Sunday, 30 December 2012

Railway Mimic, the Ultimate Subculture in Japan

Professional railway mimic, Shinji Tachikawa's performance for the "Chitofuna Festival"

That guy has come back to Chitose-Funabashi, my town on the Odakyu Line. Wearing a railway employee-like yellow colored uniform, he appeared on stage at the "Chitofuna (Chitose-Funabashi) Festival", an annual local event (see the top photo). His name is Shinji Tachikawa, a professional railway mimic.

Shinji has a large repertoire of mimics.

First, he imitates trains all over Japan. For example, he does a running high speed Shinkansen train very well. He is good at imitating commuter trains, such as the Odakyu Electric Railway (see the follwowing picture). It is very difficult, because most of these trains have VVVF (Variable Voltage and Variable Frequency) inverter control systems, which generate complicated modulated sounds. But, he reels it off.

Second, Shinji imitates station and train announcements. For example, he does station staff announcements on the Odakyu Line. He is good at imitating the automatic English broadcast from the Shinkansen trains as well. Surprisingly, Shinji can imitate two kinds of broadcast perfectly. They are the Tokaido and the Tohoku Shinkansens. He says the intonations are slightly different. "The automatic English broadcast in the Tohoku Shinkansen train is more emotional than that of the Tokaido Shinkansen."

According to Shinji's website, he used to be an engineer in a major cement company, but resigned to be a railway mimic. What's remarkable is that Shinji is a much-in-demand showman in this country. Since the late 1990s, Japan has developed as a subculture paradise. This very specific area, railway mimics are a real ultimate subculture in this country.

EMU Odakyu 2000 series stands at Kyodo Station
More information about EMU Odakyu 2000 series (in Japanese):

Friday, 28 December 2012

Early Winter Visit to Kamakura Taking the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 60000 series (a cab with a gangway in the front) arrives at Fujisawa Sta. in the twilight

I visited Kamakura again for the first time in almost a year (see my blog on December 26th, 2011). I took the Odakyu Enoshima Line and got off at Fujisawa Station. Then, I headed to Kamakura on the lovely Enoden (Enoshima Electric Railway) train.

My destination was Tokeiji Temple in the northern Kamakura area. This temple was opened in 1285 as a nunnery. Specifically, in the Edo era (from about the 17th to 19th century), it functioned as the government's official refuge for women who were abused by their husbands. So, Tokeiji Temple is also known as "Enkiri-dera (divorce temple)". Since the Meiji era (1872), Tokeiji has been changed to a Zen Buddhist monastery. A lot of philosophers and business people have been studying there.

The garden of Tokeiji Temple was very calm and neat as a training place for Zen Buddhism. I saw a beautiful yellow carpet of fallen gingko leaves, which indicated the advent of winter in the Tokyo metropolitan area (see the following photo).

After my visit to Kamakura, I reached Fujisawa Station again at dusk. The shadows had begun to fall. My train, the EMU Odakyu "Romance Car" 60000 series (see my blog on September 4th, 2011) approached the platform in the twilight. It was a 4-car train with a cab with a gangway in the front. I often get on this train on the way home, but it was something special on that day, since it was very beautiful and glaring in the twilight (see the top photo).

Carpet of fallen ginkgo leaves in Tokeiji Temple near Kita-Kamakura Station

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Winter Colors of an Urban Forest on the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 3000 series, a local train arrives at Sangubashi Station

Tokyo is a super high density city. It has been spreading into the air, underground and into the suburbs. They are skyscrapers, subways, residential areas, and so on.

However, we still have vast spaces in the heart of the city. One of the typical examples is a forest of Meiji Shrine where the green woods are an oasis for Tokyoites. It is located near Shinjuku, the largest subcenter of downtown Tokyo.

Taking the Odakyu-Odawara Line, I visited there early this month. The nearest station is Sangubashi. Actually, I pass through this station everyday, since it is on my commuting route, but, I seldom get off there. I just got on the usual train: the EMU 3000 series, and stopped over at Sangubashi Station (see the top photo).

After getting off the train, I found a different world. The forest of Meiji Jingu was very quiet and beautiful. It's turning into winter already, but I could still see "autumn leaves". They were crimson, yellow and brown colored. Evergreen trees were also mixed with the "autumn leaves" (see the following picture). I admired the beautiful and mysterious forest for a while. Then, I relaxed by allowing myself to breathe fully. This area is also known as a "power spot" among Tokyoites.

For your information, you can get to Meiji Jingu on the JR East Yamanote Line train as well. Please get off at Harajuku Station. The entrance of the shrine will be just in front of you.

