Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The 500 Series, Ultimate Beauty of High Speed Train

EMU JR West 500 series stands at Fukuyama Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen

What is the most beautiful train in Japan? Perhaps, nine times out of ten, the answer will be "the shinkansen 500 series!"

The EMU JR West 500 series was launched in 1997 as the Super-express train, Nozomi (hope). A total of 9 sets, 144 units have been manufactured by Hitachi, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Kinki Sharyo and Nippon Sharyo. The canopy architecture with the long front nose is very cool and popular among rail-fans as well as tourists. I think that the design of the 500 series is developed into a fine art; however, it is the result of pursuit to reduce air resistance and tunnel boom.

The EMU 500 series had been operated on the Tokaido and the Sanyo Shinkansens with a maximum speed of 300km per hour; but after the debut of the N700 (see my blog on February 22nd, 2012), the 500 series has been retired gradually. Everything flows, nothing stands still.

To see and get on this beautiful train today, take the Sanyo Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Hakata in the western part of Japan. Currently, they make 9 to 12 round trips per day as mostly all-stations trains, Kodama (echo). Although it has been shortened from 16 to 8 cars per set, and decreased its maximum speed from 300 to 285km per hour, the beautiful tubular body with a sharp long nose is still alive and kicking.

EMU JR West 500 series, it is the ultimate beauty of high speed train.

Side view of Type 521, EMU JR West 500 series at Fukuyama Station
More information about EMU JR West 500 series:

Monday, 26 November 2012

Commuter Liner, Healing Train for Hard Workers

EMU JR East 185 series, "Home Liner Konosu" stands at Ueno Station
Businessmen and businesswomen in Tokyo are generally busy everyday. To make matters worse, they have to have a hard time while returning home, as the commuter trains are packed on most of the routes. What can they do?

Here is what they need to do. Get on a Commuter Liner by paying an extra fee. It takes them to a healing world. Currently, some of the railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area operate special trains, which guarantee passengers going back home seats on board. For example, Tokyo Metro and Odakyu jointly operate a special Romance Car, "Metro Homeway" from the city center to western suburbs of Tokyo (see my blog on September 4th, 2011).

JR East also operates similar trains, so-called Commuter Liner. For example, Home Liner Konosu is operated between Ueno and Konosu on the Takasaki Line (see the top photo); while the Shonan Liner is operated between Tokyo and Odawara (see the following photo). EMUs 185 and 215 series etc. are used. They are higher grade than those of standard commuter trains. The operation interval is 30 minutes on average.

I sometimes use a Romance Car, Metro Homeway from Otemachi Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line near my office. It is directly operated into the Odakyu Line. Wood grain patterns are heavily used for the interior, such as the passenger seats and the walls. It offers the passengers peace and comfort.

Commuter Liner: it is a healing train for hard workers in urban areas of this country.
EMU JR East 215 series, "Shonan Liner" stands at Tokyo Station

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Autumn Colors on the Chichibu Railway

Classic EMU Chichibu 1000 (left) and Seibu 4000 (right) series at Mitsumineguchi Station

The foliage season has come to the Tokyo metropolitan area again. In autumn, many people enjoy viewing the leaves change of color. It shows us the tremendous beauty, which we hardly notice in our daily routine life. I visited the Chichibu area last weekend, and enjoyed mid-autumn in the country. It was a bright, clear and quiet day.

To begin with, I reached Mitsumineguchi Station on the Chichibu Railway. Various colored foliaged mountains lay behind the terminal, and in front was a small flatland for a local village. It was a very quiet weekend morning around the station (see the following photo).

In the station yard, I could see a wide variety of trains (see the top photo). The vermilion colored classic one is the EMU 1000 series, which was transferred from JR East in the late '80s. The original model number was EMU JNR (Japan National Railways) 101 series, manufactured in the '60s. I often got on this type of train in downtown Tokyo, when I was a child.

The white colored train with blue, red and green colored stripes is the EMU Seibu 4000 series. This train is directly operated from Seibu Railway at the end of each week. It was launched in 1988 as a standard class train; but it has enough facilities such as cozy seats and sanitary toilets for long distance passengers.

I could also see many other kinds of trains there, but I will perhaps show them another time.

