Sunday, March 31, 2013

Plum Grove and Aerial Tramway of Mt. Tsukuba


Tsukuba-san Aerial Tramway

It got warm in Tokyo. Who would have thought it would get warmer so quickly?

While it is cherry blossom season in downtown Tokyo, plums are still blooming in the northern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. I visited a plum grove at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture at the end of last week.

Tsukuba-san Plum Grove is one of the largest plantations in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Local people cultivate plum trees for fruit to eat and blossoms for viewing. When I visited there, both red and white plums were in full bloom. The visitors were enjoying the last days of the 2013 plum viewing season in their own way (see the following photo).

After enjoying the beautiful plum grove, I climbed up the 877-meter peak on foot. It was a bit hard work for me. So, I then came down to the mountain foot by an aerial tramway, namely the "Tsukuba-san Ropeway" (see the top photo). The Tsukuba-san Ropeway was opened in 1965. Connecting Tsutsujigaoka and Nyotaisan stations, the route length is 1,300m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 298m. Currently, Swiss made medium sized gondolas, which can accommodate up to 70 passengers, are operated every 20 minutes. The travel time between two stations is 6 minutes. It took only a moment; while it was tough to climb up to the summit on foot.

A gorgeous plum grove and a scenic aerial tramway... it was a weekend full of memories again.

Full-blown plum trees in Tsukuba-san Plum Grove

Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 Sakura Season in Tokyo, Part 2


TheToei Line track (left) and the Tokyo Metro Line track (right) at Kudanshita Station

Cherry (Sakura) trees have now come into bloom in the Tokyo metropolitan area. As temperatures have been comparatively high this March, the trees began blooming 10 days earlier than usual. Currently, major viewing spots are crowded with people enjoying the flowers.

The Sakura blossoms are beautiful at night as well. Night viewing of illuminated trees is also popular in Japan. At the end of last week, I visited Chidorigafuchi near Kudanshita Station on the subway line with my family. There were gorgeous illuminated Sakura trees in front of the moat of the Imperial Palace. I saw many people who were enjoying Sakura from the boats on the moat. I also wanted to join them, but we had to give up, as it was about a one-hour wait.

In the meantime, we had a bit of news about Kudanshita Station, the nearest station from Sakura viewing spot, recently. The wall between the Hanzomon Line and the Shinjuku Line tracks had been removed. It was in order to make passengers transfer more smoothly between the two lines. The subway system in Tokyo is operated by two organizations, namely Tokyo Metro Company and Tokyo Metropolitan Government (Toei). The problem for passengers is the difficulty of transfer between the two different operator's lines at the interchange stations. It is inconvenient, as the entrances and exits are separated by the two operators.

In response to orders from the Governor of Tokyo, the wall at Kudanshita Station has been removed and two stations have become unified. It is the first step to improve passenger services.

Night viewing of illuminated Sakura blossoms at Chidorigafuchi near Kudanshita Station

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ryutetsu, Railway of the Showa Look


EMU Ryutetsu "Ryusei", KuMoHa 5002 and 5102 of the 5000 series approarches Koganejoshi Sta.

"Showa", this word has a special resonance for Japanese. Showa is a period when Emperor Showa (Hirohito) ascended to the throne. It began in 1926 and continued till 1989. So it's been over 24 years, since Emperor Showa died and Emperor Heisei (Akihito) ascended the throne. Japanese people, underwent World War II, and then achieved rapid economic growth during the Showa Era. So, we have mixed emotions toward the Showa Era. Anyhow, there is no doubt that Showa is a nostalgic era for us now.

If you are interested in more about the Showa era, you should visit the Nagareyama Line of the Ryutetsu Company. Connecting Mabashi and Nagareyama, the total operating length of this railway is only 5.7 kilometers. The entire route is an electrified single track. There is a nostalgic Showa-like atmosphere on the Nagareyama Line. The old-fashioned trains also make you feel like you have slipped back into the Showa Era.