"Winter colors" of the Meiji Jingu forest near Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu Line
More information about EMU Odakyu 3000 series (in Japanese):

Monday, 24 December 2012

Nostalgic Aerial Tramway in Onomichi City

Aerial tramway in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture

After enjoying the classic streets and spectacular marine view in Fukuyama, I headed west again to reach my final destination on this trip. That was Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Onomichi commands a population of 145,000 people, and is well known as a city of literature and film. Many famous novelists have lived there and many cinematic masterpieces have been set in this city. Onomichi is also known as a city of slopes. There are densely built houses close together on the steep ground and deeply green colored forests on top of the hills.

To enjoy a superb city view, "Senkojiyama (Mt. Senkoji) Ropeway" is convenient. Three minutes of boarding from the foot of the mountain brings you to the summit of Senkojiyma, a spectacular city viewing spot.

Senkojiyama Ropeway is a municipal aerial tramway which opened in 1957. Connecting Sanroku and Sancho stations, the line length is only 361m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is also small, 115m. It is indeed a mini and nostalgic aerial tramway. Currently, third generation gondolas, Kamome (seagull) and Sakura (cherry) are operated every 15 minutes (see the top photo). They can accommodate up to 30 passengers each.

After arriving at the summit, I enjoyed the lovely landscape of this beautiful city, such as old temples on the slope and the beautiful Onomichi Channel with its elegant oblique bridge, Onomichi Ohashi (see the following picture). I realized why distinguished novelists and film directors have loved this old city.

Superb view from Senkojiyama

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The 105 Series and Sunrise in the Fukuyama Area

EMU JR West 105 series stands at Fukuyama Station on the Fukuen Line

After my visit to Okayama City, I headed to the west again. My next destination was Fukuyama, a major city in the eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture. Fukuyama City with a population of 460,000 plays host to many tourists. The flocking visitors target the nostalgic streets and lovely view of the Seto Inland Sea in Tomonoura, which is located in the southern part of the city.

When I was a child, people on the Seto Inland Sea suffered from severe environmental pollution as a corollary of sharp economic growth. Chemical runoff from industry and agriculture have decimated many habitats and caused toxic red tides in the sea. To be honest, I didn't have a good image of this area.

The situation has been dramatically improved over the last few decades. The efforts of local people, industries and the government have overcome obstacles. The Seto Inland Sea is very clean now. In fact, we can enjoy a wide variety of seafood, such as sea bream, oysters and abalones there again.

In the meantime, I am going to show a local train in the Fukuyama area. That is the EMU JR West 105 series on the Fukuen Line. Connecting Fukuyama and Shiomachi, there are 27 stations over a total operating length of 78km on the Fukuen Line. The whole route is single track, and partially electrified. The EMU 105 series is operated as a two or four car train.

Sunrise at Tomonoura near Fukuyama Station

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Electric Car Type 3000, Black Tram in the Castle City

Electric car Type 3000, "Kuro" arrives at Shiroshita Stop on the Okayama Electric Tramway 

Okayama is the main city in Okayama Prefecture, some 700km west of Tokyo. Along with Hiroshima, it is a business center of the Chugoku District, in the western part of Japan.

I have a theory that most trams are operated in castle cities in Japan. For example, Kochi has a beautiful Kochi Castle and convenient tram system (see my blog on May 11th, 2012), whilst Hakodate also has a western style castle, Goryokaku and extensive tram routes (see my blog on August 23rd, 2012). Similarly, Okayama also has a castle and tramways.

Okayama Electric Tramway is a local private company, which operates two tram routes (Higashiyama and Seikibashi lines) in the city. It was opened in 1910; and the current operating length is 4.7km only. Lovely electric cars are operated every 5 minutes on the Higashiyama Line, and every 10 minutes on the Seikibashi Line.

I like car number 3007 of the oldest model, Type 3000, best. It is known as "Kuro (black)". The classic style, splendid black body with a large rounded front light is my favorite. A large iron stand below the pantograph is also peculier to this electric car. "Kuro" was originally manufactured for the Nikko Tram Line of Tobu Railway in 1953. After closing the Nikko Tram Line, a total of 10 units were transferred to Okayama to spend a second life.

The black face, "Kuro" is the front man in the historic castle city.

Okayama castle

More information about trains of Okayama Electric Railway (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Okayama, Gateway City to Shikoku Island

EMU JR Shikoku 8000 series, Limited Express "Shiokaze" stands at Okayama Station

After staying at Kamigori Town in Hyogo Prefecture (see my blog on December 4th, 2012), I moved to Okayama, a main city of Okayama Prefecture. Okayama functions as not only an administrative center of the prefecture, but also a key junction of regional transportation. We can see a wide variety of trains at Okayama Station. It is a railfan's paradise!

Look at the top photo. It is a train to Shikoku Island, EMU JR Shikoku 8000 series, "Shiokaze (sea breeze)". The 8000 series is a DC (direct current) train launched in 1992. A total of 12 sets of 48 units have been manufactured in Hitachi and Nihon Sharyo. It is like a worm, isn't it?

