ochanomizu Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line

Only several days are now left in 2011. People in Tokyo are rushing all the time to complete their work and meet their year-end deadline.

2011 was a special year in which we experienced a giant earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. Nearly, 20,000 people are dead or missing. To make matters worse, Japan has been facing difficulties with the nuclear power plant disaster that followed the earthquake. The Japanese government recently declared Fukushima Nuclear Plant stable, because it has reached a cold shutdown, a major milestone. But the recovery is going to be a long process. It's going to take a lot of hard work and patience.

In the meantime, people in Tokyo have returned to their daily routine. Tokyo Electric Power Company announced that it had avoided the power shortages predicted for midsummer. The situation is still the same in winter. Railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area are providing normal train services. I felt happy while out for a walk in Ochanomizu, when I saw the trains on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line operating as usual (see the top photo). It is simple and routine, but the greatest happiness can be found in everyday things.

The illumination in Wadagura Fountain Park in the business district near my office is also normal even at the weekend. A couple was enjoying walking and taking pictures themselves (see the bottom photo). It was a tranquil and peaceful sunset.

May the New Year turn out to be the happiest and the best for you.

Sunset in Wadagura Fountain Park near Tokyo Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line

Monday, 26 December 2011

EMU Enoden 500 series and Revisit to Kamakura

502F of EMU 500 series arrives at Enoshima Station, Enoshima Electric Railway

As I mentioned in my July 25th blog, Kamakura, about 40km south of Tokyo, is known as a historic city where the Bakufu (shogunate government) was located from 1185 to 1333. This city is located on the Pacific Ocean to the south. Meanwhile, there are steep mountains to the north, east and west as a natural fortification in the Samurai (warrior) era.

In the meantime, Kamakura is also known for its warm climate. Even in winter, it remains warm in the city. Last week, I revisited there to enjoy the final stage of its "autumn leaves" and tranquil gardens in the Buddhist temples.

I took the Odakyu Line from my stop, Chitose-funabashi and got off at Katase-enoshima Terminal. Then, I transferred to the "Enoden", Enoshima Electric Railway and headed to Kamakura. This time, I rode an EMU 500 series, which is the newest train on the line launched in 2006. It is a two-car train with Jacobs bogie. AC traction motors with VVVF inverter control system are used to promote energy savings (see the top photo).

After arriving at Kamakura Terminal, I visited Myohonji Temple. It was only 10 minutes walk from the station. Although it was the weekend, the precinct of the temple was quiet. I saw very few visitors and only a stray cat. I could focus on stilling the mind and viewing the beautiful "autumn leaves" there (see the bottom photo).

Winter in Kamakura is a best-kept secret. I became a big fan and repeat visitor of Kamakura.

Early winter colors in Myohonji Temple near Kamakura Station, Enoshima Electric Railway

More information about EMU Enoden 500 series (in Japanese):

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Advent of Winter in the Business District

EMU JR East Joetsu Shinkansen 200 series mounted with a snowplow at the front

Finally autumn has gone and winter is here in the business district in Tokyo. The leaves on the ginkgo trees near Tokyo Station have already turned yellow and started defoliation (see the bottom photo). Once a cold wave comes, it always snows in the Tohoku District on the Japan Sea. In contrast, it is always clear in the regions here on the Pacific Ocean. 2000-3000m high mountain ranges, which run nearly the full length of the country, give the Japan Sea and the Pacific Ocean sides of Japan vastly different climatic patterns.

If you visit Tokyo Station, you can see the special Shinkansen train, which mounts a snowplow at the front (see the top photo). It is an EMU JR East 200 series on Joetsu Shinkansen. Connecting Tokyo and Niigata, the largest city on the Japan Sea, the Joetsu Shinkansen was fully opened in 1991 after challenging engineering work. The total operating length is 269.5km. Currently, the maximum speed of the train is 240km per hour.

The route of the Joetsu Shinkansen has a variety of different landscapes. For example, Dai-shimizu Tunnel, which penetrates the border between Gunma and Niigata prefectures, was the world's longest tunnel (22.2km) when it was completed in 1978. If you ride the Shinkansen train and head to Niigata in winter, you will find the snow covered land as soon as the train comes out of the Dai-shimizu Tunnel.

Winter railway travel is also very attractive in Japan. I will report it soon.

"Winter color" in the business district near Tokyo Station

Thursday, 22 December 2011

View of Mt. Fuji from Izu Peninsula

EMU JR Central 371 series, "Asagiri", passes through Chitose-Funabashi Station on the Odakyu Line

Fuji is the highest and most symbolic mountain in Japan. It is located about 100km west of Tokyo and categorized as a "dormant volcano". Mt. Fuji last erupted in 1707, but it is still active because we sometimes detect volcanic tremors at the foot of the mountain.

