Saturday, 28 April 2012

Cat Whiskers in the Tobu Museum

Electric car MoHa 5701 of the EMU 5700 series in the Tobu Museum near Higashi-Mukojima Sta.

As I mentioned in my previous articles, there are several railway museums in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. They are the Railway Museum (see my blog on April 11th, 2011), the Subway Museum (see my blog on September 10th, 2011), Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (see my blog on December 31st, 2011) and so on.

Today, I would like to introduce the other one, the Tobu Museum. This museum is located next to Higashi-Mukojima Station on the Tobu Line, in the eastern part of downtown Tokyo. It is operated by Tobu Railway Company, and displays historical trains, locomotives, buses and other precious heritages.

My favorite exhibit is an old electric car, MoHa 5701 of the EMU 5700 series. The 5700 series is the first generation of resort trains from downtown Tokyo to Nikko National Park. It was launched in 1951 as express train, Kegon (the name of a famous fall in the Nikko area).

After 40 year's operation on the line, the 5700 series retired in 1991. Then, it was moved to the present location, when the museum was opened. The most peculiar point of this train is its front face (see the top photo). Because of its unique design, it is called "Neko-hige (cat whiskers)" among rail fans. Thankfully, the interior of the train is also open to the public. So, we can see the train as it was.

Neko-hige, I want you to live a long time.

Interior of the electric car MoHa 5701 of the EMU 5700 series in the Tobu Museum

More information about theTobu Museum (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Nippori-Toneri Liner, Escape from the Lonely Island

EMU Toei 300 series arrives at Adachi-odai Station on the Nippori-Toneri Liner

Up to four years ago, the northern part of Sumida and the main part of Adachi Ward in Tokyo were isolated from the railway network. The local people were using bus services, but they were very slow due to traffic jams. Construction of a new railway line was essential for the residents.

In the mid 1980s, the government planned to construct a new subway line there, but it was deemed unprofitable. After long discussions, AGT was adopted as the system of the new line. As I mentioned before, AGT is an abbreviation for Automated Guide way Transit. It is a small sized train with rubber-tires instead of steel bogies.

In 2008, a new AGT line, Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) Nippori-Toneri Liner was opened. It connects Nippori, in downtown Tokyo, and Minumadai-shinsuikouen, near to the boundary of Saitama Prefecture. The total operation length is 9.7km.

Currently, a 5-car EMU 300 series operates every 3.5 minutes in the week day morning, and every 7.5 to 10 minutes at other times of the day. All trains are fully automated, therefore, drivers and conductors are not on board. As a railfan, it is very attractive that passengers can secure a superb view from the train windows, because of the elevated track and no driving cabin at the front.

After opening the new line, the average number of passengers has grown steadily. It reached 59,034 persons per day in 2011, in excess of the target. The residents finally could escape from their onshore lonely island.

Platform of Adachi-Odai Station on the Toei Nippori-Toneri Liner

More information about Nippori-Toneri Liner:

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Shinkansen in Spring Attire

Set number R20 of the Shinkansen E3 series decorated with Sakura design at Tokyo Station

In this season, the weather forecast informs us where the "front line" of the Sakura (cherry blossoms) is. Although Sakura blooming season has passed in Tokyo, the front line is still traveling up the northern part of Japan. A person traveling to the north with the "Sakura front" would be able to enjoy the blossoms for nearly three months.

To push the Sakura front up to the north, Shinkansen trains are now dressed in the spring fashion. They are the EMU JR East E2 and E3 series, decorated with Sakura designs, four sets each.

The E2 series was launched in 1997. Total 53 sets, 502 cars have been manufactured. They operate on the Tohoku Shinkansen with a maximum speed of 275km/hour, meanwhile 260km/hour on the Nagano Shinkansen.

The E3 series was also launched in 1997, when the Akita Shinkansen was opened. A total of 20 sets, 261 cars, have been manufactured. They are so called Mini-shinkansen, with a car length of 20m, whilst the standard full-sized shinkansen length is 25m. They operate with a maximum speed of 275km/hour on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, and 130km/hour on the Akita Shinkansen line.