Nostalgic Mitsumineguchi Station on the Chichibu Railway

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cosmos Field on the Takasaki Line

EMU JR East 211 series arrives at Gyoda Station on the Takasaki Line

Autumn is the season for cosmos blossoms. We can see many cosmos fields here and there in the Tokyo metropolitan area. As I mentioned before, I visited Mt. Fuji (see my blog on September 22nd), Tachikawa (my blogs on October 29th and November 4th) and Kurihama (my blog on November 20th) last year.

This year, I headed north. My destination was the Arakawa River in Saitama Prefecture, some 50km from downtown Tokyo. Along the riverside, we can see a vast cosmos field there. They are white, pink and yellow colored. Among them, what particularly took my fancy was the dark pink colored Akatsuki (dawn) blossoms. Full blooming cosmos were shaken with the wind in the sunshine (see the following photo). Many people were visiting to enjoy this autumn event.

To get to this flower lover's paradise, JR East Takasaki Line is convenient. I got on the Rapid Service train from Shinjuku Station on the Shonan-Shinjuku Line, as it was directly operated into the Takasaki Line. After one hour or so, I could reach Fukiage, the nearest station to the field. It was good to see the EMU 211 series again on the way back home (see the top photo), as the 211 has already been retired from the Tokaido Main Line. I had no chance to see this "white face" at Tokyo Station near my office.

The gorgeous cosmos field and the rare train... rail-fans always get additional gain. This is killing two birds with one stone, isn't it?

Cosmos "Akatsuki" Field near Fukiage Station on the Takasaki Line

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Irodori 485-N201, Sharp-eyed "Freeza" Train

N201 set of the EMU JR East 485 series, "Irodori" arrives at Katsunuma-budokyo Station

Do you know there are many leisure trains in Japan? One of the examples is "Yufuin-no- mori" of JR Kyushu (see my blog on May 7th, 2011), meanwhile a small company, Watarase Valley Railway, has an open-air train "Torokko Wasshi" for sightseers (see my blog on September 10th, 2012).

The giant, JR East also owns several leisure trains. I am going to show one of them here. That is "Irodori"; N201 of the EMU 485 series (see the photos).

Irodori (Color) is an all green-car train. It means that the 6-car train is composed of the first class car only. Actually, Irodori lives up to its name. The body of the train is very colorful. They are lilac (car number 1 and 5), dark yellow (car number 2), pinkish beige (car number 3 and 6) and light blue (car number 4). The interior is also rich in variety. Car number 1 and 6 are 2+1 cross seat cars. By contrast, car number 2, 3 and 5 are compartment cars. A large salon is provided in car number 4. A massage chair and an audio instrument are also installed.

In the meantime, Japanese rail-fans call this train "Freeza", because the face of the train resembles the famous cartoon character, Freeza in Dragon Ball. Most notably, the "sharp-eyed" front lights are awfully similar to the eyes of Freeza.

Do I like this face? Not really, to be honest, but it's very unique, isn't it?

N201 set of the EMU JR East 485 series, "Irodori" stands at Hachioji Station on the Chuo Line

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Keikyu-Kamata, Castle Wall in the High-density City

New Keikyu-Kamata Station (left) and double-deck elevated tracks of the Keikyu-Airport Line

Along with Chofu Station on the Keio Line (see my blog on October 17th, 2012), another bottleneck station has dispelled its negative image. That is Keikyu-Kamata Station on the Keikyu Line, some 10 km south of the city center.

On October 22nd, Keikyu Electric Railway completed the construction of elevated tracks around Keikyu-Kamata Station on the Keikyu-Main and Keikyu-Airport lines (see the top photo). A total of 6km of surface tracks have been elevated.

Before completion of the new tracks, Keikyu-Kamata was a bottleneck station on the timetable, as the Main Line and the Airport Line trains crossed on the surface. But, after the completion, a grade separated crossing has made it possible for the trains to be operated smoothly.

Just like Chofu on the Keio Line, another advantage of the elevated tracks is the elimination of traffic jams at railway crossings. The Keikyu lines crossed the arterial road, Route 15. High concentrations of cars passing the railway crossings had been causing chronic traffic congestion. It has completely disappeared after completion of the construction.

