Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Asahidake Aerial Tramway, Access to Volcanic Center

Asahidake Aerial Tramway

Daisetsuzan (heavy snowfall mountain) is located in the central part of Hokkaido Island. It is famous for the beautiful mountain scenery and rare creatures, and was designated as Japan's first national park in 1934.

Asahidake, the highest peak in Daisetsuzan, is 2,291 meters in height. It is one of the active volcanoes in the Chishima Volcanic Belt. To visit this unique geological area, Asahidake Aerial Tramway is convenient. It delivers passengers between the foot and the middle of the mountain in only 10 minutes.

The present tramway was opened in 2000 between Sanroku and Sugatami stations. The total line length is 2,360m and the height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 490m. It used to be a small sized tramway, but was changed to the large sized Swiss-made gondola in 2000, which can accommodate up to 101 passengers.

The area around the peak is a different world. It is very cool even in midsummer. It was 17 degrees Celsius when I visited there in early August. I could see the superb scenery of volcanic activities, such as fumaroles spraying steam into the air and emerald green colored crater lakes. I could smell the volcanic gas, which contained sulfur dioxide.

Apparently, it looks like the world of death, but actually not. We can also see the rare alpine flora such as Aleutian avens and small animals such as Ezo-shima-risu (Hokkaido striped squirrels) near the crater lakes.

Asahidake is an area where we can feel the living planet.

Crater lake (Sugatami-no-ike) and fumaroles near Sugatami Station, Asahidake Aerial Tramway

More information about Asahidake Aerial Tramway (in Japanese):

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Train View Room in Sapporo City

EMU JR Hokkaido 721 series, airport access trains arrive at and depart from Sapporo Station

Sapporo is the main city in Hokkaido Island. It commands a population of 1.9 million people, and is the fourth-most populous city in Japan. Sapporo Station serves as the gateway of this giant city. Many trains arrive at and depart from this hub station. They are commuter trains, airport access trains, inter-city trains and overnight sleepers.

To enjoy the train view, there is a famous place along the railway track. That is the northwest corner room in the Keio Plaza Hotel. This hotel offers a special room for rail-fans everyday. After checking-in, I immediately started to enjoy the view of the trains from the special room on the 14th floor. It was the best spot to view trains arriving at and departing from Sapporo Station. I could see various kinds of trains running slowly on the shallow curving tracks near the station.

Look at the top photo. You can see the airport access trains to and from New Chitose Airport. They are the EMU JR Hokkaido 721 series, which are operated every 15 minutes. The light green stripes on the silver stainless bodies are very cool.

The other impressive one was a leisure train to Asahikawa (see the following photo). It is a special access train to Asahiyama Zoo, which is the most popular zoo in Japan. Cute images of animals can be seen on the colorful train bodies. It is very popular among boys and girls.

The room for viewing the trains held my attention all day and night.

DMU JR Hokkaido KiHa 183 series, "Asahiyama Zoo" stands at a siding near Sapporo Station

More information about EMU JR Hokkaido 721 series, Airport access train:
More information about DMU JR Hokkaido KiHa 183 series, "Asahiyama Zoo" (in Japanese):

Thursday, 23 August 2012

City Tram and Japan's First Western Style Castle

Electric car Hakodate City Tram, Type 700 near Chiyogadai Stop on the Yunokawa Line

After arriving at Hakodate Terminal by the inter-island express, "Super Swan", I enjoyed a city tour in Hakodate. The tram has convenient access to most of the attractions in this city.

The tram line in Hakodate is operated by the Transportation Bureau of the municipal office. The route was opened as a horse tramway in 1897. Then, it was electrified in 1913 to become Hokkaido's first modern electric tramway. The current total operating length is 10.9km.

I rode an electric car Type 700 from Hakodate Railway Terminal (see the top photo). Type 700 was launched in 1959. It is the third oldest model in the current tram fleet. The red colored body with nostalgic design is my favorite. The large rounded single front light is also attractive.

