Thursday, 27 February 2014

Ancient Camphor Tree on the Hachiko Line

DMU JR East KiHa 110 series runs on the Hachiko Line near Ogose Station
Camphor is a typical evergreen broadleaf tree in Japan. One of the features of this tree is that the trunk becomes big as it grows. Japan's largest camphor tree, which has a trunk with a circumference of 24.22m, is seen in Kyushu Island in the western part of Japan.

Though not to the extent of Japan's largest, there is also a large camphor tree in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is called "Kamiyatsu-no-Ookusu (a large camphor tree in Kamiyatsu village)", whose trunk has a 15m circumference and its height is 30m. It is listed as Japan's 19th largest and Saitama Prefecture's largest tree. It is estimated to be over 1,000 years. When I visited there, it was rising into the blue sky after the snowfall had let up.

To get to this ancient tree, take the JR East Hachiko Line and get off at Ogose Station. Connecting Hachioji, a western suburb of Tokyo and Kuragano in Takasaki city of Gunma Prefecture, the Hachiko Line penetrates the north-western part of the Tokyo metropolitan area from south to north. The track gauge is 1,067mm and the operation length is 92km. It is a single track with some minor exceptions.

The Hachiko line is divided into two sections at Komagawa. The southern section is a commuter line, electrified at 1,500 V DC; meanwhile, the northern section is a non-electrified, typical local route. DMU KiHa 110 series is operated hourly on average.

Kamiyatsu-no-Ookusu (a large camphor tree in Kamiyatsu village) is seen near Ogose Station
More information aboout the DMU JR East KiHa110 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

EMU 255 Series: Boso View Express

EMU JR East 255 series, Boso View Express, passes through Maihama Station on the Keiyo Line
Boso is a large peninsula in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. It is situated between the Pacific Ocean and Tokyo Bay. Along with Izu, Boso Peninsula is famous for being a resort area to enjoy marine activities.

To get to this peninsula resort, Tokyoites have two major public transportation modes. One of them is a highway bus operated via Trans-Tokyo Bay Highway. Passing through a submarine tunnel (9.6km) and a bridge (4.4km), it takes one hour from Tokyo to Kisarazu, a gateway city to the peninsula. The other mode is a JR East train. It also takes one hour from Tokyo to Kisarazu going around the coast of the bay. The bus and the train are fated rivals of each other.

Along with the E257-500 series, the EMU 255 series is the representative train operated between Tokyo and Boso Peninsula. It was launched in 1993 to replace the old trains, EMU 183 and 189 series. One set is composed of 9 cars. A total of 5 sets, 45 units have been manufactured so far by Tokyu and Kinki Sharyo. Its nickname is the Boso View Express.

Rotating seats are equipped on this train, meaning that group passengers can sit face to face and enjoy chatting. Furthermore, the tables are consoled within the armrests; therefore, a group of passengers can use these tables even when sitting in opposite seats. Today, these types of seats and tables are common on limited express trains; but at first, when the 255 series debuted in 1993, they were rare for passengers.

EMU JR East 255 series, Boso View Express, passes through Kasai-rinkai-koen Station
More information about the limited express to Boso Peninsula:
More information about the EMU 255 seies (in Japanese):

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Aerial Lift to the Heaven in Fujimidai-kogen

Fujimidai-kogen Ropeway (gondola lift)
After showing the freezing snow scene on the Nambu Line, I am going to show you the brisk summer scene in a highland to change the mood.

Fujimidai-kogen is located in the southwestern part of Nagano Prefecture, some 200km west of Tokyo. It is a highland area situated 1,400m up in the mountains. Because of its cool climate and beautiful scenery, a lot of holidaymakers visit there for summer.

To get to this highland, take the Fujimidai-kogen Ropeway from Achi Village. Connecting Sanroku and Sancho stations, its operating length is 2,549m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 610m. Twelve-passenger gondolas are able to transport 2,400 passengers per hour.

This aerial lift was completed in 1996 to transport skiers in winter as well as sightseers in summer. The cable line was constructed by Nippon Cable, while the gondolas were manufactured by CWA in Switzerland. The gondola lift is powered by a 940kW electric motor.

One of the features of this aerial lift is that the passengers have to stand in the gondola. For that purpose, the ceiling of the gondola is quite high. It is said that there are only three standing-type gondola lifts in Japan.