As its name suggests, "Shiokaze" crosses the Seto Inland Sea, and heads to Matsuyama, a major city in Ehime Prefecture. En route, the Shiokaze passes over the 13.1km Seto Ohashi Bridge (the world's longest two-tier bridge).

In the meantime, Okayama City is also well known for "Korakuen", a famous Japanese Feudal Lord's garden (see the following photo). Along with Kairakuen, in Mito and Kenrokuen, in Kanazawa, Korakuen is one of three great gardens of Japan. It was ordered by Nagatada Tsuda to begin construction in 1687, and completed in 1700. Taking this opportunity I visited there, and enjoyed the gorgeous autumn leaves and tasty Kibi-dango (local soft rice cake) with Maccha (Japanese green powdered tea).

Needless to say, I could enjoy feeling like a "Daimyo", a medieval feudal lord of Japan.

Korakuen Park near Okayama Station
More information about EMU JR Shikoku 8000 series (in Japanese)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

HOT 3500, 350PS Rail-car on the Chizu Express Railway

Rail-car HOT 3500 series stands at Kohnohara-Enshin Station on the Chizu Express Railway

Following the trans-mountain express, "Super-Hakuto" and "Super-Inaba" (see my blog on December 11th, 2012); I am going to show you another train on the Chizu Line. That is a rail-car of the HOT 3500 series.

The 3500 was launched in 1994 as the first rail-car for local trains on the Chizu Express Railway. A total of 10 units have been manufactured so far by Fuji Heavy Industries. The "3500" is named after the unit power of the vehicle, 350PS. I like this rail-car, since it is powerful enough to climb up mountains, and the windows are large for a great view.

Sitting in the comfortable seat, I enjoyed watching the landscape go by from the train window... a clear blue sky, crimson leaves, limpid streams and so on... sure to wash away daily stresses and strains in my urban life.

In the meantime, I saw a special signboard on the front of one of the rail cars (see the following picture). It is the "Railway Girl" character wearing the Chizu Express Railway conductor's uniform. Railway Girls are imaginary characters created by a toy manufacturer. In this series, most Japanese railway companies have their own imaginary employee characters, such as Ms. Erio Miyamoto of the Chizu Express Railway. By tying up with the railway companies, the toy manufacturer created a vast number of character-goods, for example figures, drama-CDs and comics. Just like model train buffs, there are many Railway Girl collectors in Japan.

Railway is a really expensive yet deep hobby, isn't it?

Signboard of "Railway Girl" character wearing Chizu Express Railway's conducter uniform
More information about the rail-car HOT 3500 series (in Japanese):

Friday, 14 December 2012

Local Train and Lawn Cherry Field on the Fujikyu Line

EMU Fujikyu 1000 (ex-Keio 5000) series stands at Otsuki Station

Following my blog on September 7th 2012, I am going to show the other superb view on the Fujikyu Line in Yamanashi Prefecture (see the following photo).

Shibazakura (lawn cherry) is a cherry-like pink-flowered short grass, which is originally form North America. It blooms in April to May in Japan as a mid-spring flower. Fuji Shibazakura Field is one of the reputable lawn cherry viewing spots in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. More than 800,000 lawn cherries are growing in an area that covers 2.4 hectares.

I visited there on a bright Saturday in mid-May this year. I saw many flower lovers there, as it was the best period for viewing blossoms. It was extremely beautiful that the snow-capped Mt. Fuji rose over the swathing pink-colored lawn cherries, backed by a blue colored sky and fluffy white clouds.

To get from downtown Tokyo to Fuji Shibazakura Field, take JR East Chuo Line and transfer to Fujikyu Line at Otsuki Station. I got on the local train of the Fujikyu Line, an EMU 1000 series, bound for Kawaguchi-ko. This model is an ex-Keio 5000 series, which was a very reputable commuter train in Tokyo in the 1960s through the 1990s. It is also known as the winner of the 1964 Laurel Prize (see my blog on May 20th, 2012). Curved front windows and double rounded front lights of this 43-year-old train are nostalgic, but still very cool.

A gorgeous lawn cherry field and an evergreen local train... I found new charms in the Mt. Fuji area.

Mt. Fuji and the lawn cherry field near Kawaguchi-ko Station on the Fujikyu Line (May, 2012)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Trans-Mountain Express in the Chugoku District

DMU HOT 7000 series, Ltd. Exp. "Super-Hakuto", passes through Kuzaki Station on the Chizu Line

Following my blog on December 4th, 2012, I am going to show a railway turning off Kamigori Station. That is the Chizu Express Railway.

Connecting Kamigori, on the JR West Sanyo, and Chizu, on the JR West Inbi lines, the total operating length is 56.1km. The whole route is an unelectrified, single track. Some of the trains are directly operated into the JR West Line.

