Friday, 29 June 2012

Ueno, the Northern Gateway Station in Tokyo

EMU JR East E653 series, Fresh-Hitachi arrives at Ueno Station

Following my last article on June 25th, I would like to introduce you to Ueno, a large railway terminal in the northern part of downtown Tokyo. It is known as the northern gateway station of Tokyo. Long distance trains to and from the northern part of Japan frequently depart from and arrive at this station.

Ueno Station has a unique atmosphere. It is a bit gloomy, but nostalgic. In 1910, a famous poet, Takuboku Ishikawa composed a fine poem in this station, in which he wrote that he visited Ueno Station to listen to the Tohoku accent because he missed his hometown in the Tohoku District. Needless to say, it is because many people from the Tohoku District arrive at and go back from Ueno Station by train.

When I was a child, I often got off at Ueno Station to visit Ueno Zoo. It is a pleasant memory, but I was a bit scared of this gloomy station, as I believed that spirits walked in the station yard like track number 9-3/4 at King's Cross Station in the Harry Potter series.

Currently, the limited express, Hitachi is one of the trains originating from Ueno (see the photos). It operates into the Joban line and goes as far as Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture, Tohoku District. But, the rail services are partially suspended beyond Iwaki due to the Tsunami disaster caused by 3.11 giant earthquake last year.

Ueno Station is, it was...and still is..., filled with desires of people in the Tohoku District.

EMU JR East 651 series, Super-Hitachi leaves Ueno Station

Yard map of Ueno Station (in Japanese):
More information about limited express, Hitachi:

Monday, 25 June 2012

Cassiopeia, Japan's Premier Overnight Sleeper Train

Overnight sleeper train, Cassiopeia makes its final approach to Ueno Terminal in Tokyo

I would like to take a leisurely trip somewhere with my family once in a while. Hokkaido is where I want to go. Located in the northernmost part of the Japanese archipelago, Hokkaido is the second largest island. While cool there in summer, it is better known as a heartland for winter sports, featuring an abundance of natural scenery, hot springs and delicious seafood.

Although, it is convenient to take a flight from Tokyo International Airport, an amusing train journey is more attractive. Especially, taking an overnight sleeper train sounds very attractive to me. Connecting Ueno, a northern terminal in Tokyo and Sapporo, the main city of Hokkaido, Cassiopeia is the most reputable sleeper train in Japan. This train is directly operated from the Tokyo metropolitan area into Hokkaido Island passing through Seikan Tunnel (a 53.85km long subsea tunnel). It takes about 17 hours.

The photos show the gorgeous train, Cassiopeia. To book the seats is very difficult in long holiday seasons, as it is very popular among travelers. It is called a "platinum ticket". Cassiopeia is a 12-car train pulled by the colorful dedicated electric locomotive, type EF510-500. This locomotive is switched to type ED79 on the Tsugaru Kaikyo (subsea tunnel) Line. Then, it is switched to the diesel locomotive, type DD51 on the unelectrified line in Hokkaido Island. The train is equipped with sleeping beds, toilets, showers, a dining car and lounge cars making it a train hotel.

At some point, I would like to ride it and visit Hokkaido Island on holiday.

Lounge car, Type KaHaFu E26 is attached at the end of the train 

Detailed information about Cassiopeia (in Japanese):

Friday, 22 June 2012

Yatsugatake Highland Train on the JR East Koumi Line

DMU JR East KiHa 110 series leaves Nobeyama Station on the Koumi Line

The JR East Koumi Line, known as the Yatsugatake Highland Line, is a local railway route in Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures. Connecting Kobuchizawa and Komoro, the line length is 78.9km. The whole route is unelectrified and is a single track.

The biggest feature of this line is that the trains run on the highland at the foot of the Yatsugatake mountains. Nobeyama Station on this line is at an elevation of 1345 meters, which is Japan's highest railway station.

Lovely DMU, KiHa 110 series is a representative train on this line (see the top photo). It is usually operated as a two-car train. The world's first diesel-battery hybrid train, DMU E200 series is also operated on this line, but, unfortunately, I haven't have an opportunity to ride it yet.