Look at the top photo. It is the EMU "Ryusei", KuMoHa 5002 and 5102 of the 5000 series. This train was manufactured in 1982 in Showa Era under name of the EMU Seibu 101 series. It then moved to Ryutetsu in 2011. The two large front glasses and the two large rounded front lights have a Showa look, very nostalgic. The scenery on the route also has a Showa look (see the following picture). It is only 20 kilometers north east from the modern downtown Tokyo, but nostalgic crofts and groves still remain.

Ryutetsu, it is a railway of the Showa look.

EMU Ryutetsu "Wakaba", KuMoHa 5004 and 5104 of the 5000 series approaches Koganejoshi Sta.
 
More information aboout trains of Ryutetsu (in Japanese): http://ryutetsu.jp/traingallery.html

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Railway Heritage on the ex-Shinetsu Line

 Railway Heritage, "Tunnel 6 (546m in length)" near Usui Pass on the ex-Shinetsu Line

Usui Pass (960m) is well-known as one of the hardest parts for traffic in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is about 100km north of downtown Tokyo. If you approach from Gunma Prefecture, you have to climb nearly 600m on foot to the pass within a 9km horizontal distance.

In 1893, the railway, Shinetsu Line was opened crossing this steep area. Since then, the 11.2km section between Yokokawa Station on the Gunma side and Karuizawa Station on the Nagano side had been operated using a rack-and-pinion railway system. It had been used until 1963, when a non-rack operation was introduced. Today, Nagano Shinkansen trains breeze through Usui Pass with a maximum speed of 210 km/hour at inclines of up to 30 per mill on the newly constructed track.

Currently, the old rack-and-pinion track has been changed to a railway heritage walkway. Being surrounded by a deep forest, it is a very beautiful walking track, where you can forget the noise and clamor of the city. This walkway also has several attractions, such as an old glasses bridge (see my blog on February 10th, 2012), serpentine tunnels (see the top photo) and a forgotten signal station (see the following picture).

I especially like the tunnels, whose inner walls are paved with bricks. They are quite nostalgic for me. The largest one, Tunnel 6 is 546m in length. It is dark and thrilling to walk.

I breathed in lots of fresh air and truly enjoyed my weekend on the ex-Shinetsu Line.
 
Ex-Kumanotaira Signal Station near Usui Pass on the ex-Shinetsu Line

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Sakura Season in Tokyo


Tokyo Metro 02 series goes by a full-blown Sakura tree near Ochanomizu Station

One week has passed since the Meteorological Agency of Japan declared that the cherry (Sakura) blossoms had bloomed in Tokyo. So far, it has been really predictable. Most of the Sakura trees are fully blossomed. The other day, I went for a stroll around the office during my lunch time break. My favorite area to walk is around the railway tracks in the central part of Tokyo.

Look at the top photo. It is a full-blown Sakura tree along the Subway, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line. As I mentioned before (see my blog on July 15th, 2011), the EMU 02 series, comes upward above the ground, and passes through the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station. It's a very rare sight, where we can see the subway trains running above the ground in the center of Tokyo. The full-blown light-pink-colored Sakura and the red colored train create a beautiful contrast against this rare railway site.

The following picture is also a full-blown Sakura tree and a train. The EMU JR East 233 series goes by a Sakura tree, and passes through the Nihonbashi River near Suidobashi Station on the Chuo Line. We can see many Sakura trees, which extend and overhang their branches to the river water. The full-blown light-pink-colored Sakura and the orange colored train create a beautiful contrast against this urban riverside.

In this period, the city of Tokyo is filled with full-bloomed light-pink-colored Sakura. After a long cold winter, we, Tokyoites are enjoying the best season of the year.