The most distinctive feature of this line is the trans-mountain route penetrating the Chugoku Mountains. It is a bridge-tunnel railway, which connects cities located on the Sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea.

Two kinds of limited express trains are operated on the line.

One of them is Super-Hakuto, connecting Tottori, Kurayoshi and Kyoto (see the top picture). Chizu Express Railway's flagship model, DMU HOT 7000 is operated with a maximum speed of 130km per hour. In addition to its speed, the other outstanding feature is its curve passage performance. By tilting the train's body using pendular technology, the HOT 7000 series can keep a high speed on tight curves.

Another limited express train is the Super-Inaba connecting Tottori and Okayama (see the following picture). JR West's DMU KiHa 187-500 series are operated on this line. Although its maximum speed is 120km per hour, it has the most advanced tilting system in JR West, and runs between Tottori and Okayama in about 90 minutes, which is faster than its primary competitor, the expressway bus.

Railways in the Chugoku District are doing their best.

DMU JR West KiHa 187-500 series, Ltd. Exp. "Super-Inaba", arrives at Kamigori Station
More information about Limited Express, Super-Hakuto (in Japanese):
More information about Limited Express, Super-Inaba (in Japanese):

Sunday, 9 December 2012

From Pilgrim to Commuter Railway, the Daiyuzan Line

5501F (steel) of the EMU Izu-Hakone 5000 series arrives at Fujifilm-mae Station

Odawara is a major city located some 80km southwest of Tokyo, and functions as a key junction of transportation in the western part of Kanagawa Prefecture. For example, JR Central has a station of the Tokaido Shinkansen; meanwhile JR East has a Tokaido Main Line station. Odakyu and Hakone Tozan railways also have a large shared terminal adjacent to the JR stations.

Never forget that Odawara has one more important railway, which is the Daiyuzan Line of Izu-Hakone Railway Company. Connecting Odawara and Daiyuzan, there are 12 stations over a total operating length of 9.6km. The route is single track, and 3-car trains are operated every 12 minutes.

The Daiyuzan Line has a unique history in early times. It was constructed as a pilgrim railway to the famous Saijo-ji temple in 1925, but currently, it is a commuter railway for the residents in Odawara and Minami-Ashigara Cities.

The main fleet of the line is EMU 5000 series, which was launched in 1984. A total of 7 sets, 21 units have been manufactured over 12 years. Only the 1st set is steel (see the top photo), while the other 6 sets are stainless-steel (see the following photo).

I took the Daiyuzan Line on a weekend of this October. I saw some sightseers, but most of the passengers are local people such as families, students and the aged. The Daiyuzan Line is no longer a pilgrim railway, but a local transport for the people in the Odawara area.

5507F (stainless-steel) of the EMU Izu-Hakone 5000 series arrives at Fujifilm-mae Station
More information about trains on the Daiyuzan Line (in Japanese):

Friday, 7 December 2012

Subway and Autumn Leaves in the Ancient Capital

EMU Kyoto Municipal Subway 10 series (top number car, 1101) leaves Takeda Station (Feb. 2010)

I received a beautiful picture from one of my blog readers who travelled to Japan recently (see the following photo). It was shot at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, the ancient capital city of Japan.

Kyoto was Japan's capital from 794 after relocation from Nara. Although the status of nation's capital was transferred from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, Kyoto is still considered as the Japan's most fundamental city, as the imperial palace had been located there for about 1100 years.

Kiyomizu Temple (the following photo) is built on a "stage", where the panoramic view and autumn color is spectacular. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to visit Kyoto this year due to professional commitments and a consequent lack of time, but I am going to take this opportunity to show you a train in Kyoto.

The top photo shows the EMU Kyoto Municipal Subway 10 series. The subway in Kyoto City was opened in 1981 between Kitaoji and Kyoto on the Karasuma Line. Currently, it consists of two routes, and the total operating length is 31.2km. The trains of subway lines are directly operated into two private railways, namely the Kintetsu and Keihan lines.

The EMU 10 series is the first model in the Kyoto Municipal Subway. The green colored vertical stripe on the front car represents a belt of a Maiko (traditional dancing and singing girl in Kyoto). Currently, one train is composed of 6 cars, and operated every 7-8 minutes in the daytime.

Kyoto blends two faces perfectly... traditional and contemporary.

Night view of Kiyomizu Temple near Gojo Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway (Nov. 2012)
Photo: Courtesy Arga Surawidjaja

Route map of the Kyoto Municipal Subway:
More information about EMU 10 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The 115 Yellow and Local Festival in Kamigori Town

EMU JR West 115 series stands at Kamigori Station on the Sanyo Main Line

A friend of mine has moved from Tokyo to Kamigori Town in Hyogo Prefecture to take up farming. I visited him with my family last month.