The EMU E3 series operation is often coupled with the E2 series trains. We can see that the E3 series, Komachi, which leaves Tokyo, is often coupled with the E2 series, Hayate. Then, Komachi is detached after arriving at Morioka Station, and runs by itself to Akita, because the route between Morioka and Akita is constructed as a so-called Mini-shinkansen.

Set number J59 of the Shinkansen E2 series decorated with Sakura design at Tokyo Station

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Start of Operation, Retro-EMU on the Metro Line

Set number 1 of the new EMU Tokyo Metro 1000 series on the Subway Ginza Line

As I introduced in my blog on February 4th, the Ginza Line is the oldest subway in Japan. It was partially opened between Ueno and Asakusa (2.2km) in 1927. Then, the entire route, between Shibuya and Asakusa (14.3km), was fully opened in 1934 by Tokyo Subway Company (present Tokyo Metro). Today, the Ginza Line has grown to become one of Japan's representative commuter lines.

On April 11th, a new EMU, the 1000 series opened a new era on this historical subway line (see the above photo). It has a retro-flavored designed similar to that of the original Type 1000 electric car, which is currently on display in the Subway Museum (see my blog on September 10th, 2011).

Although the exterior of the new 1000 series reminds us of a retro style, the performance and the facilities of this train are leading-edge. For example, all of the illumination lamps are LEDs, and it has achieved a reduction in its consumption of electricity.

Amazingly, Tokyo Metro had released the operation schedule of the new train on their company website. For sightseeing companies this may be possible, but it is unusual and pleasantly surprising that a commuter railway company would release such kind of information to the public. The company expects to increase its income through the opportunity of operating the new train. Times have changed.

Needless to say, by looking at the website, plenty of rail-fans are flocking to the stations on the Ginza Line to ride the new train. Of course, I am one of those who love trains.

Town scenery near Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line
(EMU Shinkansen 700 series is pictured center)

New promotion video of Tokyo Metro including the EMU 1000 series operation:
Special video of the new EMU 1000 series:

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

EMU E257 Series, Kaiji on the JR East Chuo Line

EMU JR East E257 series, Limited Express Kaiji runs by full blooming peach trees

As I introduced in my blog on October 1st, 2011, the EMU E351 series, Azusa, represents a train on the JR East Chuo Line. It is certainly a super-star with a tilting system for passing through tight curves in mountain ranges at high speed, but another star, the EMU E257 series, Kaiji, is also popular among travelers on the Chuo Line.

The E257 series has been manufactured since 2001 to replace decrepit express trains such as the EMU 165, 183 and 189 series. While the technical performance of the E257 series is below that of the E351 series, the E257 series has many attractive points for passengers. For example, its large windows, to enjoy gorgeous sceneries, result in satisfied railway travelers. Speaking as a passenger, between the two trains, I prefer the E257 series.

In the meantime, Yamanashi Prefecture on the Chuo Line is in the middle of spring. In addition to Sakura (cherry), now is the best time to view Momo (peach) blossoms (see the following photo). We can see delicate flowers of pink and pearl here and there. Of course, in the autumn, we will be able to enjoy the sweet and rich fruit.

In April, the E257 series, Limited Express Kaiji, runs by beautiful Momo blossoms (see the top photo). Passengers can enjoy looking at splendid clear streams and beautiful mountain ranges as well. Mt. Fuji also rises from the mountain ranges on a clear day. There must be something to excite the emotions of railway travelers.

Peach field near Kasugai Station on the JR East Chuo Line

Monday, 16 April 2012

Plum Grove and Local Train on the Shinetsu Line

EMU JR East 107 series local train on the Shinetsu Line

While it is Sakura (cherry blossoms) season in downtown Tokyo, plums are still blooming in the northern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. I visited a plum grove at the foot of Mount Haruna in Gunma Prefecture to enjoy viewing them (see the following photo).

Haruna Plum Grove is one of the largest plantations in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Local people cultivate plum trees rather for fruit to eat than blossoms for viewing.