Hakodate was opened as a trading port by Tokugawa Shogunate in 1859, after more than 200 years of national seclusion. There are many historical places of Japan's Samurai era in this city. One of the interesting spots is Goryokaku, Japan's first Western style castle built in 1866 for the defense of the northern extremity. It took 20 minutes from the city center.

I went up the Goryokaku tower adjacent to the castle, and enjoyed a view of the castle (see the following photo). I had a scenic overview of the star-shaped castle with an old Japanese style central building. Goryokaku weaves the Japanese tradition with Western style.

I was struck by our history of modernization since the 19th century.

View of Goryokaku from Goryokaku Tower near Goryokaku-koenmae Stop on the Yunokawa Line

More information about Hakodate City Tram (in Japanese):

Monday, 20 August 2012

Super Swan, Inter-Island Express to Hokkaido

EMU JR Hokkaido 789 series, limited express Super Hakucho arrives at Hakodate Terminal

Following my last blog on 16th of August, I am going to continue to report on my midsummer train journey to Hokkaido.

After arriving at Shin-Aomori Terminal, I transferred to a JR conventional line. I rode the inter-island limited express, the "Super Hakucho (Super Swan)," on the Tsugaru Kaikyo Line. Unlike railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area, which is operated on direct current (DC), this route is operated on alternate current (AC).

The limited express Super Hakucho, EMU JR Hokkaido 789 series, was launched in 2002 (see the top photo). The light green colored body is very vivid for passengers. It takes a little over two hours to reach Hakodate Terminal on Hokkaido Island.

The highlight of the train journey by Super Hakucho is passing through the Seikan (under the sea) Tunnel. It lies between Honshu and Hokkaido islands. The total length is 53.85km. It was completed in 1988, and had been the world's longest tunnel until 2010, when the Gotthard-Basis Tunnel penetrated through the Alps in Switzerland. The Super Hakucho passed through this thick darkness in only 24 minutes with a maximum speed of 140km/hour.

When the light was restored, it meant that I had landed on Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan. Welcome to the northern island. I saw green paddies, beautiful mountains and clean streams through the train windows.

It was only a short distance to Hakodate, the gate city of Hokkaido Island.

Night view of the city of Hakodate from Mt. Hakodate near Hakodate Station 

More information about EMU JR Hokkaido 789 series, Super Hakucho (in Japanese):

Thursday, 16 August 2012

"Falcon" and Midsummer Journey to Hokkaido Island

EMU JR East E5 series, Super Express "Hayabusa (Falcon)" stands at Tokyo Station

The hot summer still continues in the Tokyo metropolitan area. I took a short midsummer holiday, the same as last year, and went to the cool north. This year's destination was Hokkaido, a northern island, some 800km north of Tokyo. To visit Hokkaido from Tokyo, an air flight is convenient. It takes only 1.5 hours from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda). But as a rail-fan, air travel is a bit dull for me. So, I took the trains. Rail travel is the best in Japan.

First, I embarked JR East's super express train "Hayabusa (Falcon)", EMU E5 series on the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station (see the photos). The E5 series is the newest Shinkansen train launched in 2011 with a maximum speed of 300km per hour. In addition to its speed, the other outstanding feature is its curve passage performance. By tilting the train's body using advanced technology, the E5 series can keep a high speed on tight curves. JR East plans to raise the maximum speed of the Tohoku Shinkansen to 320km per hour early next year using the E5 and newly developing E6 series.

After arriving at Shin-Aomori, the northernmost city of Honshu Island (the main island of Japan), I transferred to the limited express, "Super Hakucho (super swan)" on the Tsugaru Kaikyo Line, to pass through a 53.85km Seikan (subsea) Tunnel. I will report this inter-island express train in the next article, as it was also an exciting experience.

To be continued...

