Sunday, 29 January 2012

Prepaid Passes in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area

Prepaid passes, Pasmo with seasonal commuter ticket (left) and Suica (right)

If you get around Tokyo, Pasmo or Suica is a must-have card. They are prepaid passes for railway and bus passengers. The function of Pasmo and Suica are the same. The only difference is the issuer. Pasmo is issued by private railway and bus companies, whilst JR East issues Suica. Pasmo and Suica are interoperable; therefore, you just need to make a binary choice.

Once you get a card and deposit some money, you can take almost all railway and bus routes in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It's convenient for shopping as well, because these cards can also be used as electronic money.

Look at the top photo. These are my Pasmo and Suica cards. Since I live along the Odakyu Line, I am a Pasmo holder. This Pasmo is special, because the function of a commuter seasonal ticket is also attached. In this example, I can use this card as a discounted seasonal ticket on the route between Chitose-funabashi Station close to my home and Ootemachi Station near my office. In addition, I can use other railway and bus routes, if I deposit some money in advance. Of course, I can go shopping as well with this card.

I have a Suica also. Why do I have to carry two cards? It's because my Suica is an ID card for admission to my office building. At the entrance, there is a gate, and I need the Suica to pass through there.

Use of Pasmo and Suica is expanding for a number of things.
Putting up Pasmo to pass through the entrance gate of Ootemachi Station, Tokyo Metro

More information about Pasmo:
More information about Suica:

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Senseki Line, Scars of 3.11 Earthquake

EMU JR East 205-3100 series leaves Nigatake Station on the Senseki Line, elevated track

Following my blog on January 21st, I would like to introduce you to another railway line in the Sendai metropolis.

The JR East Senseki Line is one of the main commuting arteries along with the Tohoku Line and the Subway Nanboku Line in the Sendai area. Connecting Aoba-dori, the city center of Sendai, and Ishinomaki, the second largest city in Miyagi Prefecture; the total length of the route is 52 km. It carries an average of 21,000 passengers per day (the top photo).

On March 11, 2011, the Senseki line was severely damaged by the giant earthquake. Especially, the section between Takagi-machi and Yamoto was fully-destroyed by the giant tsunami. This section is still interrupted. So, passengers have to take bus services, which are provided by JR East.

On this line, we can see special wrapping trains designed with comic heroes. They are the "Masked Rider" (see the bottom photo) and "Cyborg 009", which are popular characters from Shotaro Ishinomori's science fiction comics. Mr. Shotaro Ishinomori was born in Ishinomori Town near Sendai in 1938. Hence, his pen name, "Ishinomori" is from his hometown.

I read Mr. Ishionomori's comics voraciously in my childhood. Especially, I liked Cyborg 009. The story is that nine cyborgs fight the evil Black Ghost organization. I had a deep sense of empathy for the heroes' sad stories, because they are not humans, but artificial cyborgs.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ishinomori passed away in 1998; however, the comic heroes, he created, are still alive on the trains near his hometown and give the earthquake victims encouragement.

EMU 205-3100 series decorated with "Masked Rider" at Aoba-dori Station, underground track

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

"Kodama-type" EMU in My Old Memory

"Kodama-type" EMU, JNR 181 series, Limited Express "Toki" preserved in the Railway Museum

When I visited the Railway Museum in Saitama City (see my blog on January 2nd), I found a colorful train with a bonnet on the front (see the top photo). That is a so-called "Kodama-type" EMU.

The Kodama-type was first manufactured in 1957 as a limited express train "Kodama (Echo)" for intercity transportation between Tokyo and Osaka: two major cities in Japan. Needless to say, it was the pre-shinkansen era. The official name of the train was the "EMU JNR (Japanese National Railways) 151 series", DC limited express. The design is quite unique, as a large bonnet is attached on the front. The body is also fresh, as it is colored vermilion red and beige. Although, several similar types of limited express EMU have been manufactured since launching the 151 series, we apply the name of Kodama-type to all these designed trains.

The Kodama was the fastest train of that time in Japan. The maximum speed was 110km/hour, and it was able to travel between Tokyo and Osaka (550km) in about 6 hours and 30 minutes. I have a precious experience to ride this limited express train in my childhood (see the bottom photo). Probably, it is the oldest memory of my life. I got onto the Kodama at Tokyo Station to go to Shizuoka with my parents. It was the mid-summer vacation season. I still remember that I enjoyed looking out the window at the passing scenery while eating a "frozen orange", a popular product among travelers of that time.