After arriving at Sancho Station, visitors can transfer to the chairlift, which leads to the summit of the highland. When I visited there last summer, it was very clear and cool even in midsummer.

Fujimidai-kogen... it is a heaven on the earth as advertised.

Beautiful scenery of Fujimidai-kogen near Sancho Station on the Fujimidai-kogen Ropeway

Friday, 21 February 2014

Tokyo Snow Scene: JR East Nambu Line

EMU JR East 205-1200 series arrives at Inagi-Naganuma Station on the Nambu Line
Snowfall changes an ordinary looking railway scenery into an extraordinary silvery world. Snow-capped white tracks are very beautiful after the snowfall has let up and the sun has come out. The JR East Nambu Line is no exception.

The Nambu Line is one of the transportation arteries in the eastern part of Kanagawa Prefecture. It was opened in 1927 to transport gravel from the Tama riverbed to large cities for constructions. Connecting Kawasaki and Tachikawa, the route length is 45km. The track gauge is 1,067mm and the electric system is 1,500V DC overhead.

When I was a child, I often took the Nambu Line with my school teacher and classmates to go pick some pears in autumn. Our destination was Inagi-Naganuma Station, where there were many pear farms around the station. My teacher told us that the Inagi-Naganuma area is suitable for pear cultivation, because the land is well-drained. It is situated on the gravel from the Tama riverbed.

Today, the scenery of the Inagi-Naganuma area has totally changed. It has become a large commuter town in the Tokyo metropolitan area. New houses line the street. The station has also been renovated with the construction of new elevated railway tracks. It is clean; but I can't expect a lot from modernization, as I am a rail fan with nostalgic eyes.

Everything flows, nothing stands still; only the snow scene is the same both now and in the future.

EMU JR East 205 series arrives at Inagi-Naganuma Station on the Nambu Line

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

EH200: Blue Thunder on the Steep Track

Electric locomotive, Type JRF EH200 stands at Tachikawa station yard on the Chuo Line
Japanese Shinkansen (high speed train) and the urban commuter trains are probably famous among foreigners; but how about the freight trains in Japan?

When the state-owned Japanese National Railways were split into several regional companies in 1987, the freight transportation segment was spun off as an independent firm, namely Japan Freight Railway Company (JRF). JRF has been going through a long period of hardships; but recently, it has climbed into the black and produced an income.

JRF doesn't have its own tracks, with some minor exceptions, but they have many locomotives to pull the freight trains. For instance, Type EH200 is a specialist electric locomotive (EL) for steep tracks in mountain ranges. It debuted in 2001 to replace the old EL, Type EF64. A total of 25 units have been manufactured so far by Toshiba.

This newly designed EL is operated on the 1,067mm gauge tracks with a 1,500V DC system, such as the JR East Chuo Line. Oil transportation is its main assignment. Pulling Type TaKi1000 oil tank cars, its maximum speed is 95km/hour on the steep tracks of the Chuo Line. Being coupled two units, the UIC indication of a wheel arrangement for the EH200 is (Bo-Bo)+(Bo-Bo). It has eight 565kW induction motors with a VVVF inverter (variable frequency drive) control system.

The nickname of the EH200 is "Blue Thunder", which was chosen by the public. It is named after its body color and high performance.

Side view of the electric locomotive,Type JRF EH200
More information about locomotives of Japan Freight Railways (in Japanese):

Monday, 17 February 2014

Tokyo Snow Scene: Keio-Inokashira Line

1734F of the EMU Keio 1000 series passes through Shin-Daita Station on the Inokashira Line
Following the Romance Cars on the Odakyu Line, I am going to show you some more train pictures in the snowfall last week.

Keio-Inokashira Line is a short commuter route in the western suburbs of Tokyo. Connecting Shibuya and Kichijoji, the route length is 12.7km. The track gauge is 1,067mm and the electric system is 1,500V DC overhead.

The EMU 1000 series is the only group of trains operated on the Inokashira Line. It was launched in 1996 as the first long (20m) body train on the line. One of the features of this stainless-steel body EMU is that each train set has different colors for the front mask and the side lines.