Kamigori is a typical agrarian town surrounded by the Chugoku Mountains. It is located some 600km west of Tokyo. To get there from Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen, and got off at Aioi Station. A local train was waiting for us on the west-bound track of the Sanyo Main Line, when we arrived at Aioi. That was a local train, the EMU JR West 115 series (see the top photo). It was yellow, or rather, "Yamabuki (bright yellow)" color, which was different from those of JR East 115 (see my blog on September 22nd, August 10th and April 6th, 2012).

After being reunited with my friend, we visited a local autumn festival together. I saw a bunch of people in the agora of the town. More than 20 food stalls with over 200 tables had been set up there. We enjoyed superb local food such as Ayu (sweetfish) broiled with salt and Moroheiya (Jew's marrow) salad. On the other hand, a Rakugo storyteller (traditional Japanese comedian), with local girls, was making the audience laugh with their narrative skill using the local dialect (see the following photo).

Big-hearted people, a mild autumn climate and the slow passing of time... it was truly country life in Japan. Kamigori is a place that lets city dwellers feel the warmth of those long-forgotten.

"Rakugo" storyteller's performance for the local festival in Kamigori Town near Kamigori Station

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Mass Transit Funicular in Hakone Mountains

Funicular HT1 set (Ke101 and 201) leaves Gora Station on the Hakone Cable Car Line

As I mentioned before, Hakone is a very popular sightseeing area in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is said that 19 million tourists visit this mountain resort per year, since they can enjoy the nature and the hot springs less than two hours from the heart of the city. Hakone is always busy with visitors, but especially in spring because of the fresh greenery and in autumn because of the crimson leaves.

The main sightseeing route in Hakone runs from Hakone Yumoto to Lake Ashinoko, starting with the Hakone Tozan Railway, which takes passengers up to Gora Station in 40 minutes. Then, most of the tourists change to the funicular, "Hakone Cable Car" to climb up to the higher altitude.

Connecting Gora and Sounzan stations, the Hakone Cable Car was opened in 1921. One of the features of this funicular is 4 intermediate stations. They are Koen-shimo, Koen-kami, Naka-Gora and Kami-Gora, which are not only for sightseers but also for local residents.

To transport flocking passengers, the operating company introduced 2 sets of Swiss made 2-car trains, HT1 and HT2 in 1995 (see the photos). Thanks to the mass transit vehicles, one train can accommodate 251 passengers. Currently, trains are operated every 15 minutes on average; therefore, they can transport more than 10,000 tourists per day to the mountain paradise.

After getting off the funicular at Sounzan, it is about half an hour to Togendai at Ashinoko lakeside by the Hakone Ropeway (see my blog on November 5th, 2012).

Funicular HT2 set (Ke102 and 202) passes through the middle point on the Hakone Cable Car Line

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The 500 Series, Ultimate Beauty of High Speed Train

EMU JR West 500 series stands at Fukuyama Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen

What is the most beautiful train in Japan? Perhaps, nine times out of ten, the answer will be "the shinkansen 500 series!"

The EMU JR West 500 series was launched in 1997 as the Super-express train, Nozomi (hope). A total of 9 sets, 144 units have been manufactured by Hitachi, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Kinki Sharyo and Nippon Sharyo. The canopy architecture with the long front nose is very cool and popular among rail-fans as well as tourists. I think that the design of the 500 series is developed into a fine art; however, it is the result of pursuit to reduce air resistance and tunnel boom.

The EMU 500 series had been operated on the Tokaido and the Sanyo Shinkansens with a maximum speed of 300km per hour; but after the debut of the N700 (see my blog on February 22nd, 2012), the 500 series has been retired gradually. Everything flows, nothing stands still.

To see and get on this beautiful train today, take the Sanyo Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Hakata in the western part of Japan. Currently, they make 9 to 12 round trips per day as mostly all-stations trains, Kodama (echo). Although it has been shortened from 16 to 8 cars per set, and decreased its maximum speed from 300 to 285km per hour, the beautiful tubular body with a sharp long nose is still alive and kicking.

EMU JR West 500 series, it is the ultimate beauty of high speed train.

Side view of Type 521, EMU JR West 500 series at Fukuyama Station
More information about EMU JR West 500 series:

Monday, 26 November 2012

Commuter Liner, Healing Train for Hard Workers

EMU JR East 185 series, "Home Liner Konosu" stands at Ueno Station
Businessmen and businesswomen in Tokyo are generally busy everyday. To make matters worse, they have to have a hard time while returning home, as the commuter trains are packed on most of the routes. What can they do?

Here is what they need to do. Get on a Commuter Liner by paying an extra fee. It takes them to a healing world. Currently, some of the railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area operate special trains, which guarantee passengers going back home seats on board. For example, Tokyo Metro and Odakyu jointly operate a special Romance Car, "Metro Homeway" from the city center to western suburbs of Tokyo (see my blog on September 4th, 2011).