How time flies!

EMU JNR 151 series, Limited Express "Kodama" in my photo album (Tokyo Station in 1963)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Spirit of Tohoku, Post-quake Recovery

EMU Sendai Subway 1000 series arrives at Yaotome Station, elevated track

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit Sendai City in the Tohoku District. Sendai is situated about 300km north of Tokyo and is the main city of Miyagi Prefecture.

On March 11th, last year, a giant earthquake hit eastern part of Japan. The epicenter of which was located offshore, 170km east of Sendai City. Sendai was severely damaged by the destructive shaking. To make matters worse, the coastal part of the city was devastated by a giant tsunami. It wasn't just someone else's affair, as I lived in Sendai when I was a student.

The railways in the Sendai area, such as the Tohoku Shinkansen, JR East lines and the Sendai Subway Line, were also severely damaged. For example, bridge girders of elevated track section on the Sendai Subway Line were cracked near Yaotome Station. The Sendai City Transportation Bureau, which is the operator of the subway line, speeded up reconstruction efforts of the damaged sections.

Eventually, on April 29th, the entire route of the subway reopened, which was achieved one month ahead of schedule. The operation of the subway Nanboku (South-North) Line, a total of 14.8km in length, returned to normal. Construction of a new route, 13.9km in length, the Tozai (East-West) Line, was also resumed in the downtown area.

I think that people in the Tohoku District have tenacity and endurance. They also are closely united. It's probably because of cold and severe climate in winter. The city life now looks normal.

I saw the "Sprit of Tohoku" in Sendai City.

EMU Sendai Subway 1000 series leaves Nagamachi Station, underground section

More information about Sendai Subway:

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

"Ezuki Narcissus Road" on the Uchibo Line

EMU JR East 209 series runs backed by Mt. Nokogiri-yama on the Uchibo Line

Following my blog on January 10th, I would like to introduce another mid-winter flower field in the Tokyo metropolitan area. That is "Ezuki Narcissus Road" in Chiba Prefecture.

Ezuki Narcissus Road is located 60km directly south of the downtown Tokyo. But, it's more than 110km by railways because trains have to go around the coast of Tokyo Bay. To visit there, you should take the JR East Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station and get off at Hota Station on the Uchibo Line. It takes around 90 minutes by limited express. But, I took a local train that time to relax (see the top photo). The entrance of Ezuki Narcissus Road is only a ten minute walk from the station.

More than 10 milion narcissus are seen on a 3km road. They are planted in fields, slopes, riversides and house gardens. Historically, the planting of narcissus started in the 19th century by local farmers. The cut flowers were shipped to the downtown Tokyo.

Yellow and white colored flowers are fully in bloom now. Many people were visiting there. The sweet smell of narcissus flowers attracts tourists from around the Tokyo metropolitan area. Visitors were spending their time as they pleased; enjoying walking, chatting with local people or taking lunch in the fields. I enjoyed taking flower photogtaphs (see the bottom photo).

The wind was still cold, but sun was stronger than before. The spring is around the corner in Tokyo. I can't wait for a genial season.

Narcissus flowers near Hota Station on the JR East Uchibo Line

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

47th Annual "Ekiben Festival" in Tokyo

Packages of two Ekibens, "Northern Festival" (left) and "Maezawa Roast Beef Sushi" (right)

As I introduced in my June 29th, 2011 blog, "Ekiben" is a unique railway culture in Japan. It's a meal for railway passengers, sold at stations. Generally, it's packed in a box to be easily carried around.

Since last Thursday, the "Ekiben Festival" is being held at Keio Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It's a famous annual event among Tokyoites, because 250 kinds of local Ekibens are gathered from railway stations throughout Japan. This 47th time around, plenty of Ekibens have been collected specifically from the Tohoku District, where a giant earthquake and tsunami hit last year. Needless to say, it's a strong support to this disaster area.

I bought two Ekibens from the Tohoku District. One of them is "Northern Festival", which comes from Miyako Station, the JR East Yamada Line. Miyako is one of the tsunami-devastated cities and is in the process of recovering from the disaster. "Northern Festival" is packed with seafood and rice. Salmon eggs, crab meat, sea urchin, seaweed, chicken egg, vegetables and rice are cooked in the local-style. I enjoyed the harvest from the sea.