How do we eat the fruit? For example, umeboshi (pickled plum) is a traditional food consisting of preserved plum. The citric acid of umeboshi stimulates the appetite and helps people recover from fatigue, so, Japanese often place them in rice balls and boxed lunches. Another example, umeshu is a liqueur made by soaking unripe plums in crystal sugar and shochu (distilled spirit). Recently, umeshu is very popular among young women.

To visit Haruna plum grove, I took a local train on the JR East Shinetsu Line from Takasaki Station. A white EMU 107 series, with pink and green stripes, operates on the line (see the top photo).

This type of EMU was introduced in 1988 to replace the decrepit EMU 165 series trains. The design of the 107 series was taken over from that of JNR (Japanese National Railways) trains. Large rounded front lamps and characteristic air conditioner boxes on the roof provide us good examples of JNR style design.

View of Haruna Plum Grove near Annaka Station on the JR East Shinetsu Line

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Bairin-zaka, Mysterious Spot in the City Center

Set number 20 of the EMU Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) 6300 series

The Imperial Palace is a special area in Tokyo. Although it is surrounded by business districts, this area keeps a quiet and comfortable atmosphere in the city center.

The Imperial Palace was built on the site of Edo Castle, headquarters of the feudal government in the Tokugawa Era, in the 17th century. But the origin of Edo Castle is even older than the above. It was first built in 1457 by Dokan Ota. Today, a significant part of the Imperial Palace is open to the public. For example, the East Garden is one such area, where people can enjoy walking.

Look at the following picture. It is Bairin-zaka (Plum Grove Slope) in the East Garden. You can see beautifully blooming red and white plum trees there. Bairin-zaka is surrounded by the stone walls and moats of the castle and further surrounded by office towers in the business district. This area is an isolated spot, and creates a mysterious atmosphere. Indeed, it is a different world for time slipping back to the Samurai Era.

To get to this mysterious spot, Subway Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) Mita Line is convenient. The Mita Line connects Meguro in the western part of the downtown and Nishi-Takashimadaira, a large apartment complex area in the northern suburb of Tokyo. There are 27 stations on the 26.4km route. A Blue and red striped train, EMU 6300 series, is operated frequently (see the top photo). The East Garden is very close if you get off at Otemachi Station.

Bairin-zaka near Otemachi Station on the Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) Mita Line

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Senbonzakura on the Odakyu-Enoshima Line

EMU Odakyu 8000+1000 series, Rapid Express train passes through Koza-Shibuya Station

With so many hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots available, it's hard to select which one is the best. After wavering, I headed to the southwest over the last weekend, taking the Odakyu-Enoshima Line.

My destination was Senbonzakura in Yamato City, located in the central part of Kanagawa Prefecture. It is not an area for sightseeing and/or tourist attractions but it is a quiet hanami spot in a residential quarter.

Senbonzakura means "thousand cherry trees". As its name suggests, thousands of cherry trees are seen along Hikiji River, which flows through a residential area (see the following picture). Cherry trees have been planted by local people, who have given them enough care for a long time.

Today, Senbonzakura has become a famous hanami spot. Since it is located in a residential area, I saw many families who were enjoying hanami under the full blooming Sakura. They brought lunch boxes, BBQ sets, beer and sake (Japanese rice wine). I heard the chatter and singing of happy people.

To get to this beautiful spot, take the Odakyu-Enoshima Line and get off at Koza-Shibuya Station (see the top photo). The name Shibuya is the same as the busy downtown but this Shibuya is a quiet suburban area. It takes about one hour from Shinjuku terminal on the Odakyu Odawara Line. Since the direct operating trains from the Odawara to the Enoshima lines are not frequent, you might transfer from the Odawara to the Enoshima Line train at Sagami-Ohno, the interchange station.

Senbonzakura along Hikiji River near Koza-Shibuya Station on the Odakyu-Enoshima Line

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Yozakura on the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line

Tokyo Metro 08001, top number car of the EMU 08 series, the Hanzomon Line

Sakura (cherry blossoms) season has come in Tokyo. We can see beautiful faint pink blossoms here and there. Tokyoites are feeling the herald of mid-spring now.