I have heard that the EMU 1000 series was prone to race in the snow, especially, the first 10 sets, namely from 1701F to 1710F, as only two of their 5 cars are motor cars (2M3T). In light of this trouble, the specification of the second 19 sets (1711F and over) has been changed from 2M3T to 3M2T, which means that 5-car trains now have 3 motor cars.

Furthermore, Keio has installed sandboxes on the first 10 sets of the 1000 series as a special modification. These sandboxes drop ceramic powders on the rail in front of the driving wheels in wet and slippery conditions to improve rail adhesion.

There, now we don't have to worry about the snowfall on the Inokashira Line.

1708F of the EMU Keio 1000 series arrives at Shin-Daita Station on the Inokashira Line

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Pokemon Comes See Kids in the Disaster Area

Diesel railcars JR East KiHa 100 series, "Pokemon with you" train, stands at Choshi Station
On March 11th, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan. To make matters worse, the coastal areas on the Pacific Ocean side was devastated by a giant tsunami.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located offshore of the Tohoku District, far north of Chiba Prefecture; however, Asahi City in the prefecture could not escape the disaster. This city suffered from the largest tsunami in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Its maximum height was 7.6m. A total of 13 people were killed. Today, most of the city area has been reconstructed, but the local people do not seem to have completely recovered from the shock of the disaster.

Last weekend, good news came from a railway company. JR East sent a special train, KiHa 100-1 and 100-3, "Pokemon with you", to Asahi City. "Pokemon with you" is the JR East's "reconstruction assistance train for the 3.11 earthquake". Its activity is to redevelop tourism in the disaster areas and encourage the local children there. Pokemon (Pocket Monsters) is a famous TV animation, which started in 1997. The Pokemon Shinkansen was also popular among kids in the summer of 2011.

A total of 276 kids with their parents and/or guardians in the disaster area were invited for a train journey by lot. I saw railway employees welcoming the children who were embarking the train, on platform 1 of Choshi Terminal on the Sobu Main Line.

It was a great success to operate "Pokemon with you" train in Chiba Prefecture.

Railway employees welcome invitees (children in the disaster area) at Choshi Station
More information about "Pokemon with you" train (in Japanese):

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Blue Ocean on the Izukyu Line

Set number R-5 of the EMU Izukyu 2100 series, "Alpha Resort 21", leaves Atami Station
After showing freezing snowfall photos, I am going to show you some temperate pictures in the Tokyo metropolitan area next to change the mood.

Izu Peninsula is one of the major resort areas near Tokyo. Being located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Izu is famous for the joys of its ocean and hot springs. Specifically, I love an ocean scenery offshore of the peninsula. Its color is deep blue or ultramarine. Whenever I see it, I feel like I am being drawn into the ocean.

To get to this resort peninsula, the Izukyu Railway is convenient. Connecting Ito and Izukyu-Shimoda, its operating length is 45.7 kilometers. The entire route is an electrified single track. The trains on the Izukyu Line are directly operated into the JR Line to Atami and Tokyo.

One of the features of trains on the Izukyu Railway is its passenger service as a resort railway. For instance, set number R-5 of the EMU 2100 series, "Alpha-Resort 21" is quite unique and my favorite. To enjoy gorgeous mountain and ocean views, sloping tiers of seats are equipped in the front of the train. The passengers can enjoy a front view through the cockpit. Its round-shaped body is also my cup of tea.

Taking the Izukyu Line, I sometimes visit Cape Tsumeki-zaki near Izukyu-Shimoda Terminal. It is a temperate paradise in the Tokyo metropolitan area, remaining warm even in winter. Beautiful Narcissus blossoms also welcome tourists in this season.

Ocean view from Cape Tsumeki-zaki near Shimoda Station on the Izukyu Line

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Tokyo Snow Scene: Taking Romance Car Photos

EMU Odakyu 60000 series, Romance Car, "MSE",  passes through Chitose-Funabashi Station
It is late-winter in Japan. The mountains block the cold, wet wind blowing from the northwest, which causes heavy snow to fall on the Japan Sea side. Only dry air then comes to the Pacific side, including Tokyo, every day.

Wait a minute! It is not necessarily so. Once a low-pressure system approaches the Pacific side, Tokyo also experiences snowfall. On Saturday, February 8th, a strong low-pressure system hit Tokyo. We saw 27cm of snow, which was the heaviest snowfall in 45 years.