In the meantime, Yatsugatake Highland is famous for being a "star watching area" among space enthusiasts, as it is an ideal place for them. According to meteorological data, the sunny rate in this area is higher than those of the other areas. The air is very clear because of the countryside. In addition, they can secure wide skies because of its flat topography.

Professional astronomers also enjoy the advantage of the natural conditions in Yatsugatake Highland. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has a 45m single-dish radio telescope that operates in short-millimeter wavelengths (see the follwing photo). It has found evidence of Black holes, new interstellar molecules and so on.

The JR East Koumi Line provides us with various pleasures.

A single-dish radio telescope in National Astronomical Observatory near Nobeyama Station

More information about DMU KiHa 110 series (in Japanese): 
More information about DMU (diesel-battery hybrid) KiHa E200 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Hydrangea on the Keio-Inokashira Line

Hydrangea flowers and EMU Keio 1000 series near Meidaimae Station

It is rainy season again. On June 9th, the Japan Meteorological Agency announced that this year's rainy season had begun in Tokyo. Although it is a gloomy period before midsummer, Tokyoites can enjoy viewing several kinds of beautiful flowers, such as hydrangeas and irises in this season.

As I introduced in my blog on June 26th, 2011, in this season, the railway track of the Keio-Inokashira Line is one of the undiscovered hydrangea viewing spots. This railway company has been working on planting hydrangeas on the embankments of the railways to prevent slope failure and protect the environment since 1991. Nowadays, we can enjoy seeing colorful hydrangea blossoms at the side of the railways specifically around Shimo-Kitazawa, Shin-Daita, Higashi-Matsubara and Meidaimae stations in June (see the top photo).

This year, I received good news. The night lights of Hydrangea in Higashi-Matsubara Station were resumed two years later (see the bottom picture). As I mentioned in my previous article, the night lights were cancelled last year, because of the electric power shortage, which was caused by the nuclear power plant disasters that followed the giant earthquake and tsunami. So, the revival of night lights is a symbol of recovery for rail-fans in Tokyo.

The EMU Keio 1000 series suits these beautiful hydrangea flowers along the track. Each train set shows a different color on the front mask and the side lines. Colorful trains and colorful flowers, it is the best season on the Keio-Inokashira Line.

Illuminated hydrangea flowers and EMU Keio 1000 series at Higashi-Matsubara Station

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Hydrangea and Preserved Romance Car in Kaisei Town

EMU Odakyu Romance Car 3100 series preserved in front of Kaisei station

Kaisei is a small town, which is located some 60km southwest of Tokyo. It takes about 70 minutes from Shinjuku, a subcenter of Tokyo, by train on the Odakyu Line. Among rail-fans, Kaisei is famous for the old Romance Car, which is preserved in front of the station. It is car number 3181 of the EMU Odakyu NSE 3100 series (see the top photo).

The 3100 series was launched in 1963 as a second-generation Romance Car fleet on the Odakyu Line. A total of 7 sets, 77 units were manufactured by Nihon Sharyo and Kawasaki Sharyo companies. The maximum speed in operation was 110km/hour; however, its designed maximum speed was 170 km/hour. The most distinctive feature of this train is that the cockpit is located upstairs, so the passengers can enjoy a front view through the wide window. As I mentioned in my blog on June 25th, 2011, the Romance car was a yearning in my childhood. Specifically, my happy memories are filled with the NSE 3100 series. I wish that this precious car will be carefully preserved forever by local people in Kaisei Town.

In the meantime, Kaisei Town is also well known for hydrangeas among flower lovers. In June, we can see the beautiful blossoms here and there. Especially, I like to view the blue and purple colored flowers surrounding rice fields, which have just been planted (see the following picture).