Side view of E514-2 of EMU E5 series at Tokyo Station, JR East Tohoku Shinkansen

Monday, 13 August 2012

Re-visit to Ancient Lotus Garden in Gyoda City

 EMU JR East 485 series, "Yamadori", YD01F stands at Hachioji Station

Along with the sunflower, the lotus is a famous midsummer-blooming flower in Japan. Following my visit to Kodai-hasu (ancient lotus) Garden in Gyoda City last year (see my blog on August 1st, 2011), I revisited it last month. To be honest, the peak blooming season of the ancient lotus had passed when I visited the garden last year. The blossoms still remained, but they were thin on the ponds. So, I watched for an opportunity to visit in the peak period. As soon as I got news of the full bloom, I visited Gyoda City at the earliest chance.

This time I rode leisure train, "Yamadori (Mountain Bird)", number YD01 of the EMU 485 series from Hachioji to Kumagaya Station. Yamadori, YD01, was a standard 485 series originally and was modified to become the special leisure train in 2011. The exterior is a two-toned color of dark brown and light green. It has a playroom for children and a view room in the first car. The cross seats are very spacious with a 2+1 configuration.

After arriving at Kumagaya, I transferred to Chichibu Railway and got off at Gyoda City, the nearest station to Kodai-hasu Garden. It was a very hot and humid day, but I saw many holidaymakers in the garden. They cheered for the beautiful ancient lotus. Me too (see the following photo).

A visit to the splendid ancient lotus garden, the fine midsummer weather and riding a special leisure train was a pretty good weekend day again for me.

Kodai-hasu (Ancient Lotus) flowers in Kodai-hasu Garden, Gyoda City

Friday, 10 August 2012

Sunflower Festival on the Chuo Line

EMU JR East 115 series (Yokosuka Color) stands at Ootsuki Station on the Chuo Line

The Sunflower Festival is a famous midsummer event in the Akeno area of Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture. In the festival ground, nearly 600,000 sunflowers are blooming on six hectares. Among the many sunflowers on view, we can admire the Hybrid Sunflower and special varieties such as the Prado Red Shade and the Tohoku Yae.

As the festival is held at the height of summer, it offers many outdoor programs. For example, visitors are able to enjoy an event to feel the charm of balloons. The balloon carries visitors to a height of 30 meters. It is very popular among children.

I often felt a strange mood while I walked in the sunflower field. To be exact, I felt eyes watching me. It was because all the sunflowers faced me. A round shaped sunflower looks like someone's face. Probably, I was spaced out.

To visit this fantastic sunflower field, I took a local train, the EMU JR East 115 series (Yokosuka color) from Takao Station on the Chuo Line. It is a standard commuter train, launched in 1963. Nearly 2,000 units have been manufactured for 20 years, but most of them have been scrapped. Currently they are designated as an endangered species by rail-fans.

It took 115 minutes from Takao to Nirasaki, the nearest station of the sunflower field. Passengers can enjoy looking at splendid clear streams and beautiful mountain ranges as well. The Chuo Line offers us easy access to a midsummer paradise.

Sunflower field in Hokuto City near Nirasaki Station on the Chuo Line

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Indonesian Railway Update, the Tangerang Line

EMU Jabodetabek (ex-Tokyo Metro) 7000 series stands at Tangerang Station, Jakarta, Indonesia
Photo: Courtesy Faris Fadhli

I have received news from an Indonesian rail-fan again. Modernization of the Tangerang Line has been started. The Tangerang Line is a commuting route in the Jakarta metropolitan area, Indonesia. The line length is 19.3km. It is electrified but only single track.

When I was stationed in Indonesia from 2007 to 2011, this route was a typical suburban local line. Non air-conditioned trains were operated without closing doors (see the following photo). I saw many roof-top passengers during rush hour. It seemed very dangerous, as 1500 volts of direct current overhead wire was above their heads. Some air-conditioned trains were operated, but they are not frequent and are only 6-car trains.