It was a hard time for railway employees, as they got sucked into the snow shoveling in the railway facilities. Thanks to their hard work, most of the trains were operated smoothly in Tokyo.

I felt guilty about the hardworking employees, but nothing was more exciting than snowfall, since it was a chance to take photos of snow scenes. I went to my nearest station on the Odakyu Line and waited for trains rushing towards me in the snow.

The first train was the EMU 30000 series, Romance Car, "EXE". The brilliance of the two frontal lights was power to burn in the snowfall. After several local trains passed right in front of me, the other Romance Car, EMU 60000 series, "MSE" appeared. It was limited express, "Asagiri" directly operated from the JR Central Gotemba Line. It was snow crusted and filed past me at top speed.

I got good shots in the snowfall. I had chills, but it was worth the wait.

EMU Odakyu 30000 series, Romance Car, "EXE", passes through Chitose-Funabashi Station

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Last of Steel Body Train on the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 8000 series stands at Kyodo station on the Odawara Line 
In present-day Japan, most new trains have stainless steel or aluminum bodies. They are resistant to corrosion, meaning that painting of the bodies is not required. They have cost merits as well as high maintenance efficiency.

The shining stainless steel body is very beautiful in the sunlight. As I mentioned before, I still remember visiting Eifuku-cho Rail Yard with my grandpa in my childhood, and saw the brand spanking new train, the Keio 3000 series, shining brilliantly in my eyes. That was my first experience to meet with a stainless steel body train. Since then, stainless steel body trains have been my favorite.

Having said that, there are too many stainless steel body trains in Tokyo today. They are no longer rare. Rail fans do not always have the same feelings for trains. They are fickle people, including me. Fully painted steel body trains are now more cool and nostalgic for me.

Currently, I am fond of the EMU Odakyu 8000 series, a fully painted steel body train. With its white colored body and a blue stripe, it is beautiful on the evening track. This train was launched in 1982 to replace old commuter trains such as the 2600 series. Its clean and beautiful body hasn't faded despite 32 years having passed by. Its major assignment is as an express train to transport commuters from the western suburbs to the city center of Tokyo.

The EMU Odakyu 8000 series... it is the precious, last steel body train on the Odakyu Line.

EMU Odakyu 8000 series passes through Chitose-Funabashi Station on the Odawara Line

Friday, 7 February 2014

Ascargot: Free Monorail Access to Asukayama Park

"Ascargot" climbs up the Asukayama Park Monorail Line
Asukayama is a historical urban park in the northern part of Tokyo Metropolis. It was opened by Shogun, Yoshimune Tokugawa in 1732 as a cherry blossom viewing spot for people in Edo City (present Tokyo Metropolis). During cherry blossom season, banquets and masquerades were allowed in the park by the Shogunate.

Today, Asukayama Park is owned by Kita Ward Office of Tokyo Metropolis. Many Tokyoites flock to this spot to enjoy their own activities, but the problem is that the park is located on top of a hill. Access to the park is bit hard for elderly and/or physically-handicapped persons.

In 2009, Kita Ward Office constructed a monorail line to climb up the hill to access the park. Connecting Asukayama-koen-iriguchi and Asukayama-sancho stations, the route length is 48m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 17.4m. The maximum inclination is 24 degrees. It takes two minutes to move between the two stations.

The vehicle is driverless using an electric motor with a rack-and-pinion driving system. To be exact, this monorail is classified as an elevator under the Building Standards Act, not a monorail under the Railway Business Act. It is similar to that of the shuttle system in Narita Airport Terminal 2.

The nickname of the monorail is "Ascargot", which is a compound of Asukayama and 'escargot', since the design of the vehicle is like a snail used in French cooking. Ascargot is a charge-free monorail line. Thank you.

Local people practice traditional dancing near Asukayama-sancho Station in Asukayama Park
More information about "Ascargot" in Asukayama Park (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The 50th Anniversary of Hitachi Express

EMU JR East E657 series, limited express "Fresh Hitachi" leaves Tsuchiura Sta. on the Joban Line
Following the Tokyo Monorail Line, I am going to show you the other "50th anniversary" in the Tokyo metropolitan area... Hitachi express.