The other one is "Maezawa Roast Beef Sushi", which comes from Ichinoseki Station, the JR East Tohoku Line. There are no reports of casualties in Ichinoseki City; however, more than 5000 houses were damaged by the destructive shaking. "Maezawa Roast Beef Sushi" is packed with roast beef and vinegared rice cooked in a sushi-style. The material of roast beef is local Maezawa beef. I enjoyed the taste of the premier beef.

Pray for Tohoku.

Setouts of two Ekibens, "Northern Festival" (left) and "Maezawa Roast Beef Sushi" (right)

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Flagship Model of Romance Car Fleet

EMU Odakyu 50000 series, "Romance Car" VSE passes through Kyodo Station

As I introduced in my June 25th, 2011 blog, the "Romance Car" is the train that represents Odakyu Electric Railway Company. Connecting Shinjuku; a subcenter of Tokyo and Hakone, Enoshima and other reputable resorts, Odakyu has been operating this luxury limited express train since 1950. So far, a total of 8 models have been launched. Currently, 6 of them are still operating on the routes.

If I introduce a flagship model of the Romance Car, I can instantly select the EMU 50000 series without question (see the top photo). The EMU 50000 series, also known as VSE (Vault Super Express), launched in 2005 to replace old models. Before the debut of the 50000 series, Odakyu had been suffering from a decreasing number of Romance Car passengers. It was serious because the decreasing number of passengers was much larger than that of sightseers to resorts on the Odakyu Line. It meant that the visitors to the resorts were not satisfied with the existing Romance Cars.

Because of this, the daring style was adopted by the new Romance Car, EMU 50000 series. For example, the cockpit is up stairs. So, the passengers can enjoy a front view through the wide window (see the bottom photo). The roof design has also been changed to a near-futuristic, vault-shape. The interior has become more luxurious.

In late 2005, the EMU 50000 series received a "Blue Ribbon Prize" from Japan Rail Fan Club. This award is given to the best new train model of the year. Odakyu's effort finally bore fruit.

EMU Odakyu 50000 series, "Romance Car" VSE at Hakone-yumoto Station

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Canola Flowers, Hint of Spring on the Tokaido Line

EMU JR East E231 series arrives at Ninomiya Station on the Tokaido Line

It's the coldest season of the year in Tokyo. Northerly winds bring cold, dry air over the metropolitan area. The daytime maximum temperature is lower than 10 degrees Celsius every day. However, just outside the downtown area has already been filled with hints of spring here and there. One of the examples is Azuma-yama (Mt. Azuma) near Ninomiya Station on the Tokaido Line.

Azuma-yama, this small mountain, is located 70km southwest of the downtown Tokyo. It's facing the Pacific Ocean to the south and is only ten minutes walk from the station. The 136-meter peak is less of a famous sightseeing spot than a recreation area for local people. It's a small hill that you might see anywhere in Japan.

But if you climb up this small mountain, you will find a different world. Numerous yellow flowers are blooming beautifully in the sunshine in the western portion of the summit (see the bottom photo). They are canola blossoms lovingly cared for by local people. In spite of it being a cold and windy place, canola blossoms are at their best now telling of the arrival of spring. Even more amazingly, insects are visiting the flowers for nectar.

To visit Azuma-yama, take the JR East Tokaido Line and get off at Ninomiya Station (see the top photo). It takes about 70 minutes from Tokyo station by local train. For your information, Limited Express and Rapid Service trains pass through this station, as Ninomiya is a small stop.

Spring is on the way in Tokyo.

Canola flowers at the summit of Azuma-yama near Ninomiya Station on the Tokaido Line

Saturday, 7 January 2012

EF63: Sherpa of Mountain Pass

Electric locomotive JNR EF63 1, top number unit of type EF63, Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park

When I visited Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (see my December 31st, 2011 blog), my primary purpose was to reunite with "Sherpa of Mountain Pass".

Sherpa of Mountain Pass, officially called EF63 (see the photos) is an electric locomotive, which was specially manufactured to support trains to get over Usui Pass. After the abolishment of a rack-and-pinion railway system in 1963, a non-rac-and-pinion operation was introduced in this heavy traffic. Since then, EF 63 had been operating as a Sherpa of Mountain Pass.