The way to enjoy Sakura differs from person to person. For example, having a hanami party (cherry blossom viewing party) under the full blooming Sakura is the most popular way. Needless to say, they enjoy not only looking at the Sakura, but also drinking beer or sake (Japanese rice wine), chatting, singing and dancing.

I like viewing Yozakura. Yozakura are cherry blossoms which are illuminated at night. In some famous Sakura spots, we can enjoy Yozakura viewing. Look at the following picture. It was beautifully illuminated Sakura in Chidorigafuchi Park near my office. It is beautiful and fantastic. For your information, all illuminations are supplied by solar photovoltaic power generators in consideration of the environment.

To visit Chidorigafuchi Park, it is convenient to get off at Hanzomon Station on the Subway Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line (see the top photo). The Hanzomon Line connects Shibuya, a large subcenter of downtown Tokyo and Oshiage, the nearest station to the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest broadcasting tower in the world. There are 14 stations on the 16.8 km route.

Trains on the Hanzomon Line directly operate into the Tokyu Line through Shibuya and the Tobu Line through Oshiage station. As a railfan, I like this route, because I can ride many kinds of trains that belong to Tokyo Metro, Tokyu and Tobu.

Moon and yozakura near Hanzomon Station on the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line 

Friday, 6 April 2012

Katakuri Village and Shonan Color Train

EMU JR East 115 series (Shonan color) runs near Iwafune Station on the Ryomo Line

Katakuri (Japanese Dogtooth Violet) is one of my favorite plants. It produces lovely pale purple blossoms in the forest in late March to early April. It heralds the arrival of spring.

Sano City, which is located 70km north of Tokyo, is famous for its beautiful natural masses of Katakuri. It was found in the early 1980s and has been carefully-protected and fostered by local people. Today, it is grown to the largest masses in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and the area is called Katakuri Village (see the bottom photo). Many holidaymakers visit there in the blooming season to celebrate the coming of spring.

I visited Katakuri Village last weekend. Taking the JR East Ryomo Line, which connects Oyama in Tochigi and Shin-Maebashi in Gunma prefectures, it took around two hours from downtown Tokyo. The nearest station is Iwafune.

You can see the "Shonan color" trains, EMU 115 series, on the Ryomo Line. The Shonan color train has a two-tone orange and green painted body. This coloring has its roots in the Shonan (the Tokaido Line) train from 1950. At its peak, thousands of EMUs were painted with the Shonan colors on the JNR (Japanese National Railways) lines. But, after the breakup and privatization of JNR, Shonan color trains have been decreasing. Currently, they are almost an "endangered species" throughout Japan.

Enjoying the lovely Katakuri blossoms and nostalgic Shonan color train, it was a beautiful spring weekend again.

Masses of Katakuri (Japanese dogtooth violet) near Iwafune Station, JR East Ryomo Line

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Miracle Plum Tree and Urban Local Railway

EMU Tobu 8000 series leaves Kameido Station

Kameido is located in the eastern part of downtown Tokyo. Currently, this area is attracting a lot of attention along with the soon-to-be-opened Tokyo Sky Tree, a 634m high new landmark tower (see my blog on July 29th, 2011).

But that's not all in Kameido. It is a historical and traditional area as well. One of the famous spots in this area is Kameido Tenjin, which is a shrine opened in 1661 to express a belief in god of academic achievements. In the grounds of the shrine is a beautifully arranged garden and alters.

In early spring, if you stand on the bridge in front of the main alter, you will find a beautifully blooming plum tree right in front. It is a very famous miracle tree, because both red and white flowers bloom on the same tree (see the bottom photo).

One way to get to this traditional and contemporary area, is by taking the Tobu Kameido Line and getting off at the Kameido Terminal. This route is a branch line of the Tobu Isesaki Line, and looks a local line in the urban area.

A 2-car train of the EMU 8000 series travels slowly, threading its way through a shopping arcade and small factories (see the top photo). There are five stations on the 3.4km route. The train is operated every 7 to 8 minutes during rush hour and every 10 minutes during the daytime.

Kameido, it is a miracle plum tree and an urban local railway town for me.

Miracle red and white plum tree in Kameido Tenjin Shrine near Kameido Station