In the meantime, with the completion of the grade separated crossing, Keikyu has changed the timetable on the lines. Express services between Shinagawa, Yokohama and Haneda Airport (Tokyo International Airport) have been expanded drastically. It's good news for airline passengers. The next highlight will be a counterplot by Tokyo Monorail, which is Keikyu's primary competitor for transportation between the city center and Haneda Airport.

New Keikyu-Kamata station, it's a castle wall in the high-density city.
EMUs Keikyu 2100 (left) and 1500 (right) series leave south-bound platform, Keikyu-Kamata Sta.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Histric Garden on the Futuristic AGT Line

Letest model on the Yurikamome Line, EMU 7200 series arrives at Shiodome Station

As I mentioned before, Tokyo is the most congested city in Japan. This giant city has been expanding since 1457, when Edo castle was constructed. Currently, there are many business districts, shopping quarters and residential areas in the city.

However, even in these circumstances, a number of historic areas remain unchanged. One of the examples is Hamarikyu Garden in the city center. This garden was constructed in the 17th century as a typical Japanese feudal lord garden. It is located next to Tokyo Bay; and its tidal ponds are filled with seawater. A tidal pond means a pond that is infused with seawater. Now the garden is surrounded by high-rise buildings of the Shiodome business area, and the contrast between the old and the new is superb.

To get to this urban historic spot, the Yurikamome Line is convenient. It is an AGT (automated guide way transit) line which opened in 1995 between Shimbashi in downtown Tokyo and the Tokyo Bay area (see my blog on August 29th, 2011). The current total operating length is 14.7km.

The top photo shows the latest model EMU 7200 series arriving at Shiodome Station near Hamarikyu Garden. This model was launched in 1999 as the second generation train on the line. The major different points from previously-existing 7000 series are the control system (from thyristor to variable-frequency drive) and increase the number of guide wheels.

Shioiri Pond in Hamarikyu Park near Shiodome Station on the Yurikamome Line
More information about the Yurikamome trains (in Japanese):

Friday, 9 November 2012

Shibamata, Good Old Days on the Urban Local Line

Nostalgic EMU, Keisei 3300 series arrives at Shibamata Station on the Kanamachi Line

Shibamata is located some 10km east of the city center, and is one of the traditional areas in Tokyo. It is also home to a 17th-century temple, Taishakuten. The area maintains the feel of the good old days in Tokyo. The winding residential backstreet is a typical example.

It was a series of movies, Otokowa Tsuraiyo (It's Hard Being a Man) that made Shibamata famous throughout Japan. In the movie, Shibamata is described as an area where time has stopped.

The railway in Shibamata is also old-fashioned. The nearest route, the Kanamachi Line was opened in 1899 as a handcar railway. Operators pushed the car from behind. It was electrified in 1913 as a part of the Keisei Electric Railway of today, but it is still a single track local line. There are only 3 stations over a total operating length of 2.5km.

An old-fashioned 4-car train, the EMU 3300 series is operated every 10 to 15 minutes on the route. The 3300 series was launched in 1968. A total of 54 units have been manufactured, and 16 units are still operated.

I like these nostalgic trains very much, as the 4 large front lights are very cute. When I was a child, I often got on the 3300 series on the subway Toei-Asakusa Line, as this train was directly operated into the subway line. It was called Akaden (the red train), as the body color was red at that time.

The 3300 series really goes with nostalgic town of Shibamata.

Taishakuten-temple and a residential backstreet near Shibamata Station on the Kanamachi Line

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Special Poster Trains in Shinkansen Year 2012

Tokyo Tower, JR East's penguin character and Panda (Ueno Zoo) on the EMU E2-J series

JR East has been promoting Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano, Akita and Yamagata Shinkansens since early this year, as coined "Shinkansen Year 2012". It is because this year is the 30th anniversary of the Tohoku and the Nagano Shinkansen, the 20th anniversary of the Yamagata Shinkansen and the 15th anniversary of the Akita Shinkansen.

One of the promotion activities is the operation of special poster trains, which are decorated with local characters. For example, 4 sets of EMU E2-J series are decorated with characters on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Car number 2 is decorated with images of Tokyo Tower, Panda in the Ueno Zoo and so on (see the top photo). Meanwhile, car number 6 is decorated with images of Tanabata Festival in Sendai, Kokeshi (traditional wooden doll) in Narugo, Masamune Date (a famous warlord) etc.

4 sets of EMU E2-N series are decorated with local characters on the Nagano Shinkansen. Car number 3 is decorated with images of Zenkoji Temple, Yukimura Sanada (a famous samurai) and so on (see the following picture). Meanwhile, car number 6 is decorated with images of Jigokudani Hot Spring, Northern Japanese Alps, and ski ground in Hakuba etc.

JR East are also posting photographs of "Shinkansen and people" taken by passengers over the last 30 years on the company website. They are Shinkansen trains with children, boys, girls, couples and old people. You will be able to see Japanese people's expressions, dress and day-to-day life from 1982 to 2011 on the following website.

Shinkansen stays ahead of Japanese railways.

Zenkoji temple and JR East's penguin character with Y. Sanada costume on the EMU E2-N series

Monday, 5 November 2012

Gondola Lift and Silver Grass Field in Hakone

Distant view of Mt. Fuji over Sengokubara near Ubako Station on the Hakone Ropeway

Now is the time when we are getting deeper into autumn in the Tokyo metropolitan area. I visited the Hakone Mountains on a bright and clear weekend, since I have begun to long for sunny spots.

As I mentioned in my blog on July 11th, 2011, Hakone is a famous mountain resort in the western suburb of Tokyo. By taking a commuter train, a mountain railway, a funicular and a gondola lift, we can reach a beautiful highland easily from downtown Tokyo.

One of the recommended spots in this season is a vast silver grass field in Sengokubara. This area is located in the northern part of the Hakone Mountains. It's a relatively flat land because of a crater floor of the caldera, which is surrounded by steep outer rim mountains. In this season, we can see an awful lot of rabbit ears of silver grass. They change color from green to gold on exposure to the sun. The breeze blowing against them also creates a refreshing sound.

To get to this gorgeous spot, I took the Hakone Ropeway from Sounzan Station. This gondola lift was opened in 1959. There are 4 stations over a total operating length of 4.05km. Currently, it is officially recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for "the busiest aerial tramway", since a total of 2 million passengers per year are on board.

The busy aerial tramway and a beautiful silver grass field, there are still many attractive spots unknown to visitors in Hakone.

Silver grass field in Sengokubara near Ubako Station on the Hakone Ropeway
More informaton about Hakone Ropeway:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Revisit to Burningbush Hill on the Minato Line

Rail car Miki 300-103 approaches Ajigaura Station on the Minato Line, Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway
The autumn color of burningbush is my favorite of the season. Just as last year, I visited Burningbush Hill in Ibaraki Prefecture. As I mentioned in my previous article (see my blog on October 10th, 2011), burningbush produces many small flowers in August. Then, in October, it turns a glowing red. It's very impressive as a signal of the coming of autumn. This year, I visited the hill in the late stage of its autumn color so I could view a different aspect of the burningbush autumn leaves. They were scarlet to reddish brown colored.

To get to this gorgeous spot, I took a local railway, the Minato Line of Hitachi Kaihin Railway from Katsuta Station on the JR East Joban Line. Connecting Katsuta and Ajigaura, there are 9 stations over a total operating length of 14.3km. It is single track and non-electrified wholly within the route.

This time I got on rail car number "Miki 300-103". The 300-103 was introduced in 1998 by Miki Railway in Hyogo Prefecture, the western part of Japan. Unfortunately, this railway was closed in 2008, as the number of passengers on the trains had declined. Then, this rail car was moved to Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway in 2009. Since then, the rail car Miki 300-103 has been operated on the Minato Line, maintaining the same color and unit number.

I hope that the sceneries of Burningbush Hill and the Minato Line won't change long into the future, either.

In the meantime, I have linked to the newly-opened blog, "Greek railways - Trainspotting in Greece since 2008 ". Please enjoy informative railway topics and beautiful sceneries in Greece.

Burningbush Hill in Hitachinaka City near Ajigaura Station on the Minato Line