The real job of the EF63 was to push and pull trains in the section between Yokokawa and Karuizawa stations (11.2km). When the train approached from Yokokawa to Karuizawa, it had to climb nearly 600m to the pass within a 9km horizontal distance. It was very hard work indeed. So, the EF63 was a dependable sherpa for railway passengers.

When the train arrived at Yokokawa, it took several minutes to fit the coupling of the train with the EF63. It was a good time to buy an Ekiben (meal box) for passengers. In childhood I used to love "Kamameshi", a local Ekiben, which was served in a rice cooker-shaped bowl. Placing plenty of local foods, Kamameshi's layout was colorful and sophisticated.

Today, Nagano Shinkansen trains breeze through Usui Pass with a maximum speed of 210km per hour. Since the Shinkansen train does not need electric locomotive support, the EF 63 operation was abolished in 1997. Only several units were preserved in the heritage park in token of their glorious triumph.

Time waits for no-one.

Electric locomotive JNR EF63 12 at Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park in Gunma Prefecture

More information about Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Second Life in Indonesia, EMU JR East 203 Series

EMU KRL Jabodetabek (ex-JR East) 203 series arrives at Manggarai Station, Indonesia
Photo: Courtesy Faris Fadhli

I have received news from an Indonesian rail fan again. The EMU ex-JR East 203 series has launched on the KRL Jabodetabek (Jakarta Metropolitan Electric Railway) in Indonesia (see the top photo).

The EMU 203 series was first manufactured in 1982 under the name of JNR (Japanese National Railways). A total of 17 sets, 170 units had been operating on the Joban Line. It had also been directly operating into the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line.

I often rode the 203 series on the Chiyoda Line to go to my office. I liked it because the 203 series was the first air-conditioned JR train on the Chiyoda Line. Before launching the 203 series, it was very hot and humid on the subway trains in midsummer. It was caused by heat emissions from the electric control instruments on the trains. Engineers thought that an air-conditioner would be useless because it also emitted a large amount of heat. But advances in technology enabled electric control instruments on the 203 series to refrain from emitting heat. As a result, this allowed the 203 series to install air-conditioners.

Last August, the first set of 203 series arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia to spend a new life after retirement from JR East. They were modified to the local style and launched at the year-end. The body was changed from a green colored belt to a flashy red-yellow mask and belt, an Indonesian style.

As I described before (see the blog of September 17th, 2011 etc.), there are many ex-Tokyo trains, a total of nearly 400 cars in this giant city railway (see the photo below).
A fleet of EMUs from Japan, ex-Tokyu 8500 series (left), ex-Tokyo Metro 05 series (center) and ex-JR East 203 series (right) at Jakarta Kota Station, KRL Jabodetabek, Photo: Courtesy Faris Fadhli

Monday, 2 January 2012

EMU Shinkansen 0 Series, Revisit to the Railway Museum

Demonstration of turntable operation at Main Hall in the Railway Museum, Saitama City 

Happy New Year! The year 2012 has begun. At the opening of New Year, I would like to introduce you to the first Shinkansen train EMU JNR 0 series preserved in the Railway Museum.

I have recently revisited the Railway Museum in Saitama City, a northern suburb of Tokyo (see my April 11, 2011 blog). Since it was just Christmas, many families, couples and rail fans were visiting there (see the top photo). The first Shinkansen, EMU 0 series was preserved in the special exhibition room next to the main hall (see the bottom photo).

The round-nosed 0 series was launched on the JNR (Japanese National Railways) Tokaido Shinkansen just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Since then, 3216 carriages had been manufactured. The 0 series could reach 210 kilometers per hour, a new world speed record. So, it was considered a symbol of Japan's rapid economic growth and the starting point of its modern railway system.

This train is full of memories for me. I first rode on the 0 series when I visited the Ise-Shima National Park with my parents. I fully enjoyed the 210km/h speed from Tokyo to Nagoya. A school trip to Kyoto in my third year of junior high school was also an unforgettable memory for me.

Following the launch of faster models, the 0 series was gradually withdrawn. Japan's first bullet train model, 0 series, made its last regular run on November 30, 2008. Subsequent trains improved on the above speed record.

I will treasure my memories of the 0 series for a lifetime.

EMU JNR Tokaido Shinkansen 0 series is preserved at the Railway Museum in Saitama City