JR East also operates similar trains, so-called Commuter Liner. For example, Home Liner Konosu is operated between Ueno and Konosu on the Takasaki Line (see the top photo); while the Shonan Liner is operated between Tokyo and Odawara (see the following photo). EMUs 185 and 215 series etc. are used. They are higher grade than those of standard commuter trains. The operation interval is 30 minutes on average.

I sometimes use a Romance Car, Metro Homeway from Otemachi Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line near my office. It is directly operated into the Odakyu Line. Wood grain patterns are heavily used for the interior, such as the passenger seats and the walls. It offers the passengers peace and comfort.

Commuter Liner: it is a healing train for hard workers in urban areas of this country.
EMU JR East 215 series, "Shonan Liner" stands at Tokyo Station

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Autumn Colors on the Chichibu Railway

Classic EMU Chichibu 1000 (left) and Seibu 4000 (right) series at Mitsumineguchi Station

The foliage season has come to the Tokyo metropolitan area again. In autumn, many people enjoy viewing the leaves change of color. It shows us the tremendous beauty, which we hardly notice in our daily routine life. I visited the Chichibu area last weekend, and enjoyed mid-autumn in the country. It was a bright, clear and quiet day.

To begin with, I reached Mitsumineguchi Station on the Chichibu Railway. Various colored foliaged mountains lay behind the terminal, and in front was a small flatland for a local village. It was a very quiet weekend morning around the station (see the following photo).

In the station yard, I could see a wide variety of trains (see the top photo). The vermilion colored classic one is the EMU 1000 series, which was transferred from JR East in the late '80s. The original model number was EMU JNR (Japan National Railways) 101 series, manufactured in the '60s. I often got on this type of train in downtown Tokyo, when I was a child.

The white colored train with blue, red and green colored stripes is the EMU Seibu 4000 series. This train is directly operated from Seibu Railway at the end of each week. It was launched in 1988 as a standard class train; but it has enough facilities such as cozy seats and sanitary toilets for long distance passengers.

I could also see many other kinds of trains there, but I will perhaps show them another time.

Nostalgic Mitsumineguchi Station on the Chichibu Railway

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cosmos Field on the Takasaki Line

EMU JR East 211 series arrives at Gyoda Station on the Takasaki Line

Autumn is the season for cosmos blossoms. We can see many cosmos fields here and there in the Tokyo metropolitan area. As I mentioned before, I visited Mt. Fuji (see my blog on September 22nd), Tachikawa (my blogs on October 29th and November 4th) and Kurihama (my blog on November 20th) last year.

This year, I headed north. My destination was the Arakawa River in Saitama Prefecture, some 50km from downtown Tokyo. Along the riverside, we can see a vast cosmos field there. They are white, pink and yellow colored. Among them, what particularly took my fancy was the dark pink colored Akatsuki (dawn) blossoms. Full blooming cosmos were shaken with the wind in the sunshine (see the following photo). Many people were visiting to enjoy this autumn event.

To get to this flower lover's paradise, JR East Takasaki Line is convenient. I got on the Rapid Service train from Shinjuku Station on the Shonan-Shinjuku Line, as it was directly operated into the Takasaki Line. After one hour or so, I could reach Fukiage, the nearest station to the field. It was good to see the EMU 211 series again on the way back home (see the top photo), as the 211 has already been retired from the Tokaido Main Line. I had no chance to see this "white face" at Tokyo Station near my office.

The gorgeous cosmos field and the rare train... rail-fans always get additional gain. This is killing two birds with one stone, isn't it?

Cosmos "Akatsuki" Field near Fukiage Station on the Takasaki Line

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Irodori 485-N201, Sharp-eyed "Freeza" Train

N201 set of the EMU JR East 485 series, "Irodori" arrives at Katsunuma-budokyo Station

Do you know there are many leisure trains in Japan? One of the examples is "Yufuin-no- mori" of JR Kyushu (see my blog on May 7th, 2011), meanwhile a small company, Watarase Valley Railway, has an open-air train "Torokko Wasshi" for sightseers (see my blog on September 10th, 2012).

The giant, JR East also owns several leisure trains. I am going to show one of them here. That is "Irodori"; N201 of the EMU 485 series (see the photos).

Irodori (Color) is an all green-car train. It means that the 6-car train is composed of the first class car only. Actually, Irodori lives up to its name. The body of the train is very colorful. They are lilac (car number 1 and 5), dark yellow (car number 2), pinkish beige (car number 3 and 6) and light blue (car number 4). The interior is also rich in variety. Car number 1 and 6 are 2+1 cross seat cars. By contrast, car number 2, 3 and 5 are compartment cars. A large salon is provided in car number 4. A massage chair and an audio instrument are also installed.

In the meantime, Japanese rail-fans call this train "Freeza", because the face of the train resembles the famous cartoon character, Freeza in Dragon Ball. Most notably, the "sharp-eyed" front lights are awfully similar to the eyes of Freeza.