We can see Mt. Fuji, the highest peak (3,776m) of the nation from our capital city of Tokyo. It is a very unique feature out of all the capitals in the world. But it is a bit far from the capital. So, to get a closer look at this beautiful volcano, Izu Peninsula is one of the recommended areas. You can see both the noble Mt. Fuji and the blue Pacific Ocean there.

Earlier this month, I rode the EMU JR Central 371 series (see the top photo), limited express "Asagiri (morning mist)" from Machida Station, a western suburb of Tokyo. This train is directly operated from Odakyu to the JR Central Line. Limited express "Asagiri" is jointly operated by two companies using the EMU JR Central 371 series and the Odakyu 20000 series, Romance Car, Type RSE.

After reaching Numazu Terminal, the gate city of Izu Peninsula, I transfered for a bus and visited Cape Oosezaki, the famous point for viewing Mt. Fuji (see the bottom photo). It was a clear and bright day after heavy rain. I could see a superb view of the freshly snow capped summit backed by a blue colored sky and Suruga Bay of the Pacific Ocean. Then, I visited a sushi bar in Numazu City and enjoyed some local dishes.

I enjoyed a relaxing time.
View of Mt. Fuji (3,776m) from Cape Oose-zaki near Numazu Station, JR Central

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Annual Event in the Giant Earthquake Year

EMU JR East 209-1000 series leaves Omotesando Station, Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line

The winter illuminations are an annual event in Japan. We can see a lot of beautiful illuminations here and there. According to the media, over 70 percent of people said that illuminations reminded them of the approaching Christmas and New Year holidays.

In Japan, now there are about 2.6 million Christians in total. They make up only 2 percent of the population; however, Japanese people alternate between being Christians at Christmas and Buddhists at New Year - very flexible (!).

Joking aside, the most traditional and famous illuminations in the Tokyo metropolitan area are on Omotesando Avenue in a downtown area. Omotesando is a well-known fashion town, which was built 90 years ago.

Last week, I visited Omotesando Avenue on the way back home from my office. I saw many visitors, who were smiling and enjoying this annual event, the same as previous years (see the bottom photo). But, as you are aware, this is a special year in which we experienced the giant earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. Nearly, 20,000 people are dead or missing. Half a year ago, I couldn't imagine that the "Omotesando Illuminations 2011" would be able to be held on schedule. I am really pleased that we could hold this annual event peacefully, overcoming the electric power shortage after the nuclear power plant disasters in Fukushima.

For your information, to get to Omotesando Avenue, it is convenient to get off at Tokyo Metro Omotesando Station (see the top photo). 3 subway lines reach this station; they are Ginza, Hanzomon and Chiyoda lines.

"Omotesando Illumination 2011" is held near Omotesando Station, Tokyo Metro subway lines

More information about Omotesando:

Sunday, 18 December 2011

E3+E5 Operation Has Started on the Tohoku Shinkansen

EMU E3 (left) and E5 (right) series in a state of coupling at Tokyo Station, Tohoku Shinkansen

On November 19, JR East launched 3 more sets of the Shinkansen EMU E5 series to enhance their transportation capacity. As a result, we became able to see coupling operations of E5 and E3 series on the Tohoku Shinkansen (see the top photo). As I mentioned in my July 7th blog, EMU E5 series is the newest Shinkansen train with a maximum speed of 300km per hour.

Since its debut on March 5th this year, 3 sets of E5 series have been operated alone as super express train "Hayabusa (Falcon)". But after launching 3 more sets of E5 series, JR East has started coupling operations of E5 and E3 series as super express trains "Hayate", "Yamabiko" (E5) and "Komachi" (E3) as well. (The detail commentary on the "coupling operation" on the Tohoku Shinkansen is described in my October 27th blog.)

In the meantime, EMU E5 has several new facilities as the newest Shinkansen train. One of them is "Gran Class (First Class)". The seats are similar to those of first and business classes in aircrafts. Meals, drinks and several amenities such as scuffs, a blanket, an eye mask and magazines are provided at no extra charge. I would like to ride this attractive "Gran Class" someday. But of course the price is also handsome.

For your information, JR East plans to raise the maximum speed of Tohoku Shinkansen to 320km per hour in early 2013 using EMU E5 and E6 series.

