Sunday, 29 July 2012

Asakusa, Retro Terminal on the Tobu Line

Tobu Asakusa Station and the terminal building

Tobu is one of the major railway companies in Tokyo. They operate the largest private railway network in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and are currently very aggressive in diversifying their business as well. Their latest biggest news is the grand opening of Tokyo Sky Tree, the 634 meter-high world's tallest broadcasting tower near Oshiage Station (see my blog on July 29, 2011). At the same time, Tobu has renovated Asakusa Station and the terminal building in the northeastern part of downtown Tokyo.

Tobu-Asakusa Terminal Building (see the top photo) was opened in 1931. It has seven stories above ground and one below. The ticketing office is on the ground floor; meanwhile the platforms are on the second floor, where four 6-car trains can stop in parallel. Matsuya Department Store occupies the 3rd to 7th floors in the building.

Due to restriction of the site, Tobu couldn't expand their station as the number of passengers grows. But thanks to the restriction, this retro building has been surviving for 81 years since it was opened. The recent renovation accentuated the beauty of Asakusa Station. For example, the building has been precisely restored to the original style as it was completed in 1931. Additionally, it is now lit up at night. Furthermore, the walls and pillars were retrofitted for anti-seismic reinforcement.

I have a special fondness for the retro feel of Asakusa Station, as it leaves the impression of Art Deco in the 1930s.

Tobu Asakusa Station and EMU 10000 series

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Boso Express, Access to the Countryside in Chiba

EMU JR East E257-500 series, Limited Express "Shiosai", leaves Choshi Station

Chiba, which is situated in the eastern part of the Kanto District, is a neighboring prefecture of Tokyo. It lies across the Kanto Plain in the northwest and Boso Peninsula in the southeast.

Chiba has two faces... one as an urban area, which extends from Tokyo, and the other as a countryside along Tokyo Bay and the Pacific.

The railway system in the urban area is fully incorporated into a commuter line network in the Tokyo metropolitan area. JR East and Keisei lines mainly undertake roles of transportation. In contrast, the railways in the countryside are more local and isolated. JR East local lines and small private railways are key players there.

To visit the countryside in Chiba Prefecture, JR East's express trains are convenient. From the downtown Tokyo area, they frequently leave and head to cities and towns in the area.

Currently, the main carriers on the above routes are the Boso Express, EMU E257-500 series trains. They were launched in 2004 replacing the old trains, EMU 183 and 189 series. The blue, white and yellow, three-toned body is very vivid. The blue stands for the ocean. The white stands for the beach. Meanwhile the yellow stands for the canola flowers in Chiba Prefecture.

When I was a child, I often visited Chiba to go swimming with my family. Steam locomotives (SLs) were still operated from downtown Tokyo at that time. Shortly after, diesel trains replaced SLs. Then, modern EMUs were launched and became to play the main role.

Time and tide stay for no man.

Side view of KuHa E256-519, EMU E57-500 series, Choshi Station, the Sobu Main Line

More information about Boso Express, Sazanami and Wakashio:

Monday, 23 July 2012

Tobu Spacia and Daylily Community in Kirifuri Highland

EMU Tobu 100 series, "Spacia" (new color) at Tobu-Nikko Station

The Japanese Archipelago is being heated in dazzling sunshine. The Meteorological Agency announced on July 17th that rainy season this year has finished in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Tatebayashi City in Gunma Prefecture reached 39 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature of this summer so far. As if waiting for the midsummer, Japanese people move to cool environments away from the hot urban areas.

My evacuation area last weekend was Kirifuri (Misty) Highland in Tochigi Prefecture, some 120km north of Tokyo. It is located at altitudes between 1200 and 1600 meters above sea level, and is even cool in midsummer. Not only merely its climate, but the beautiful daylily community is also attractive in this area. The grassy hills are swathed in beautiful yellow daylily blossoms in this season (see the following picture).