Do I like this face? Not really, to be honest, but it's very unique, isn't it?

N201 set of the EMU JR East 485 series, "Irodori" stands at Hachioji Station on the Chuo Line

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Keikyu-Kamata, Castle Wall in the High-density City

New Keikyu-Kamata Station (left) and double-deck elevated tracks of the Keikyu-Airport Line

Along with Chofu Station on the Keio Line (see my blog on October 17th, 2012), another bottleneck station has dispelled its negative image. That is Keikyu-Kamata Station on the Keikyu Line, some 10 km south of the city center.

On October 22nd, Keikyu Electric Railway completed the construction of elevated tracks around Keikyu-Kamata Station on the Keikyu-Main and Keikyu-Airport lines (see the top photo). A total of 6km of surface tracks have been elevated.

Before completion of the new tracks, Keikyu-Kamata was a bottleneck station on the timetable, as the Main Line and the Airport Line trains crossed on the surface. But, after the completion, a grade separated crossing has made it possible for the trains to be operated smoothly.

Just like Chofu on the Keio Line, another advantage of the elevated tracks is the elimination of traffic jams at railway crossings. The Keikyu lines crossed the arterial road, Route 15. High concentrations of cars passing the railway crossings had been causing chronic traffic congestion. It has completely disappeared after completion of the construction.

In the meantime, with the completion of the grade separated crossing, Keikyu has changed the timetable on the lines. Express services between Shinagawa, Yokohama and Haneda Airport (Tokyo International Airport) have been expanded drastically. It's good news for airline passengers. The next highlight will be a counterplot by Tokyo Monorail, which is Keikyu's primary competitor for transportation between the city center and Haneda Airport.

New Keikyu-Kamata station, it's a castle wall in the high-density city.
EMUs Keikyu 2100 (left) and 1500 (right) series leave south-bound platform, Keikyu-Kamata Sta.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Histric Garden on the Futuristic AGT Line

Letest model on the Yurikamome Line, EMU 7200 series arrives at Shiodome Station

As I mentioned before, Tokyo is the most congested city in Japan. This giant city has been expanding since 1457, when Edo castle was constructed. Currently, there are many business districts, shopping quarters and residential areas in the city.

However, even in these circumstances, a number of historic areas remain unchanged. One of the examples is Hamarikyu Garden in the city center. This garden was constructed in the 17th century as a typical Japanese feudal lord garden. It is located next to Tokyo Bay; and its tidal ponds are filled with seawater. A tidal pond means a pond that is infused with seawater. Now the garden is surrounded by high-rise buildings of the Shiodome business area, and the contrast between the old and the new is superb.

To get to this urban historic spot, the Yurikamome Line is convenient. It is an AGT (automated guide way transit) line which opened in 1995 between Shimbashi in downtown Tokyo and the Tokyo Bay area (see my blog on August 29th, 2011). The current total operating length is 14.7km.

The top photo shows the latest model EMU 7200 series arriving at Shiodome Station near Hamarikyu Garden. This model was launched in 1999 as the second generation train on the line. The major different points from previously-existing 7000 series are the control system (from thyristor to variable-frequency drive) and increase the number of guide wheels.

Shioiri Pond in Hamarikyu Park near Shiodome Station on the Yurikamome Line
More information about the Yurikamome trains (in Japanese):

Friday, 9 November 2012

Shibamata, Good Old Days on the Urban Local Line

Nostalgic EMU, Keisei 3300 series arrives at Shibamata Station on the Kanamachi Line

Shibamata is located some 10km east of the city center, and is one of the traditional areas in Tokyo. It is also home to a 17th-century temple, Taishakuten. The area maintains the feel of the good old days in Tokyo. The winding residential backstreet is a typical example.

It was a series of movies, Otokowa Tsuraiyo (It's Hard Being a Man) that made Shibamata famous throughout Japan. In the movie, Shibamata is described as an area where time has stopped.

The railway in Shibamata is also old-fashioned. The nearest route, the Kanamachi Line was opened in 1899 as a handcar railway. Operators pushed the car from behind. It was electrified in 1913 as a part of the Keisei Electric Railway of today, but it is still a single track local line. There are only 3 stations over a total operating length of 2.5km.

An old-fashioned 4-car train, the EMU 3300 series is operated every 10 to 15 minutes on the route. The 3300 series was launched in 1968. A total of 54 units have been manufactured, and 16 units are still operated.

I like these nostalgic trains very much, as the 4 large front lights are very cute. When I was a child, I often got on the 3300 series on the subway Toei-Asakusa Line, as this train was directly operated into the subway line. It was called Akaden (the red train), as the body color was red at that time.

The 3300 series really goes with nostalgic town of Shibamata.