EMU JR East 233 series goes by a full-blown Sakura tree near Suidobashi Station

Monday, March 25, 2013

The 50th Anniversary of Green Colored Train

EMU JR East 231-500 series, "the 50th anniversary color", arrives at Tokyo Station
 
The Yamanote Line is one of the most crowded railway routes in Japan. There are 29 stations over a total of 34 kilometers of track. An eleven-car train is operated every 3 minutes on average. All the trains run in the same direction throughout the day, clockwise or counterclockwise, as the route is looped. The train covers the entire route in about 60 minutes. Most of the stations are interchanges to the subway, private railways and/or other JR lines.

The Yamanote Line was fully opened in 1925. It is famous for "green colored trains", which have been a tradition of this route for 50 years. Currently, JR East is operating a special train on the Yamanote Line in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of green colored train operations. The coloring of this special train is similar to that of the first generation green colored train, namely the EMU 103 series.

The 103 series was launched on the Yamanote Line in 1963. It was a steel train, whose body color was a monochrome in green; meanwhile the present green colored train, the EMU 231-500 series, is stainless silver colored with a green colored stripe (see my blog on June 23rd, 2011).

For your information, all of the first generation green colored trains, the EMU 103 series, have already been retired from the Tokyo metropolitan area; however, we can still see their "brothers" in the western part of Japan.

The green colored Yamanote Line train is heading toward the next 50 years.
 
Side view of the EMU JR East 231-500 series, "the 50th anniversary color", set number ToU 545
 
More information about EMU JR East 231 series (in Japanese):

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Narcissus Garden on the Keikyu Line


EMU Keikyu 1000 series passes through Minami-Oota Station

We had a severe winter this year. According to the news report, Sukayu Hot Spring in northern Japan saw snowfalls of 5.66 meters last month, which was the largest ever recorded in Japan. Since the Kanto Mountains blocked the cold and wet wind blowing from the northwest, it has remained fine for many days in Tokyo. Even so, it was much colder than usual.

Because of the cold winter, the early spring blossoms are late in blooming this year. They are winter sweet, plum, and narcissus. I visited Jogashima Island Park in Kanagawa Prefecture last month to view the narcissus blossoms. Although, it is one of the warmest areas in the Tokyo metropolitan area, only about half of the narcissus flowers were in bloom at that time. The attraction of narcissus is its yellow and white blossom and floral fragrance. Specifically, I am fond of its sweet perfume, and was carried away by the fragrance of the narcissus flowers, even though they weren't in full bloom.

To get to this beautiful flower island and see spring in advance, board the train on the Keikyu Line. It takes about 65 minutes from Shinagawa in downtown Tokyo by limited express train with a maximum speed of 120 kilometers per hour. The nearest station to the island is Misakiguchi, which is located in the southern part of the Miura Peninsula. You can easily find Jogashima Island, as it is located in the southernmost area of the peninsula.

Narcissus garden in Jogashima Island Park near Misakiguchi Station on the Keikyu Line

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Last Days of Ground-based Shimokitazawa Station


 EMU Odakyu 2000 series stands at the ground-based Shimokitazawa Station
 
As I mentioned before (see my blog on August 27th, 2011), Shimokitazawa is a spot in Tokyo with a mix of the new and the old. It is full of attractions, such as mini-theaters, music studios, old-timely shops and ethnic restaurants. It's located near my home in a western suburb of Tokyo; and it takes only ten minutes from Shinjuku or Shibuya, two major subcenters of Tokyo, by train.

A bunch of passengers ride and get off the trains all day long at Shimokitazawa Station. But, the serious concern is that the platforms on the Odakyu Line are very narrow. The railway company is setting up new wider platforms underground together with double-double tracks. It looks like very challenging construction, because a bi-level tunnel needs to be drilled just under the present surface tracks (see the following picture).

After a 9-year challenging work, the first half of the underground double-double track is going to be completed soon. All trains will, then, run on the new underground tracks. Currently, Odakyu trains display the notification stickers, in which they announce that Shimokitazawa, Higashikitazawa and Setagaya-Daita stations will be moved to the underground on March 23rd in 2013 (see the front of the train body in the top photo).