Front view of  E523-7 (Tc) in the EMU JR East E5 series at Tokyo Station, Tohoku Shinkansen

More information about "Gran Class", EMU E5 series (in Japanese) :

Friday, 16 December 2011

View of "Eight Peaks" from Kofu Basin

EMU JR East 115 series, a "Nagano color" local train leaves Isawa-onsen Station, the Chuo Line

Come winter, I became to see snow capped summits from my office in downtown Tokyo. Last weekend, I visited the countryside to get a closer look at the beautiful mountains. My destination was Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture. As I introduced in the previous blog, it is convenient to take the Chuo Line to visit there. I chose a local train, EMU JR East 115 series this time.

The EMU 115 series is one of the trains with a long life in Japan (see the top photo). It was first manufactured in 1963 under the name of JNR (Japanese National Railways). The design is quite similar with that of 111 series, but the 115 series is modified from the 111 series to operate on steeply sloping routes, such as Chuo and Shinetsu lines. The large rounded front lights are very attractive for me. The sound of the 120kW DC motor also fills me with nostalgia.

After getting to Kofu Station, I changed to the JR Central Minobu Line and visited Mitama-no-yu Hot Spring again (see my August 6th blog). It is my favorite place because we can enjoy a superb "onsen" (hot spring) while viewing the beautiful Kofu Basin and its surrounding mountains. It was a bright and clear day. I could see snow capped "Yatsugatake" (Eight Peaks, 2899m at the highest) to the north (see the bottom photo). A seasonal local garden-fresh vegetable, "Otsuka-ninjin" (Otsuka carrot) made a great salad in the restaurant.

I had a really good weekend again.

View of Yatsugatake (Eight Peaks) Mountains from Kofu Basin, Yamanashi Prefecture

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Electric Car, Keio 500 in My Grandpa's Photo Album

Electric car Keio 500 and railway engineers in 1931(?)

As I mentioned in my October 22nd blog, my grandpa, who passed away in 1999, was a railway engineer in Keio Electric Railway Company. Since he was quiet and reserved, I don't know his affairs in detail. But, I can learn a bit about it from his photo album.

Look at the top photo. It is the electric car Keio number 500, which was manufactured by Amemiya Works Ltd. in 1931. It's a VIP car for the imperial family to visit Tama Goryo, the imperial mausoleum. For that purpose, the car body is very elegant. For example, you can see beautiful arched windows on the side and a modern rounded single roof at the top of the body.

It's probably taken just after its completion. According to published literature, Keio 500 was completed in "March" 1931. It was early spring, but still cold in Tokyo. That's why several railway engineers in front of the car were wearing overcoats. All of the engineers seem very proud of the fact that they are introducing a new elegant electric car.

But later in 1938, this car was converted to a standard commuter train (new car number was 2501A, then 2503), because the imperial family took the Chuo Line to visit the mausoleum. Then, after World War II, the "VIP car", Keio 500 was lost in the mists of time. Eventually, this car was retired in 1968 from the Keio Line.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Last of Overnight Sleeper Train on the Tokaido Line

EMU JR West 285 series, overnight sleeper train, "Sunrise Express" arrives at Tokyo Terminal

As we move forward in the twenty-first century, all of the time people manage to save is actually making their lives more hectic. A typical example is the decline of overnight sleeper trains.

In the 1970s, overnight sleepers were star trains on the trunk lines in Japan. Many reputable trains, such as Fuji (the highest mountain in Japan), Sakura (a cherry blossom) and Asakaze (morning breeze), were operated with high occupancy rate. Some of the tickets were called as "platinum tickets" due to the difficulty of reservation.

But now, almost all sleeper trains have been abolished because people have transferred to other transportations such as the Shinkansen or air carriers. Certainly, they are faster and more convenient than those of sleeper trains; however, people are busier than ever. Consequently, there is only one overnight sleeper train on the Tokaido Main Line; "Sunrise Express" (see the top photo).

Sunrise Express is an EMU that has comfortable berthing. Connecting Tokyo, Takamatsu (the gate city of Shikoku Island) and Izumo-shi (a historical city in San-in Region), it travels through the night on the Tokaido and other branch lines. When the train bound for Takamatsu crosses the Seto-oohashi Bridge, which links Honshu and Shikoku islands, the passengers can see the beautiful sunrise on the Sea of Seto-naikai.

Although comfortable and scenic travel is provided, it has not been possible to put a stop to its long-term decline of passengers. I think that it is now literally in danger of being abolished.

Sunrise Express; it should be designated as an endangered species.

Side view of EMU JR West KuHaNe 285-1, the top number car of 285 series at Tokyo Station

More information about Sunrise Express (Interior photos with captions in Japanese):

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sky Blue Trains Connecting Three Prefectural Capitals

EMU JR East E233-1000 series arrives at Tokyo Station, the Keihin Tohoku Line

When Tokyoites think of "sky blue colored trains", they imagine the JR East Keihin-Tohoku Line. Connecting Ofuna and Omiya, it penetrates the Tokyo metropolitan area from south to north. There are 35 stations over a total operating length of 59.1km.