Taishakuten-temple and a residential backstreet near Shibamata Station on the Kanamachi Line

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Special Poster Trains in Shinkansen Year 2012

Tokyo Tower, JR East's penguin character and Panda (Ueno Zoo) on the EMU E2-J series

JR East has been promoting Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano, Akita and Yamagata Shinkansens since early this year, as coined "Shinkansen Year 2012". It is because this year is the 30th anniversary of the Tohoku and the Nagano Shinkansen, the 20th anniversary of the Yamagata Shinkansen and the 15th anniversary of the Akita Shinkansen.

One of the promotion activities is the operation of special poster trains, which are decorated with local characters. For example, 4 sets of EMU E2-J series are decorated with characters on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Car number 2 is decorated with images of Tokyo Tower, Panda in the Ueno Zoo and so on (see the top photo). Meanwhile, car number 6 is decorated with images of Tanabata Festival in Sendai, Kokeshi (traditional wooden doll) in Narugo, Masamune Date (a famous warlord) etc.

4 sets of EMU E2-N series are decorated with local characters on the Nagano Shinkansen. Car number 3 is decorated with images of Zenkoji Temple, Yukimura Sanada (a famous samurai) and so on (see the following picture). Meanwhile, car number 6 is decorated with images of Jigokudani Hot Spring, Northern Japanese Alps, and ski ground in Hakuba etc.

JR East are also posting photographs of "Shinkansen and people" taken by passengers over the last 30 years on the company website. They are Shinkansen trains with children, boys, girls, couples and old people. You will be able to see Japanese people's expressions, dress and day-to-day life from 1982 to 2011 on the following website.

Shinkansen stays ahead of Japanese railways.

Zenkoji temple and JR East's penguin character with Y. Sanada costume on the EMU E2-N series

Monday, 5 November 2012

Gondola Lift and Silver Grass Field in Hakone

Distant view of Mt. Fuji over Sengokubara near Ubako Station on the Hakone Ropeway

Now is the time when we are getting deeper into autumn in the Tokyo metropolitan area. I visited the Hakone Mountains on a bright and clear weekend, since I have begun to long for sunny spots.

As I mentioned in my blog on July 11th, 2011, Hakone is a famous mountain resort in the western suburb of Tokyo. By taking a commuter train, a mountain railway, a funicular and a gondola lift, we can reach a beautiful highland easily from downtown Tokyo.

One of the recommended spots in this season is a vast silver grass field in Sengokubara. This area is located in the northern part of the Hakone Mountains. It's a relatively flat land because of a crater floor of the caldera, which is surrounded by steep outer rim mountains. In this season, we can see an awful lot of rabbit ears of silver grass. They change color from green to gold on exposure to the sun. The breeze blowing against them also creates a refreshing sound.

To get to this gorgeous spot, I took the Hakone Ropeway from Sounzan Station. This gondola lift was opened in 1959. There are 4 stations over a total operating length of 4.05km. Currently, it is officially recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for "the busiest aerial tramway", since a total of 2 million passengers per year are on board.

The busy aerial tramway and a beautiful silver grass field, there are still many attractive spots unknown to visitors in Hakone.

Silver grass field in Sengokubara near Ubako Station on the Hakone Ropeway
More informaton about Hakone Ropeway:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Revisit to Burningbush Hill on the Minato Line

Rail car Miki 300-103 approaches Ajigaura Station on the Minato Line, Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway
The autumn color of burningbush is my favorite of the season. Just as last year, I visited Burningbush Hill in Ibaraki Prefecture. As I mentioned in my previous article (see my blog on October 10th, 2011), burningbush produces many small flowers in August. Then, in October, it turns a glowing red. It's very impressive as a signal of the coming of autumn. This year, I visited the hill in the late stage of its autumn color so I could view a different aspect of the burningbush autumn leaves. They were scarlet to reddish brown colored.

To get to this gorgeous spot, I took a local railway, the Minato Line of Hitachi Kaihin Railway from Katsuta Station on the JR East Joban Line. Connecting Katsuta and Ajigaura, there are 9 stations over a total operating length of 14.3km. It is single track and non-electrified wholly within the route.

This time I got on rail car number "Miki 300-103". The 300-103 was introduced in 1998 by Miki Railway in Hyogo Prefecture, the western part of Japan. Unfortunately, this railway was closed in 2008, as the number of passengers on the trains had declined. Then, this rail car was moved to Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway in 2009. Since then, the rail car Miki 300-103 has been operated on the Minato Line, maintaining the same color and unit number.

I hope that the sceneries of Burningbush Hill and the Minato Line won't change long into the future, either.

In the meantime, I have linked to the newly-opened blog, "Greek railways - Trainspotting in Greece since 2008 ". Please enjoy informative railway topics and beautiful sceneries in Greece.

Burningbush Hill in Hitachinaka City near Ajigaura Station on the Minato Line