Enjoying hydrangea flowers and the old preserved electric car, Kaisei is a paradise for a happy weekend. 
(Other Romance Car models: see my blog on February 7th, 2012, January 14th, 2012, November 16th, 2011 and September 4th, 2011)

Hydrangea flowers and rice fields near Kaisei Station on the Odakyu Line

More information about the preserved Romance Car in Kaisei Town (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Access to the Sanctuary for Mountain Worship

Funicular "Aozora" passes through the middle point of the route on the Mitake Tozan Railway

It is early summer in Tokyo. The temperature is 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, but once the sun glows, it hits nearly 30 degrees Celsius easily. The best thing in this season would be to go somewhere to keep myself cool at the weekend.

Mt. Mitake is listed right along with Mt. Takao (see my blog on September 24th, 2011) as a spot to get to readily from downtown Tokyo. It is located 50km west of the city center. To visit there, you should get off at Mitake Station on the JR East Ome Line (see my blog on November 4, 2011). Then, transfer to a funicular train on the Mitake Tozan Railway.

This railway was opened in 1934 between Takimoto and Mitakesan stations. The total line length is 1100m, and the height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 423m. Lovely vehicles, Aozora (blue sky) and Hinode (sunrise) are operated every 20 minutes (see the top photo).

In the meantime, Mt. Mitake is famous as a sanctuary for mountain worship. Japanese people have believed mountains to be the home of gods since the pre-Buddhism era (before 552 A.D.). Mt. Mitake is no exception. Today, mountain worship becomes part of Buddhism. Many Buddhist groups climb up this mountain as their religious training.

Mt. Mitake, it is one of the best areas to gain fresh energy for Tokyoites, meanwhile the best places for Buddhists who worship mountains.

Funicular "Hinode" arrives at Takimoto Terminal on the Mitake Tozan Railway

More information about  Mitake Tozan Railway (in Japanese): 
Front view from the funicular train, Mitake Tozan Railway (movie):

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Corn Poppy Field on the Chichibu Railway

Classic EMU Chichibu 6000 (ex-Seibu 101) series passes through Oyahana Station

Early June is an off-flowers season in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Late spring blossoms such as azalea and rose have already fallen, meanwhile early summer flowers such as hydrangea and iris haven't been seen yet.

But, don't give up so fast. We still have an opportunity to view a field of beautiful flowers. That is a corn poppy field in the Chichibu region, which is located 70km northwest of downtown Tokyo. It is a quiet suburban area within the Chichibu Mountains.

The corn poppy field is situated as a part of Chichibu Highland Ranch. We can see a vast carpet of flowers on the top of a hill. Red, vermilion and pink colored blossoms stretch along the ridge to the vanishing point (see the following picture).

To visit this colorful corn poppy field, take the Chichibu Railway and get off at Oyahana Station in Minano Town. As I mentioned in my blog on August 1st, 2011, this local railway firm cherishes second-hand trains that were renovated after acquiring them from major railway companies, such as JR East, Tokyu and Seibu. Chichibu Railway is often compared to the railway museum.

The top photo is an example of second hand trains, the EMU 6000 series, which is an ex-Seibu 101 series. It has been operating on the Chichibu Railway since 2006. I like this nostalgic face with two large windows very much.

Enjoying a local railway and visiting a beautiful flower field in the weekend, that's what's keeping me going.

Corn poppy field in the Chichibu highland ranch near Oyahana Station, Chichibu Railway

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Lupinus Hill on the Tobu-Tojo Line

EMU Tobu 50000 series, express train arrives at Ikebukuro Station on the Tojo Line

Lupinus, also known as Lupins or Lupines, is a leguminous plant originally from the Mediterranean region, Africa and the Americas. The shape of the flower is similar to that of wisteria, but the flowers open up from the bottom to the top. So it is called Nobori-fuji (climbing wisteria) in Japan. Numerous colors are seen in the flowers such as yellow, pink, purple and white.

Where can we see Lupinus? One of the reputable Lupinus fields in the Tokyo metropolitan area is Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park in Saitama Prefecture, which is located about 60km northwest of downtown Tokyo. A total of 35,000 flowers are seen near the western entrance of the park in late May and early June (see the following picture).

To visit Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park, the Tobu-Tojo Line is convenient. Connecting Ikebukuro, a subcenter of Tokyo and Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture, Tobu-Tojo Line was opened in 1914. Then, it was fully opened in 1925 between Ikebukuro and Yorii. The total line length is 75km. It takes about one hour from downtown Ikebukuro to Shinrin Koen Station by express train.

The orange colored EMU, Tobu 50000 series is a major fleet on the line. It was launched in 2005. Currently, 9 sets, a total of 90 units are operated on the Tojo Line, meanwhile their brothers, namely 50050, 50070 and 50090 series are also operated on the Tojo and the other Tobu lines.

My weekend travel seeking trains and flowers goes on and on.

Lupinus field in the Musashigaoka Shinrin-koen (Musashi Hills Forest Park) near Shinrin-koen Sta.

More information about trains on the Tobu Railway (in Japanese):

Monday, 4 June 2012

EMU 2100 Series, Flagship Model on the Keikyu Line

EMU Keikyu 2100 series limited express train passes through Kogane-cho Station
As I mentioned in my previous article (see my blog on October 31st, 2011), one of the features of railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area is that many companies are in competition to attract passengers.

Keikyu Corporation is no exception. For example, this company is facing fierce competition from JR East in the section between downtown Tokyo and Yokohama, a major city in Kanagawa Prefecture. Meanwhile, they are challenging Tokyo Monorail Company on the route between downtown Tokyo and Tokyo International Airport (Haneda).

As a regional private railway company, Keikyu has clear corporate strategies to survive in this challenging business environment. They are train speed and passenger service. The maximum speed of the trains is faster than that of JR East. As the top ranking passenger service, Keikyu operates the luxury limited express train without additional fares.

EMU 2100 series assume the major role of the above strategies (see the pictures). Its maximum speed is 120km/hour, and runs between Shinagawa and Yokohama in 17 minutes. The 2100 series train provides amenities, such as comfortable switchable cross seats and traditional Nishijin fabric curtains on the windows.

In the meantime, some of the 2100 series trains adopt the VVVF inverter (variable-frequency drive) system manufactured by Siemens. This system produces sol-fa sound when it boots up. It is quite unique and famous as the Singing Train among rail-fans.

Keikyu 2100 series is fun to look at and rides great.

EMU Keikyu 2100 series passes through Minami-Oota Station

More information about EMU Keikyu 2100 series (in Japanese):

Friday, 1 June 2012

Gomen-Nahari Line, Visit to the Heartland of Tosa Domain

Railcar Tosa-Kuroshio Type 9640 arrives at Tano Station on the Gomen-Nahari Line

Following my blog on May 11th, I would like to introduce the other railway in Kochi Prefecture. That is Tosa-Kuroshio Railway, which took over the ex-JNR (Japanese National Railways) Nakamura Line.

This company opened a new route, Gomen-Nahari Line in 2002, sixteen years after it was founded. Connecting Gomen on the JR Shikoku Dosan Line and Nahari in the eastern part of the prefecture, the total length is 42.7km. A lovely rail car Type 9640 is operated every half an hour during the daytime (see the top photo).

The train of the Gomen-Nahari Line makes you visit to the heartland of Tosa Domain (now Kochi Prefecture), because there are many hometowns of Ishin-shishi on this line. Who are "Ishin-shishi"? They were anti-shogunate political activists in the 19th century. The group of Ishin-shishi overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate, and established a new government in 1867. This restoration was the important turning point in Japan's transition from a feudal society to a modern nation. Yataro Iwasaki, later the founder of Mitsubishi Group, was born near Aki Station. Meanwhile, Shintaro Nakaoka, who has brought together the anti-shogunate people, was from Kitagawa Village near Nahari Station.

Why did many Ishin-shishi come from Kochi Prefecture? Although there are a lot of views, I guess it is because the people in this prefecture were independent, adventurous and ambitious, distant from the nation's major cities. You can see one of such a merchant's houses near Tano Station even today (see the following photo).

Oka-goten (Palace of Oka Family) built in the Edo Period near Tano Station 

More information about Tosa-Kuroshio Railway:
More information about the railcars of Tosa-Kuroshio Railway (in Japanese):