Following Keio Chofu (see my blog on October 17th, 2012), Keikyu Kamata (see my blog on November 15th, 2012) and Tokyu Shibuya (see my blog on March 20th, 2013), another outstanding old station will be lost to history.
 
EMU Odakyu 50000 series passes through Shimokitazawa Station on the surface track

Friday, March 22, 2013

It Never Rains in Kanto Plain


Diesel rail car, Kantetsu 2400 series runs between Daiho and Tobanoe stations on the Joso Line

When I was in junior high, a sad event occurred. A week afterwards, on a sunny weekend, I was feeling lonely. Then, I overheard my portable radio playing an unfamiliar tune, titled "It never rains in Southern California" by Albert Hammond. I became enchanted with this song. Despite it being clear (not rainy) in Southern California, the sadness was expressed by the singer in that song. Loneliness and sorrow under the blue sky... that's just same as how I felt at that time.

Even now, when I see blue sky, I sometimes recall in my mind the scene at that time. Last month, I visited a small town in Kanto Plain. It was a beautiful and sunny day for visiting the countryside. In this season, the northern mountains block the cold, wet wind blowing from the northwest, which causes heavy snow to fall on the Japan Sea side and sends cold, dry air to Kanto Plain. So, it stays fine for many days in this area. I saw the large rice fields and well maintained residential quarters under the blue sky.

After doing things, I was heading to the station on the Kanto Railway (Kantetsu). When a colorful diesel rail car passed through in front of me, I abruptly felt sad and lonely. I couldn't understand what happened to me; but, I then realized that it was a flashback of my memory.

It never rains in Southern California; the old song was echoing within my mind.

Diesel rail car, Kantetsu 5000 series runs between Daiho and Tobanoe stations on the Joso Line

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Promise of Sakura Season in Tokyo


EMU Tokyo Metro 05 series on the Tozai Line

On March 16th, the Meteorological Agency of Japan declared that the cherry (Sakura) blossoms had opened in Tokyo. The agency predicted that the Sakura trees would fully blossom about a week after they started to bloom.

Japanese people harbor romantic emotions towards Sakura blossoms. We are also reminded of the emptiness of life seeing the beautiful blossoms dropping only a week after they flower. That's why this season is very precious for us. Sakura viewing is a part of Japanese culture; and famous Sakura spots are crowded with admirers. They spread mats on the ground under the blossoms, and have parties with their family, friends and colleagues.

Before the exciting week, I am going to show you last year's fully bloomed Sakura in Tokyo as a preview. Look at the following photo. It was shot at Ushigafuchi in the central part of downtown Tokyo. The Sakura trees are planted along a moat of Edo Castle. The inside of the moat is currently open to the public as a large park.

To get to this Sakura viewing spot, take the Subway Tozai Line, and get off at Kudanshita Station. The blue colored train takes you to this urban oasis easily (see the top photo). There are also many other Sakura viewing spots on this route, such as Chidorigafuchi, Yasukuni Shrine and Sendaiborigawa Park.

The cherry blossoms will wait for you just in front of the number 2 exit leading of Kitanomaru Park.

Full bloomed Sakura at Ushigafuchi near Kudanshita Station on the Tozai Line (April, 2012)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Underground Labyrinth in the Super High Density City


EMU Tokyu 5050 series arrives at new Shibuya Station on the Toyoko Line

Shibuya has changed. The barycenter of the town has moved eastward. The flow of people has also changed from the surface to the underground.

On March 16th in 2013, Tokyu Railway moved its Shibuya Station on the Toyoko Line from the surface to the underground. The ground-based old station ended its 85-year history (see my blog on March 15th in 2013).

The new Shibuya Station was opened under Meiji Avenue, east of the old station. The concourse is located in the second basement; meanwhile the platform is situated in the fifth basement. More importantly, the Toyoko Line trains have started to be operated directly into the Subway Fukutoshin Line through the new Shibuya station. As a result, it is easier for passengers to travel from Saitama to Kanagawa Prefecture without changing trains.

I visited the new Shibuya Station on the initial opening day (see the top photo). I saw various kinds of trains on the platform. They belonged to five companies, namely Tokyu, Tokyo Metro, Seibu, Tobu and Yokohama Minatomirai railways. It is a paradise for rail fans isn't it?

The modern design of the station was also impressive. Especially, a large "hole" in the underground space is very cool. I could see a standing train from the concourse through the "hole" (see the following picture). It also functions as a ventilator for the tunnel.

The new Tokyu Shibuya Station, it is an underground labyrinth in the super high density city.

"Hole" in the underground space at new Shibuya Station on the Toyoko Line
 
Yard map of new Tokyu Shibuya Station:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Alternation of Generations on the Kururi Line

Diesel rail car, JR East KiHa E130-100 series passes through Obitsu River on the Kururi Line
 
The JR East Kururi Line is a typical local track in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Along with Kominato Railway and Isumi Railway, it is an important transportation route from the coastal area to the midland of Chiba Prefecture. Connecting Kisarazu and Kazusa-Kameyama, the total operating length is 32.2 kilometers. The entire route is a non-electrified single track.

This route had been uneventful for a long time; however, a drastic change came to the track on December 1st, 2012. All of the fleets, namely, diesel rail cars, Type KiHa 30, 37 and 38 were retired at the same time; and the brand new car, KiHa E130-100 series was introduced.

The new diesel rail car KiHa E130-100 series was manufactured by Niigata Transys. Currently, a total of 10 units are operated on the track. The DMF15HZ, a newly developed engine, is equipped as the heart of the train. Its rated power output is 450PS/2000rpm. The body is also gloriously brand new. The shining stainless steel body with blue, green and yellow colored ornaments makes a vivid impression on passengers. It has broken the image of the rural Kururi Line.

By the way, where are the old rail cars now? Most of the units are going to be scrapped; but some of them have survived. For instance, KiHa 30 62 has been sold to the neighboring company, Isumi Railway. Isumi plans to operate this classic car as a special nostalgic train for sightseers in the future.

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

 
 Diesel rail car, ex-JR East KiHa 30 62 stands at Kuniyoshi Station on the Isumi Railway
 
More information about JR East diesel railcar, KiHa E130 series (in Japanese):

Monday, March 18, 2013

Advent of Spring on the Chuo Line


EMU JR East 351 series, "Super Azusa", arrives at Kofu Station on the Chuo Line

Finally winter has gone and spring is here in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The sun is getting stronger, and the temperature has risen recently. After enjoying the panoramic view of Mt. Kaikoma (see my blog on March 8th, 2013 ), I visited a plum garden in Kofu City. Luckily, I found the blooming of red plum trees there (see the following photo).

Plums are grown for ornamental purposes and/or fruit cultivation. "Umeboshi" (a fruit of plum, which has been pickled in salt and dried in the sun), is a traditional preserved food in Japan. The citric acid of umeboshi stimulates the appetite and helps us recover from fatigue. I was very happy to see the plum blossoms basking in the spring sunshine. It has marked the end of the cold season.

Feeling euphoric, I returned to Kofu Station, and took the JR East Chuo Line to go back home. EMU 351 series, "Super Azusa" was my vehicle (see the top photo). Thanks to a tilting system, it passed through tight curves one after another at high speed. It took only 90 minutes from Kofu to Shinjuku, in a downtown of Tokyo. I stood on the platform of Shinjuku Terminal, before I could grab a quick nap on the train.

People in every country are searching for an easy life, and no one can really say that that's bad; but I felt that people should take a break from the fast-paced living of the modern world.

Blossoms of red plum in Furoen Garden near Kofu Station on the JR East Chuo Line 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Old Castle and Idol Train on the Isumi Railway


Diesel rail car, No. 351, "Jonny's Jr. Land Train" stands at Ootaki Rail Yard, Isumi Railway
 
As I mentioned before (see my blog on January 4th, 2013), Isumi is a local railway company in Chiba Prefecture. The route passes through beautiful countryside, and extends into unspoiled hilly areas.

One of the attractive spots on the route is Ootaki Castle (see the following photo). It was originally built in 1521 by a warlord, Mariyastsu Jokan. Although the present building is a replica, it is a palimpsest, where you will get a sense of the Japan of long ago. The inside of the castle is opened to the public as a history museum.

Along with the old castle, you can also see a very contemporary scene on the Isumi Railway. Look at the top photo. It is the diesel rail car number 351, "Johnny's Jr. Land" train, manufactured in 2012 by Niigata Transys Company.

What is "Johnny's Jr. Land"? It is a popular TV program whose main character is a male idol group, "Johnny's Jr". The purpose of this special poster train is to promote passengers, who love Johnny's Jr. In addition to its flashy exterior, many photographs and goods related with Johnny's Jr. are exhibited in the cabin of the train.

Thanks to Johnny's Jr., many teenage girls are flocking to this rural railway to get on this special poster train. There are many teenage girls, who go crazy over this young idol group in Japan.

It was right on the button, and Isumi Railway seems to have achieved success.
 
Ootaki Castle near Ootaki Station on the Isumi Railway

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Last Days of Ground-based Shibuya Station


No. 9001 (top number car) of the EMU 9000 series and rail fans at Shibuya Sta. on the Toyoko Line

Shibuya holds a lot of memories for me. When I was a high school student, I went to the school taking the Tokyu Toyoko Line via Shibuya Station. It was the 1970s. I could still see many old steel trains.

Shibuya was much quieter at that time compared to today. My favorite spots were music shops and large bookstores. I often bought long-playing records, piano scores and science fiction books there. I also learnt the names of constellations at the planetarium in Shibuya. But, recently, I have lost an opportunity to visit this area, since my office is located in another area of Tokyo.

Last week, I revisited Shibuya for the first time in a long time. It was because Tokyu Shibuya Station is going to be moved underground soon. I wanted to engrave the scenery of the ground-based station in my mind's eye.

When I arrived at the platform, there were many people taking pictures of the last days of the ground-based station. I also shot a picture of the train, the EMU 9000 series, backed by the old platform. The EMU 9000 series has been operated as a main fleet of the track for a long time; however, it is going to be retired from the Toyoko Line soon. It will coincide with the relocation of the station.

While walking on the concourse, I saw boys and girls who were wearing my school uniform. I was tugged by memories of my high school days. The time really flies.

Evening rush hour in the concourse of the ground-based Tokyu Shibuya Sta. on the Toyoko Line

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New Red Arrow, Access to Chichibu and Kawagoe


EMU Seibu 10000 series, NRA (New Red Arrow), passes throough Shiinamachi Station

Seibu is one of the major railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It has two terminals, namely Ikebukuro and Shinjuku in the downtown Tokyo area. Its labyrinthine network extends to the northwestern part of Tokyo Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture.

This company operates limited express trains using special EMUs, the 10000 series (see the top photo). It is a flagship model of Seibu Railway, and goes by the name of New Red Arrow (NRA). The NRA is a 7-car train, which was launched in 1993. So far, a total of 12 sets, 84 units, have been manufactured by Hitachi, Ltd.

The NRA is operated hourly or half-hourly on the two main routes. They are conveniently accessed from downtown Tokyo to Chichibu and Kawagoe cities. I am fond of the NRA, because the reclining seat is cushioned adequately enough for comfort; however, the sound insulation in the cabin lacks something. It is a bit noisy for a company's flagship train. The specification of the train is also rather old in this day and age.

In the meantime, why is it called "New" Red Arrow? It is because there was a "Red Arrow" train before the NRA. The Red Arrow was retired by the middle of the 1990s to be replaced by the NRA; but, you can still recall the coloring of the Red Arrow train from set number 10105 of the present NRA, which is called "NRA Classic" (see the following photo).
 
Set number 10105 of the EMU Seibu 10000 series, "NRA Classic", stands at Ikebukuro Station
 
More information about Seibu NRA, EMU 10000 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Replacing the Old with the New on the Nikko Line

EMU JR East 107 series stands at Utsunomiya Station on the Nikko Line
 
Nikko is located some 130 kilometers north of Tokyo, and is one of the most renowned sightseeing spots in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The shrines and temples as well as the remains in the region are registered as world heritages. Nikko's main attractions are the world heritage sites of Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine and Rinnoji Temple.

Nikko is a popular sightseeing spot among foreigners because of its nature, culture and convenient location. The most popular route from downtown Tokyo is the Tobu Line. It takes less than two hours by the luxury limited express, "Spacia" (see my blog on October 19th, 2011).

Along with the Tobu Line, we have another railway route to Nikko. It is the JR East Nikko Line. Connecting Utsunomiya, the major city of Tochigi Prefecture, and Nikko, the total line length is 40.5 kilometers. The main fleet of the Nikko Line is the EMU 107 series, which was launched in 1988 to replace an old EMU 165 series.

Since its debut, the 107 series has been assuming a heavy responsibility to transport flocking sightseers to Nikko; however, as the era of the 107 comes to an end. It becomes time to say goodbye, since a new EMU, 205 series, will be launched to replace the 107 series on March 16th. Currently, a poster to announce the replacing the old with new trains has been put up in Utsunomiya Station.

Thanks the EMU 107 series. The last run will be March 15th, 2013.
 
Poster to announce the replacing the old with the new trains is put up in Utsunomiya Station.
 
More information about EMU JR East 107 series (in Japanese):

Monday, March 11, 2013

3.11, Two Years Since Then


EMU JR East 719 series, "Sendai City Rabbit", bound for Fukushima, stands at Sendai Station

Two years have passed since March 11th in 2011 when a giant earthquake hit the Tohoku District of Japan. Nearly 20,000 people were killed mainly by a giant tsunami, which followed the powerful quake. To make matters worse, the nuclear power plant disaster, which was caused by the tsunami, is still forcing 10,000 people from their hometowns in Fukushima Prefecture.

Fortunately, there weren't any victims from the train passengers because of the 3.11 quake. The railways were saved by the earthquake resistant construction and the advanced earthquake warning system (see my blog on July 7th, 2011). But, some routes are still suspended due to the damage caused by the tsunami and the nuclear power plant.

I saw that the most of the trains were operated normally at Sendai Station last month. An inter-city rapid train, "Sendai City Rabbit", was operated to Fukushima Prefecture, as it was before the 3.11 (see the top photo). Sendai, which is located about 300 kilometers north of Tokyo, was hit by the 3.11 giant earthquake and tsunami, but local people seemed to have recovered from the shock of the disaster. Fukushima Prefecture was also damaged by the tsunami and the nuclear power plant disaster.

The train, which takes up the operation of "Sendai City Rabbit" was the EMU JR East 719 series. It was launched in 1989, and a total of 84 units have been manufactured by Tokyu Sharyo and Nippon Sharyo. Fortunately, no damage was done to any of the units by the 3.11

The recovery has advanced steadily; however, we still have a lot to be done.

 
EMU JR East 719 series, local train bound for Matsushima, stands at Sendai Station
 
More information about EMU JR East 719 series (in Japanese):

Friday, March 8, 2013

Old Soldier at the Foot of Mt. Kaikoma


"Old Soldier", electric locomotive EF64 37 stands at Kofu Station on the JR East Chuo Line
 
Mt. Kaikoma (2,967meters above sea level) is an icon of Yamanashi Prefecture, some 130 kilometers west of Tokyo. While it ranks only as the sixth highest mountain in the prefecture, the status of Mt. Kaikoma is worth more than its height.

The appeal of Mt. Kaikoma is its pyramid-like jagged summit and shining granitic rock face. Specifically, the view of Mt. Kaikoma from Rakanji-yama is my favorite (see the following photo). We can look closely at its peak. To enjoy this panoramic view, I took the JR East Chuo Line from downtown Tokyo, and headed to Kofu, which is the largest city in Yamanashi Prefecture.

After getting off the train at Kofu Station, I found many EMUs and locomotives in the railyard. What first struck me was the brown colored electric locomotive (EL), EF 64 37 (see the top photo). It is an old EL, manufactured in 1971. Type EF 64 is a specialist to be operated on steep tracks in mountain areas. In "his" long working life, the proudest experience was to pull a limited express sleeper train, "Akebono (dawn)" from 2009 to 2010. It was only a short period; however, it must have been a culmination of "his" life.

EF 64 37 has grown older. Currently, this old EL spends the rest of his life transporting materials, such as rails and construction machines.

The electric locomotive, EF 64 37, is an old "soldier" at the foot of the prestigious Mt. Kaikoma.
 
View of Mt. Kaikoma (right) from Rakanji-yama near Kofu Station on the JR East Chuo Line

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Hibiya Line, 1.13 Million Passengers a Day

EMU Tokyo Metro 03 series arrives at Kita-Senju Station on the Hibiya Line

I have already introduced most of the subway lines in Tokyo to you; but, there are some routes left to do. One such route is the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, which I am going to show you today.

The Hibiya Line was opened in 1961 as the third subway route in Tokyo. Connecting Naka-Meguro and Kita-Senju, the total operating length is 20.3km. The trains are directly operated into Tokyu Toyoko and Tobu Isesaki lines.

There are many popular spots on the Hibiya Line, such as Ginza, Roppongi and Ueno. Ginza is widely known as one of Tokyo's high class areas, full of luxurious boutiques and expensive restaurants. Roppongi is very popular as a night spot for foreigners, since there are many embassies in the area. By contrast, Ueno creates a cultural zone. There are many museums, universities of art, parks and a zoo.

In the meantime, the Hibiya Line is the second busiest subway route in Tokyo after the Ginza Line. A total of 1.13 million passengers take this route each day. They had been discouraged by the crowded commuter trains. Specifically, the delay of the trains had been a serious problem due to severe congestion.

To save passenger boarding and alighting time, Tokyo Metro launched special cars in 1990, which have five doors on one side (see the top photo). It is quite effective for punctual train operation; however, the decreased seating capacity has provoked new dissatisfaction for the passengers.

What a dilemma!

Heading to downtown Tokyo, EMU Tokyo Metro 03 series leaves Kita-Senju Station

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Superb View of Mt. Fuji on the Tokaido Line


EMU JR Central 313 series, local train bound for Shimada stands at Atami Station

Tokaido has been one of the most important transportation routes in Japan since the 7th century. Connecting Kyoto and  Tokyo, the route length was about 500 kilometers in the Edo era (1603-1867).

There are several great viewing points on the Tokaido route, but the superb view of Mt. Fuji from Satta Pass has been especially rocking the souls of travelers (see the following photo). The Fuji of Hiroshige Utagawa's "ukiyoe painting" is particularly well known among Japanese. It was believed to have been made around the early 19th century.

Satta Pass had been famous for being a bottleneck point as well as a superb viewing point for a long time. It is located in the steep mountain area, which directly faces the Pacific Ocean. This precipitous topography had been giving travelers a brutal patience.


Using trains or automobiles, modern-day travelers can pass through this bottleneck easily. While it is convenient, it also leaves something to be desired for current travelers. Probably, Japanese people these days need a latitude to enjoy magnificent prospects.

To visit this superb viewing point, take a local train on the Tokaido Main Line, and get off at Yui Station. It is a less-than-two-hour journey from Tokyo. A stylish EMU, JR Central 313 series will offer an enjoyable ride (see the top photo).

Satta Pass, it is a superb viewing point of Mt. Fuji, and the place where you can understand the struggles of ancient travelers.

 
Superb view of Mt. Fuji (3,776m) from Satta Pass near Yui Station on the Tokaido Main Line
 
More information about EMU JR Central 313 series (in Japanese):