So as to avoid a traffic jam on the highways, I took a train of Tobu Railway from downtown Tokyo. This company operates luxury limited express, "Spacia", to Nikko, the nearest city to Kirifuri Highland.

Currently, Tobu Railway is gearing up for the promotion of tourism to Nikko, a World Heritage Site by renovating their flagship trains, the Spacia EMU 100 series (see the top photo). The interior has become more gorgeous and the exterior colors have also been changed.

Thanks to the leisurely reclining seat, it was very relaxing in the train. I enjoyed drinking beer while I went back home.

Rail travel is the best in Japan.

Daylily community in Kirifuri Highland near Tobu-Nikko Station

Friday, 20 July 2012

Station with the Longest Name in Japan

DMU Rintetsu Type 6000 arrives at Chojagahamashiosaihamanasukoenmae Station

Kashima Rinkai Railway, called Rintetsu, is a local railway company in Ibaraki Prefecture, the north-eastern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Connecting Mito, a major city in the prefecture and Okunoyahama in Kashima Coastal Industrial Zone, the total length is 72.2km.

Rintetsu has two different functions.

First, Rintetsu has a commuter transport function in the Mito urban area. The Ooarai-Kashima Line (53km) has such a role. Single or two-car diesel trains are operated every 20 to 60 minutes. Local people, specifically high school students are the main users of Rintetsu.

Second, Rintetsu has a freight transport function to and from the Kashima Coastal Industrial Zone. The Kashima-Rinko Line (19.2km) has such a role. Container freight trains pulled by diesel locomotives are operated to deliver industrial materials and ship out the products.

This local railway was damaged on March 11th last year by a giant earthquake. Since then, the company made all-out efforts to get it back up and running. Eventually, the trains resumed operation all the way along the line on July 12th. Lovely railcars type 6000 returned to operation.

The station with the longest name in Japan is on Rintetsu. That is "Chojagahamashiosaihamanasukoenmae". It means that "surf sound and rugosa rose park on the millionaire beach".

Actually, there is a small park named Shiosaihamanasu (the surf sound and rugosa rose) near the station, but I can't find any place-name, Chojagahama (millionaire beach) adjacent to the station on the map. Probably, it's a name used by only local people.

Who is the millionaire there?

The station with the longest name in Japan, "Chojagahamashiosaihamanasukoenmae"

More information about Kashima Rinkai Railway (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Hydrangea and Classic Trains in the Hakone Mountain

Hydrangea and classic EMU Hakone Tozan Type MoHa 1 near Miyanoshita Station

The season of hydrangea flowers in downtown Tokyo has already passed, but still continues in high altitude suburban areas. Hakone Mountain is one such area.

Last weekend, I visited there to see late-blooming hydrangea along the Hakone Tozan Railway. Just like the Keio-Inokashira Line (see my blog on June 19th), Hakone Tozan Railway is a gorgeous viewing spot for hydrangea flowers. Railway employees have been lovingly working plants on to the embankments of the track for many years. Nowadays, we can enjoy seeing colorful blossoms here and there from the trains (see the top photo).

The other targets last weekend were classic trains. They are Type MoHa 1 and 2. Type MoHa 1 was launched in 1950, when the voltage in the section between Odawara and Hakone-Yumoto stations was raised from 600 to 1500 volts. A total of 6 units were manufactured, and 4 units (103, 104, 106 and 107) are still operated. Meanwhile, Type MoHa 2 was manufactured from 1955 to 1957. Five units were manufactured, and 3 units (108, 109 and 110) are still operated. The exterior appearances of both types do not vary much; but, the interiors differ considerably. Long seats are arranged in Type MoHa1, meanwhile there are cross seats in Type MoHa 2.

I love the classic feel of these trains. Specifically, I like long resistors on the train roofs. They exude a strong dignity with their cubed bodies. I am always impressed when I see these classic trains climb powerfully up the 80 per mill steep railway track.

Classic EMU Hakone Tozan Type MoHa 2 with a roof top resistor

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Chuo Line, Double-double Track to My Office

EMU 233 series (left) on the Chuo Rapid Line and 231-900 series (right) on the Chuo Local Line

I have changed my commutation line from the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line to the JR East Chuo Line. I didn't have a special reason for choosing JR East, just a change of air. As a result, current my commutation route is...first, I take the Odakyu Line to Shinjuku. Then, I transfer to the JR East Chuo Line and get off at Tokyo, which is the nearest station to my office.

After changing the route, I have noticed several things.

First, the commuter pass via JR East is cheaper than that of Tokyo Metro, as the discount-rate of the JR East commuter pass is larger than that of Tokyo Metro. It was good news for me. I have recognized again that the railway companies in Tokyo are in competition to attract passengers.

Second, due to double-double track, JR East has a flexible transportation capacity on the Chuo Line. For example, I can take the Rapid Line (a double track for express trains), when rushed. Meanwhile, I can choose the Local Line (the other double track for local trains), when I would like to take a seat and relax.

But, not all good. The platforms and the concourses of Shinjuku Terminal are very crowded with thousands of people going to and from their offices and schools during rush hours. It was a reversal until last month, when I transferred easily from the Odakyu Line to the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line at Yoyogi-Uehara Station.

Everything has advantages and disadvantages.

EMU JR East 257 series, "Commuter Liner" approaches Ochanomizu Sta. on the Chuo Rapid Line

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Rapid Transit Penetrating the Kamakura Mountain

EMU Shonan Monorail Type 500 passes through Kataseyama Tunnel on the Enoshima Line

Following my blog on July 5th, I would like to introduce you to the other monorail line in the Tokyo metropolitan area. That is the Enoshima Line of the Shonan Monorail in Kanagawa Prefecture. Connecting Ofuna on the JR East Tokaido Line and Shonan-Enoshima, the operation length is 6.6 km. The route passes through industrial and residential quarters in the Kamakura Mountain and its surrounding area.

The Enoshima Line was partially opened in 1970 between Ofuna and Nishi-Kamakura. Then, the entire route opened in 1971. The same suspended system is adopted as the Ueno Zoo Line and the Chiba Urban Monorail Line (see my blog on October 25th, 2011).

My first impression of the Shonan Monorail was that it was faster than I thought. Although the maximum speed of the train is only 75km per hour, the sensory speed was much faster. It is probably because the train runs very close to buildings, houses and trees in the forests (see the following picture). It's also very thrilling, like a roller coaster ride in an amusement park, when the train goes downhill.

The other feature of the Enoshima Line is its tunnels. There are two tunnels on the route penetrating the Kamakura Mountain (see the top photo). It is also an exciting experience for passengers that the train passes through these tunnels at maximum speed. The train running on the elevated track offers remarkable landscapes as well.

Shonan Monorail, it's worth it for those who love railways.

EMU Shonan Monorail Type 5000 passes through the forest on the Enoshima Line

More information about Shonan Monorail (in Japanese):

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sotetsu, the Evolving Railway in Kanagawa Prefecture

My favorite EMU Sotetsu 9000 (new color) arrives at Nishiya Station 

There are eight major private railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area. They are, from east to west, Keisei, Tobu, Seibu, Keio, Odakyu, Tokyu, Keikyu... and one more, Sagami Railway.

Starting from Yokohama, the main city in Kanagawa Prefecture, Sagami Railway, called Sotetsu, connects Ebina and Shonandai. Sotetsu is the only one major private railway company, which doesn't run into downtown Tokyo.

As I mentioned several times, railway business competition in the Tokyo metropolitan area is fierce. Many companies are fighting for survival. In the current stagnant economic condition, they have to think deeply about what particular investment would be the most effective.