Formally, the Keihin-Tohoku Line is divided into three lines. The southernmost section, which connects Ofuna and Yokohama, is called the Negishi Line. The central section, between Yokohama and Tokyo, is a part of the Tokaido Main Line. Finally, the northernmost section, between Tokyo and Omiya, is a part of the Tohoku Main Line. Although, the formal names of the line are discrete, people call it the Keihin-Tohoku Line, because trains are directly operated on three lines.

One of the features of this line is that it connects three prefectural capitals in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. They are Yokohama City of Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo, and Saitama City of Saitama Prefecture. Because of its line alignment, the Keihin-Tohoku Line trains are always full with commuters and students. Nevertheless, 10 car trains are operated every 2-3 minutes during rush hours and every 5 minutes during the daytime, I always see packed trains at Tokyo Station.

In the meantime, the most attractive place on this line is Akihabara, where Japan's largest oasis for "otaku" -- a subculture lover, who likes anime, gaming, electronics etc. Whether you are an otaku or not, Akihabara will have more than enough to make a visit worthwhile. So, I will introduce this subculture town some time in the future.

The Yamanote Line E231-500 (left) and the Keihin-Tohoku Line E233-1000 series

Monday, 5 December 2011

Yatsu Higata on the Keisei Main Line

EMU Keisei 3000 series at Keisei-Takasago Station

After visiting Yatsu Rose Garden (see my November 26th blog), I stopped off briefly in Yatsu Higata (Yatsu Tidal Flat), which is accessible from the garden.

Yatsu Higata is well-known as a habitat of migratory birds. Especially, the black-winged stilt is a representative bird in this flat. It was sundown. The sky was beginning to darken (see the bottom photo). In the stillness of twilight, it looks beautiful and peaceful. Local people were enjoying jogging or walking their dogs on the walking trail in their own way.

I know this area has a long history of an environmental protection movement. Back in the 1950s, Yatsu Higata was one of the largest tidal flats in Japan. But, since the 1960s, many tidal flats in this area have been reclaimed by the local government. Yatsu Higata is the final local tidal flat that escaped from land development. Eventually, 40  hectares of wetland were preserved and designated a Ramsar Site in 1993.

After enjoying the beautiful rose garden and the tidal flat, I headed to Yatsu Station again. I took the Keisei Main Line and went back home. Transferring from a local to a limited express train at Funabashi Station. It took half an hour to Ueno, which is a terminal station in the eastern part of downtown Tokyo.

I enjoyed two beautiful sightseeing spots where we can see both plants and animals. As a railfan, I also enjoyed riding the fast Keisei commuter trains. It was a valued short trip to an eastern suburb of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

FYI - I have swapped links with "Jumitetsuan" website (in English and Japanese). Please visit and enjoy Japanese and Asian railway topics.

Sunset of Yatsu Higata (Yatsu Tidal Flat) near Yatsu Station, the Keisei Main Line

Friday, 2 December 2011

Rival Railway Story, Keio vs. Odakyu

EMU Keio 9000 series at Keio Yomiuri Land Station

"Tama New Town" is located in a south-western suburb of downtown Tokyo. The population is nearly 200,000.

In the 1960s, Tokyo was suffering from a major problem; an explosion of population. Specifically, the housing shortage was serious. Tokyoites needed houses or flats at reasonable prices. To solve this issue, the central and the metropolitan governments jointly had launched a "new town" development project in the Tama Hills area.

As part of the development, two railways were constructed separately; the Keio-Sagamihara and the Odakyu-Tama lines. Both of them connect Tama Center, a core area of the new town, with Shinjuku, a giant subcenter of downtown Tokyo. Keio and Odakyu became good rivals.

Keio Electric Railway operates trains every 5 minutes during rush hour and 6-7 minutes during the daytime. The fastest train travels the route between Tama Center and Shinjuku in 31 minutes. The fare is 330 Yen. Meanwhile, Odakyu Electric Railway operates trains every 6 minutes during rush hour and 7-8 minutes during the daytime. The fastest train travels the above route in 35 minutes. The fare is 360 Yen (except "Romance Car" services; see my September 4th blog).

So far, it looks like Keio has had the edge over Odakyu in terms of frequent operation, travel time and fares. But, Odakyu is steadily planning a comeback. The key strategy of Odakyu is the construction of another double track in the downtown area. Once it is completed, the transportation capacity and travel time will be drastically improved.

The two companies competition is set to continue.

EMU Odakyu 4000 series at Kyodo Station

More information about Keio:
More information about Odakyu: