Sunday, 30 December 2012

Railway Mimic, the Ultimate Subculture in Japan

Professional railway mimic, Shinji Tachikawa's performance for the "Chitofuna Festival"

That guy has come back to Chitose-Funabashi, my town on the Odakyu Line. Wearing a railway employee-like yellow colored uniform, he appeared on stage at the "Chitofuna (Chitose-Funabashi) Festival", an annual local event (see the top photo). His name is Shinji Tachikawa, a professional railway mimic.

Shinji has a large repertoire of mimics.

First, he imitates trains all over Japan. For example, he does a running high speed Shinkansen train very well. He is good at imitating commuter trains, such as the Odakyu Electric Railway (see the follwowing picture). It is very difficult, because most of these trains have VVVF (Variable Voltage and Variable Frequency) inverter control systems, which generate complicated modulated sounds. But, he reels it off.

Second, Shinji imitates station and train announcements. For example, he does station staff announcements on the Odakyu Line. He is good at imitating the automatic English broadcast from the Shinkansen trains as well. Surprisingly, Shinji can imitate two kinds of broadcast perfectly. They are the Tokaido and the Tohoku Shinkansens. He says the intonations are slightly different. "The automatic English broadcast in the Tohoku Shinkansen train is more emotional than that of the Tokaido Shinkansen."

According to Shinji's website, he used to be an engineer in a major cement company, but resigned to be a railway mimic. What's remarkable is that Shinji is a much-in-demand showman in this country. Since the late 1990s, Japan has developed as a subculture paradise. This very specific area, railway mimics are a real ultimate subculture in this country.

EMU Odakyu 2000 series stands at Kyodo Station
More information about EMU Odakyu 2000 series (in Japanese):

Friday, 28 December 2012

Early Winter Visit to Kamakura Taking the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 60000 series (a cab with a gangway in the front) arrives at Fujisawa Sta. in the twilight

I visited Kamakura again for the first time in almost a year (see my blog on December 26th, 2011). I took the Odakyu Enoshima Line and got off at Fujisawa Station. Then, I headed to Kamakura on the lovely Enoden (Enoshima Electric Railway) train.

My destination was Tokeiji Temple in the northern Kamakura area. This temple was opened in 1285 as a nunnery. Specifically, in the Edo era (from about the 17th to 19th century), it functioned as the government's official refuge for women who were abused by their husbands. So, Tokeiji Temple is also known as "Enkiri-dera (divorce temple)". Since the Meiji era (1872), Tokeiji has been changed to a Zen Buddhist monastery. A lot of philosophers and business people have been studying there.

The garden of Tokeiji Temple was very calm and neat as a training place for Zen Buddhism. I saw a beautiful yellow carpet of fallen gingko leaves, which indicated the advent of winter in the Tokyo metropolitan area (see the following photo).

After my visit to Kamakura, I reached Fujisawa Station again at dusk. The shadows had begun to fall. My train, the EMU Odakyu "Romance Car" 60000 series (see my blog on September 4th, 2011) approached the platform in the twilight. It was a 4-car train with a cab with a gangway in the front. I often get on this train on the way home, but it was something special on that day, since it was very beautiful and glaring in the twilight (see the top photo).

Carpet of fallen ginkgo leaves in Tokeiji Temple near Kita-Kamakura Station

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Winter Colors of an Urban Forest on the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 3000 series, a local train arrives at Sangubashi Station

Tokyo is a super high density city. It has been spreading into the air, underground and into the suburbs. They are skyscrapers, subways, residential areas, and so on.

However, we still have vast spaces in the heart of the city. One of the typical examples is a forest of Meiji Shrine where the green woods are an oasis for Tokyoites. It is located near Shinjuku, the largest subcenter of downtown Tokyo.

Taking the Odakyu-Odawara Line, I visited there early this month. The nearest station is Sangubashi. Actually, I pass through this station everyday, since it is on my commuting route, but, I seldom get off there. I just got on the usual train: the EMU 3000 series, and stopped over at Sangubashi Station (see the top photo).

After getting off the train, I found a different world. The forest of Meiji Jingu was very quiet and beautiful. It's turning into winter already, but I could still see "autumn leaves". They were crimson, yellow and brown colored. Evergreen trees were also mixed with the "autumn leaves" (see the following picture). I admired the beautiful and mysterious forest for a while. Then, I relaxed by allowing myself to breathe fully. This area is also known as a "power spot" among Tokyoites.

For your information, you can get to Meiji Jingu on the JR East Yamanote Line train as well. Please get off at Harajuku Station. The entrance of the shrine will be just in front of you.

"Winter colors" of the Meiji Jingu forest near Sangubashi Station on the Odakyu Line
More information about EMU Odakyu 3000 series (in Japanese):

Monday, 24 December 2012

Nostalgic Aerial Tramway in Onomichi City

Aerial tramway in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture

After enjoying the classic streets and spectacular marine view in Fukuyama, I headed west again to reach my final destination on this trip. That was Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Onomichi commands a population of 145,000 people, and is well known as a city of literature and film. Many famous novelists have lived there and many cinematic masterpieces have been set in this city. Onomichi is also known as a city of slopes. There are densely built houses close together on the steep ground and deeply green colored forests on top of the hills.

To enjoy a superb city view, "Senkojiyama (Mt. Senkoji) Ropeway" is convenient. Three minutes of boarding from the foot of the mountain brings you to the summit of Senkojiyma, a spectacular city viewing spot.

Senkojiyama Ropeway is a municipal aerial tramway which opened in 1957. Connecting Sanroku and Sancho stations, the line length is only 361m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is also small, 115m. It is indeed a mini and nostalgic aerial tramway. Currently, third generation gondolas, Kamome (seagull) and Sakura (cherry) are operated every 15 minutes (see the top photo). They can accommodate up to 30 passengers each.

After arriving at the summit, I enjoyed the lovely landscape of this beautiful city, such as old temples on the slope and the beautiful Onomichi Channel with its elegant oblique bridge, Onomichi Ohashi (see the following picture). I realized why distinguished novelists and film directors have loved this old city.

Superb view from Senkojiyama

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The 105 Series and Sunrise in the Fukuyama Area

EMU JR West 105 series stands at Fukuyama Station on the Fukuen Line

After my visit to Okayama City, I headed to the west again. My next destination was Fukuyama, a major city in the eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture. Fukuyama City with a population of 460,000 plays host to many tourists. The flocking visitors target the nostalgic streets and lovely view of the Seto Inland Sea in Tomonoura, which is located in the southern part of the city.

When I was a child, people on the Seto Inland Sea suffered from severe environmental pollution as a corollary of sharp economic growth. Chemical runoff from industry and agriculture have decimated many habitats and caused toxic red tides in the sea. To be honest, I didn't have a good image of this area.

The situation has been dramatically improved over the last few decades. The efforts of local people, industries and the government have overcome obstacles. The Seto Inland Sea is very clean now. In fact, we can enjoy a wide variety of seafood, such as sea bream, oysters and abalones there again.

In the meantime, I am going to show a local train in the Fukuyama area. That is the EMU JR West 105 series on the Fukuen Line. Connecting Fukuyama and Shiomachi, there are 27 stations over a total operating length of 78km on the Fukuen Line. The whole route is single track, and partially electrified. The EMU 105 series is operated as a two or four car train.

Sunrise at Tomonoura near Fukuyama Station

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Electric Car Type 3000, Black Tram in the Castle City

Electric car Type 3000, "Kuro" arrives at Shiroshita Stop on the Okayama Electric Tramway 

Okayama is the main city in Okayama Prefecture, some 700km west of Tokyo. Along with Hiroshima, it is a business center of the Chugoku District, in the western part of Japan.

I have a theory that most trams are operated in castle cities in Japan. For example, Kochi has a beautiful Kochi Castle and convenient tram system (see my blog on May 11th, 2012), whilst Hakodate also has a western style castle, Goryokaku and extensive tram routes (see my blog on August 23rd, 2012). Similarly, Okayama also has a castle and tramways.

Okayama Electric Tramway is a local private company, which operates two tram routes (Higashiyama and Seikibashi lines) in the city. It was opened in 1910; and the current operating length is 4.7km only. Lovely electric cars are operated every 5 minutes on the Higashiyama Line, and every 10 minutes on the Seikibashi Line.

I like car number 3007 of the oldest model, Type 3000, best. It is known as "Kuro (black)". The classic style, splendid black body with a large rounded front light is my favorite. A large iron stand below the pantograph is also peculier to this electric car. "Kuro" was originally manufactured for the Nikko Tram Line of Tobu Railway in 1953. After closing the Nikko Tram Line, a total of 10 units were transferred to Okayama to spend a second life.

The black face, "Kuro" is the front man in the historic castle city.

Okayama castle

More information about trains of Okayama Electric Railway (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Okayama, Gateway City to Shikoku Island

EMU JR Shikoku 8000 series, Limited Express "Shiokaze" stands at Okayama Station

After staying at Kamigori Town in Hyogo Prefecture (see my blog on December 4th, 2012), I moved to Okayama, a main city of Okayama Prefecture. Okayama functions as not only an administrative center of the prefecture, but also a key junction of regional transportation. We can see a wide variety of trains at Okayama Station. It is a railfan's paradise!

Look at the top photo. It is a train to Shikoku Island, EMU JR Shikoku 8000 series, "Shiokaze (sea breeze)". The 8000 series is a DC (direct current) train launched in 1992. A total of 12 sets of 48 units have been manufactured in Hitachi and Nihon Sharyo. It is like a worm, isn't it?

As its name suggests, "Shiokaze" crosses the Seto Inland Sea, and heads to Matsuyama, a major city in Ehime Prefecture. En route, the Shiokaze passes over the 13.1km Seto Ohashi Bridge (the world's longest two-tier bridge).

In the meantime, Okayama City is also well known for "Korakuen", a famous Japanese Feudal Lord's garden (see the following photo). Along with Kairakuen, in Mito and Kenrokuen, in Kanazawa, Korakuen is one of three great gardens of Japan. It was ordered by Nagatada Tsuda to begin construction in 1687, and completed in 1700. Taking this opportunity I visited there, and enjoyed the gorgeous autumn leaves and tasty Kibi-dango (local soft rice cake) with Maccha (Japanese green powdered tea).

Needless to say, I could enjoy feeling like a "Daimyo", a medieval feudal lord of Japan.

Korakuen Park near Okayama Station
More information about EMU JR Shikoku 8000 series (in Japanese)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

HOT 3500, 350PS Rail-car on the Chizu Express Railway

Rail-car HOT 3500 series stands at Kohnohara-Enshin Station on the Chizu Express Railway

Following the trans-mountain express, "Super-Hakuto" and "Super-Inaba" (see my blog on December 11th, 2012); I am going to show you another train on the Chizu Line. That is a rail-car of the HOT 3500 series.

The 3500 was launched in 1994 as the first rail-car for local trains on the Chizu Express Railway. A total of 10 units have been manufactured so far by Fuji Heavy Industries. The "3500" is named after the unit power of the vehicle, 350PS. I like this rail-car, since it is powerful enough to climb up mountains, and the windows are large for a great view.

Sitting in the comfortable seat, I enjoyed watching the landscape go by from the train window... a clear blue sky, crimson leaves, limpid streams and so on... sure to wash away daily stresses and strains in my urban life.

In the meantime, I saw a special signboard on the front of one of the rail cars (see the following picture). It is the "Railway Girl" character wearing the Chizu Express Railway conductor's uniform. Railway Girls are imaginary characters created by a toy manufacturer. In this series, most Japanese railway companies have their own imaginary employee characters, such as Ms. Erio Miyamoto of the Chizu Express Railway. By tying up with the railway companies, the toy manufacturer created a vast number of character-goods, for example figures, drama-CDs and comics. Just like model train buffs, there are many Railway Girl collectors in Japan.

Railway is a really expensive yet deep hobby, isn't it?

Signboard of "Railway Girl" character wearing Chizu Express Railway's conducter uniform
More information about the rail-car HOT 3500 series (in Japanese):

Friday, 14 December 2012

Local Train and Lawn Cherry Field on the Fujikyu Line

EMU Fujikyu 1000 (ex-Keio 5000) series stands at Otsuki Station

Following my blog on September 7th 2012, I am going to show the other superb view on the Fujikyu Line in Yamanashi Prefecture (see the following photo).

Shibazakura (lawn cherry) is a cherry-like pink-flowered short grass, which is originally form North America. It blooms in April to May in Japan as a mid-spring flower. Fuji Shibazakura Field is one of the reputable lawn cherry viewing spots in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. More than 800,000 lawn cherries are growing in an area that covers 2.4 hectares.

I visited there on a bright Saturday in mid-May this year. I saw many flower lovers there, as it was the best period for viewing blossoms. It was extremely beautiful that the snow-capped Mt. Fuji rose over the swathing pink-colored lawn cherries, backed by a blue colored sky and fluffy white clouds.

To get from downtown Tokyo to Fuji Shibazakura Field, take JR East Chuo Line and transfer to Fujikyu Line at Otsuki Station. I got on the local train of the Fujikyu Line, an EMU 1000 series, bound for Kawaguchi-ko. This model is an ex-Keio 5000 series, which was a very reputable commuter train in Tokyo in the 1960s through the 1990s. It is also known as the winner of the 1964 Laurel Prize (see my blog on May 20th, 2012). Curved front windows and double rounded front lights of this 43-year-old train are nostalgic, but still very cool.

A gorgeous lawn cherry field and an evergreen local train... I found new charms in the Mt. Fuji area.

Mt. Fuji and the lawn cherry field near Kawaguchi-ko Station on the Fujikyu Line (May, 2012)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Trans-Mountain Express in the Chugoku District

DMU HOT 7000 series, Ltd. Exp. "Super-Hakuto", passes through Kuzaki Station on the Chizu Line

Following my blog on December 4th, 2012, I am going to show a railway turning off Kamigori Station. That is the Chizu Express Railway.

Connecting Kamigori, on the JR West Sanyo, and Chizu, on the JR West Inbi lines, the total operating length is 56.1km. The whole route is an unelectrified, single track. Some of the trains are directly operated into the JR West Line.

The most distinctive feature of this line is the trans-mountain route penetrating the Chugoku Mountains. It is a bridge-tunnel railway, which connects cities located on the Sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea.

Two kinds of limited express trains are operated on the line.

One of them is Super-Hakuto, connecting Tottori, Kurayoshi and Kyoto (see the top picture). Chizu Express Railway's flagship model, DMU HOT 7000 is operated with a maximum speed of 130km per hour. In addition to its speed, the other outstanding feature is its curve passage performance. By tilting the train's body using pendular technology, the HOT 7000 series can keep a high speed on tight curves.

Another limited express train is the Super-Inaba connecting Tottori and Okayama (see the following picture). JR West's DMU KiHa 187-500 series are operated on this line. Although its maximum speed is 120km per hour, it has the most advanced tilting system in JR West, and runs between Tottori and Okayama in about 90 minutes, which is faster than its primary competitor, the expressway bus.

Railways in the Chugoku District are doing their best.

DMU JR West KiHa 187-500 series, Ltd. Exp. "Super-Inaba", arrives at Kamigori Station
More information about Limited Express, Super-Hakuto (in Japanese):
More information about Limited Express, Super-Inaba (in Japanese):

Sunday, 9 December 2012

From Pilgrim to Commuter Railway, the Daiyuzan Line

5501F (steel) of the EMU Izu-Hakone 5000 series arrives at Fujifilm-mae Station

Odawara is a major city located some 80km southwest of Tokyo, and functions as a key junction of transportation in the western part of Kanagawa Prefecture. For example, JR Central has a station of the Tokaido Shinkansen; meanwhile JR East has a Tokaido Main Line station. Odakyu and Hakone Tozan railways also have a large shared terminal adjacent to the JR stations.

Never forget that Odawara has one more important railway, which is the Daiyuzan Line of Izu-Hakone Railway Company. Connecting Odawara and Daiyuzan, there are 12 stations over a total operating length of 9.6km. The route is single track, and 3-car trains are operated every 12 minutes.

The Daiyuzan Line has a unique history in early times. It was constructed as a pilgrim railway to the famous Saijo-ji temple in 1925, but currently, it is a commuter railway for the residents in Odawara and Minami-Ashigara Cities.

The main fleet of the line is EMU 5000 series, which was launched in 1984. A total of 7 sets, 21 units have been manufactured over 12 years. Only the 1st set is steel (see the top photo), while the other 6 sets are stainless-steel (see the following photo).

I took the Daiyuzan Line on a weekend of this October. I saw some sightseers, but most of the passengers are local people such as families, students and the aged. The Daiyuzan Line is no longer a pilgrim railway, but a local transport for the people in the Odawara area.

5507F (stainless-steel) of the EMU Izu-Hakone 5000 series arrives at Fujifilm-mae Station
More information about trains on the Daiyuzan Line (in Japanese):

Friday, 7 December 2012

Subway and Autumn Leaves in the Ancient Capital

EMU Kyoto Municipal Subway 10 series (top number car, 1101) leaves Takeda Station (Feb. 2010)

I received a beautiful picture from one of my blog readers who travelled to Japan recently (see the following photo). It was shot at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, the ancient capital city of Japan.

Kyoto was Japan's capital from 794 after relocation from Nara. Although the status of nation's capital was transferred from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, Kyoto is still considered as the Japan's most fundamental city, as the imperial palace had been located there for about 1100 years.

Kiyomizu Temple (the following photo) is built on a "stage", where the panoramic view and autumn color is spectacular. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to visit Kyoto this year due to professional commitments and a consequent lack of time, but I am going to take this opportunity to show you a train in Kyoto.

The top photo shows the EMU Kyoto Municipal Subway 10 series. The subway in Kyoto City was opened in 1981 between Kitaoji and Kyoto on the Karasuma Line. Currently, it consists of two routes, and the total operating length is 31.2km. The trains of subway lines are directly operated into two private railways, namely the Kintetsu and Keihan lines.

The EMU 10 series is the first model in the Kyoto Municipal Subway. The green colored vertical stripe on the front car represents a belt of a Maiko (traditional dancing and singing girl in Kyoto). Currently, one train is composed of 6 cars, and operated every 7-8 minutes in the daytime.

Kyoto blends two faces perfectly... traditional and contemporary.

Night view of Kiyomizu Temple near Gojo Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway (Nov. 2012)
Photo: Courtesy Arga Surawidjaja

Route map of the Kyoto Municipal Subway:
More information about EMU 10 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The 115 Yellow and Local Festival in Kamigori Town

EMU JR West 115 series stands at Kamigori Station on the Sanyo Main Line

A friend of mine has moved from Tokyo to Kamigori Town in Hyogo Prefecture to take up farming. I visited him with my family last month.

Kamigori is a typical agrarian town surrounded by the Chugoku Mountains. It is located some 600km west of Tokyo. To get there from Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen, and got off at Aioi Station. A local train was waiting for us on the west-bound track of the Sanyo Main Line, when we arrived at Aioi. That was a local train, the EMU JR West 115 series (see the top photo). It was yellow, or rather, "Yamabuki (bright yellow)" color, which was different from those of JR East 115 (see my blog on September 22nd, August 10th and April 6th, 2012).

After being reunited with my friend, we visited a local autumn festival together. I saw a bunch of people in the agora of the town. More than 20 food stalls with over 200 tables had been set up there. We enjoyed superb local food such as Ayu (sweetfish) broiled with salt and Moroheiya (Jew's marrow) salad. On the other hand, a Rakugo storyteller (traditional Japanese comedian), with local girls, was making the audience laugh with their narrative skill using the local dialect (see the following photo).

Big-hearted people, a mild autumn climate and the slow passing of time... it was truly country life in Japan. Kamigori is a place that lets city dwellers feel the warmth of those long-forgotten.

"Rakugo" storyteller's performance for the local festival in Kamigori Town near Kamigori Station

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Mass Transit Funicular in Hakone Mountains

Funicular HT1 set (Ke101 and 201) leaves Gora Station on the Hakone Cable Car Line

As I mentioned before, Hakone is a very popular sightseeing area in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is said that 19 million tourists visit this mountain resort per year, since they can enjoy the nature and the hot springs less than two hours from the heart of the city. Hakone is always busy with visitors, but especially in spring because of the fresh greenery and in autumn because of the crimson leaves.

The main sightseeing route in Hakone runs from Hakone Yumoto to Lake Ashinoko, starting with the Hakone Tozan Railway, which takes passengers up to Gora Station in 40 minutes. Then, most of the tourists change to the funicular, "Hakone Cable Car" to climb up to the higher altitude.

Connecting Gora and Sounzan stations, the Hakone Cable Car was opened in 1921. One of the features of this funicular is 4 intermediate stations. They are Koen-shimo, Koen-kami, Naka-Gora and Kami-Gora, which are not only for sightseers but also for local residents.

To transport flocking passengers, the operating company introduced 2 sets of Swiss made 2-car trains, HT1 and HT2 in 1995 (see the photos). Thanks to the mass transit vehicles, one train can accommodate 251 passengers. Currently, trains are operated every 15 minutes on average; therefore, they can transport more than 10,000 tourists per day to the mountain paradise.

After getting off the funicular at Sounzan, it is about half an hour to Togendai at Ashinoko lakeside by the Hakone Ropeway (see my blog on November 5th, 2012).

Funicular HT2 set (Ke102 and 202) passes through the middle point on the Hakone Cable Car Line