For Sotetsu, the original idea was to extend their track to the west. The new route in the western part of Kanagawa Prefecture was aimed at promoting development of nearby areas, where railway services have been absent. But, Sotetsu's decision was more than I ever envisioned. They decided to construct connecting lines from Nishiya Station to existing JR East and Tokyu lines. The purpose is to operate direct access trains to downtown Tokyo and enhance convenience for passengers.

But, there is some concern that Sotetsu will lose passengers, who have been getting off at Yokohama Station. Yokohama is the most important terminal for Sotetsu. They have large shopping malls and leasing buildings near the station. If most of the current passengers go directly to downtown Tokyo, critics raise concerns that Yokohama may lose ground as Sotetsu's profit center.

The connecting lines will be opened in 2015.

My favorite EMU Sotetsu 9000 series (old color) arrives at Ebina Terminal

More information about Sagami Railway (Sotetsu):

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Ueno Zoo Line, Japan's Oldest Monorail Since 1957

EMU Toei Type 40 crosses the public road between East and West gardens in the Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo is Japan's oldest zoo, which was opened in 1882. It is located near Ueno Station in the northern part of downtown Tokyo. Many modern zoos have been opened over the subsequent 130 years in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but Ueno Zoo's popularity still seems to be very high.

There is a small monorail line in Ueno Zoo. Connecting the East and West gardens, the total length is only 300m. A lovely 2-car train is operated every 7 minutes (see the photos). It is the Ueno Zoo Line, which is operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (Toei). Although it looks like a fun ride like in an amusement park, it is official public transportation, based on the Railway Business Act.

The Ueno Zoo Line is the oldest monorail in Japan. It was opened in 1957. One of the reasons to construct the monorail there was research for future mass urban transportation means. Learning from Wuppertaler Schwebebahn in Germany, it was constructed as an experimental suspension monorail line. The present vehicle is 4th generation, which is called Type 40. It was launched in 2001, replacing the 3rd generation train, Type 30. The latest technologies such as a VVVF inverter control system and inverter air conditioners are on-board.

I still remember that I rode the first generation train on the Ueno Zoo Line, when I visited there with my classmates on an elementary school trip. Ueno Zoo varies across the ages, but the monorail still carries the cheers of children.

EMU Toei Type 40 passes through West Garden on the Ueno Zoo Line

More information about Ueno Zoo Monorail Line (in Japanese):
More information about the 4th generation monorail train, EMU Toei Type 40 (in Japanese):
More information about the 1st generation monorail train, EMU Toei Type H (in Japanese):

Monday, 2 July 2012

Horikiri Iris Garden on the Keisei Line

EMU Keisei AE series, Skyliner passes through Sekiya Station on the Keisei Line

From early June to mid-July, the Tokyo metropolitan area has a hot and humid rainy season called Tsuyu. It is a gloomy period for Tokyoites before midsummer, but it is a pleasure to see some kinds of beautiful flowers which only bloom in this season.

Iris is a typical flower in the rainy season in Tokyo. Large colorful flowers attract millions of gardeners and flower lovers. My favorite is the bluish purple (Edo-murasaki) colored blossom. It is very gorgeous, but elegant as well. It is said that the practice of viewing iris flowers began to spread throughout Japan in the 13th century. Then, in the 17th century in the Edo Period, the iris was modified by flower-loving Samurais, and various kinds of breeds were generated.

Last month, I visited the famous iris garden in Tokyo, called Horikiri Iris Garden (see the following picture). It is located near Horikiri Shobuen (Horikiri Iris garden) Station on the Keisei Line. It takes about 15 minutes from Ueno Station in the downtown area. For your information, admission to Horikiri Iris Garden is free, as it is a public garden, operated by Katsushika Ward Office...thank you.

During my trip, I frequently saw the airport access limited express train, Skyliner bound for New Tokyo International Airport. It was a good opportunity to shoot it as well (see the top photo). This train is one that captivates the passengers and leaves them with a strong impression any time it is seen.

Horikiri Iris Garden near Horikiri Shobuen (Iris Garden) Station on the Keisei Line