Recently, the railway operator, KRL Jabodetabek (Jakarta Metropolitan Electric Commuter Railway), has started the modernization of the line. For example, all non air-conditioned trains have been taken off the route, as air-conditioned 8-car trains, the EMU ex-Tokyo Metro 7000 series, have come in (see the top photo). The construction of double track has been commenced. Furthermore, extensions of station platforms on the route are also under construction.

I think that this modernization is a preparation for a future extension of the Tangerang Line to Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta International Airport, which is located north of Tangerang Terminal. Currently, the express road between downtown Jakarta and Soekarno-Hatta Airport is backed up all day long. Air travelers often miss their flights. Improvements of public transportation, specifically railway networks, are essential for this growing giant city.

I wish Jakarta further success in the modernization of its railways.

EMU  KRL Jabodetabek "Djoko Lelono" at Rawa Buaya Station on the Tangerang Line in 2010

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Local Railway Supported by Rail-fans

EMU Choden 2000 series (ex-Keio 2000 series) leaves Inubo Station

Following my blog on July 26th, I am going to introduce the other railway in Chiba Prefecture. That is Choshi Electric Railway, called Choden. Choden is a small private railway company in the eastern edge of Chiba Prefecture. Connecting Choshi on the JR East Sobu Line and Tokawa near a fishery harbor, the total length is only 6.4km.

Choshi City faces the beautiful Pacific Ocean. It is famous for fisheries and the production of soy sauce. Construction of the sightseeing railway was planned since 1909 by local people. After overcoming many hurdles, Choden was opened in 1913 as a steam railway. Then, it was electrified in 1925.

Choden went through a lot of difficulties after becoming a modern electric railway. The biggest difficulty was that they faced bankruptcy in 1998. It was caused by the former president's embezzlement. As a result, Choden couldn't so much as even repair their trains.

But in Japan, there is a proverb "When one god deserts you, another will pick you up." Railway employees and rail-fans stood up nationwide to save Choden. The action was quite unique. They aggressively purchased nuresenbei (soft rice cracker), which were being produced by Choden on the side. It was much more effective than promoting railway tourism, because people could purchase nuresenbei through the mail order.

Eventually, Choden recovered from the crisis and their nuresenbei have become a specialty in Choshi City. The Choden is still supported by rail-fans.

Choden DeHa 1002 (ex-Tokyo Metro 2000 series) and KuHa 2501 at Nakanocho Station

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Congratulations London! Opening of the 2012 Olympics

EMU Heathrow Express Class 332 (right) stands at London Paddington Station, UK

The 2012 London Olympic Games started with a beautiful opening ceremony. I am convinced that the British people will make this event successful. On this occasion, I would like to talk to you about the contest between UK and Japan airport access trains. Is that a bit of a stretch?

The leader of UK National Team is EMU Heathrow Express, Class 332 operated by BAA. A hornet-like yellow striped train with a piercing look on the face (front lights) is quite unique. The maximum speed is 160km/h, and it runs between Heathrow Airport and downtown London in only 15 minutes. 2+1 cross seats in the first class train look very spacious and comfortable (I have never tried... It's a bit expensive).

A worthy rival of Heathrow Express in Japan is EMU Keisei Skyliner, AE series (see my blog on September 13th, 2011). The crow-like long sharp nose and black head are quite impressive. The Skyliner runs between Narita Airport and downtown Tokyo in 36 minutes, as the maximum speed is 160km/h, the same as Heathrow Express. Thanks to leisurely reclining seats, passengers are able to have a relaxing time on the train.

Another member of Japan's National Team is EMU JR East Narita Express, E259 series (see my blog on April 15th, 2011). The maximum speed is only 130km/h, but it has a well-developed operation network in downtown Tokyo, such as Tokyo (central), Shinagawa, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. It has a first class train (Green Car) with leather seats.

Who is the gold medalist among the three runners?

Side view of EMU Heathrow Express Class 332 at London Paddington Station, UK