Along with the electronic manufacturer, Hitachi, Ltd., Hitachi express is well known as a time-honored train in Japan. Its name was taken from the old feudal domain, Hitachi, which was located in the present Ibaraki Prefecture.

Hitachi express debuted on October 1st in 1963 on the Joban Line. It was a semi-express train operated between Ueno and Taira stations using the EMU 451 series. Since then, the timetable has been changed many times, but Hitachi express has been surviving up until today.

On October 1st, 2013, JR East celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hitachi express operation. In commemoration of the anniversary, "Arigatou (thanks) Hitachi" stickers are displayed on the body of the E657 series, which is the present Hitachi express train.

What is the mascot on the sticker?

His name is Mukona, a cat reflecting the image of the E657 series. But I think the E657 is more like a capybara than a cat. The big front nose doesn't look like a cat, but a capybara.

The current Hitachi express train, the E657 series was manufactured by Hitachi, Ltd, but, it was not always. The former Hitachi train, namely 651 series, was manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It was much-hyped among rail fans in the late 1980's.

Congratulations on the 50th anniversary of Hitachi express! Here's to the next 50 years!

A memorial sticker for the 50th anniversary of Hitachi express is displayed on the E657 series

Monday, 3 February 2014

Winter Colors of Redwood Forest

EMU Keisei 3500 series stands at Kanamahi Terminal on the Kanamachi Line
Redwood, also known as Sequoia, is a tall tree mainly seen in North America. It is said that the average height is 80m. The life-span of the tree is long, between 400 and 1300 years.

Where can we see Redwoods in Tokyo? One of the reputable redwood forests is located in Mizumoto Park in Katsushika Ward, about 15km northeast of the downtown area. A total of 1,900 trees are planted adjacent to the central plaza of the park.

Redwood is a broad-leaf tree, which means that the leaves turn red in autumn and winter. I saw a very beautiful "red colored Redwood forest" in Mizumoto Park last December. It was glowing backed by the winter blue sky. According to the guide-board in the park, they were planted in 1971, and have grown to a height of 20 meters.

To get to this precious forest, take the Keisei-Kanamachi Line and get off at Kanamachi Terminal. Keisei-Kanamachi Line is a short local route between Keisei-Takasago and Kanamachi. There are only 3 stations over a total operating length of 2.5km. It was opened in 1899 as a handcar railway. It was electrified in 1913 as a part of the Keisei Electric Railway of today, but it is still a single track local line.

Along with the 3300 series, the main fleet is the EMU 3500 series on the Kanamachi Line. It was launched in 1972 to increase the commuter transportation capacity. A total of 24 sets, 96 units have been manufactured so far. Its two large front windows are my favorite.
"Winter colors" of Redwood forest in Mizumoto Park near Kanamachi Station

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The 50th Anniversary of Tokyo Monorail

EMU Tokyo Monorail 1000 series (revival color) approaches Ooi-keibajo-mae Station
In September of this year, Tokyo Monorail Company will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Haneda Airport Line. It was opened between Hamamatsu-cho and Haneda stations on September 17th in 1964 as an airport access route from downtown Tokyo to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda). There are 11 stations over a total operating length of 17.8km.

The Haneda Airport Line is the second oldest monorail route in Tokyo. The oldest monorail route is the Ueno Zoo Line, which was constructed as a suspension system monorail in 1957, so to be technically accurate, the Haneda Airport Line is "the oldest straddle-beam system monorail route" in Tokyo.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, Tokyo Monorail started to operate a special colored train from January 19th. It is set number 9 of the EMU 1000 series, whose body has a red color with a white stripe. This color design is a revival taken from that of the EMU 500 series in the 1980's. The 500 series has already been retired and scrapped.

The revival color design is my favorite and makes me feel nostalgic. It is better than the current standard body color, as the revival color is more vivid and eye-catching.

Tokyo Monorail, recently, made a press release announcing that the company will introduce a new EMU 10000 series in July of this year for the first time in 17 years. I can't take my eyes off Tokyo Monorail for the time being.

EMU Tokyo Monorail 1000 series (revival color) runs along Keihin Canal
More information about Tokyo Monorail:
Live camera on the Tokyo Monorail Line:
More information about the EMU 1000 series, revival color (in Japanese):