Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Four Years Since Then

EMU JR East 205-3100 series travels on the Senseki Line (January, 2012)
Four years have passed since the 3.11 giant earthquake hit the Tohoku District of Japan.

Fortunately, there were no victims of train passengers because of the quake. The railways were saved by earthquake resistant constructions and the earthquake warning system. But, some routes are still suspended due to the damage caused by the tsunami disaster.

I visited the disaster area in January, 2012, 8 months after the earthquake. I saw that most of the trains were being operated normally at Sendai Station, but the JR East Senseki line was fully-destroyed by the giant tsunami in the section between Takagi-machi and Yamoto stations. So, passengers had to use the bus services provided by JR East. The Senseki Line is one of the main commuting arteries along in the Sendai area. Connecting Aoba-dori, the city center of Sendai, and Ishinomaki, the second largest city in Miyagi Prefecture; the total length of the route is 52 km.

On January 29th this year, JR East made a press release announcing that restoration of the Senseki Line will be completed by May 30th. The new track was constructed on the inland hill around the tsunami disaster area.

As the saying goes, "out of disaster springs fortune." I believe that people in the Tohoku District will recover from the devastating casualties, because they have good patience and a strong social bond. The recovery has advanced steadily; however, we still have a lot to do.
EMU JR East 205-3100 series arrives at Nigatake Station on the Senseki Line (January, 2012)

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Opening of the Ueno-Tokyo Line

EMU JR East E657 series (left) and the E233-3000 series (right) travel on the Ueno-Tokyo Line

I was asked a question from one of my blog readers regarding the opening of the Ueno-Tokyo Line. In answer to his question...

Along with the Hokuriku Shinkansen, the opening of the Ueno-Tokyo Line was big news, when a new timetable started on the JR lines on March 14th. What is the Ueno-Tokyo Line? It is JR East's fourth double track between Ueno and Tokyo stations. Its length is only 3.6 km, but the form of train operation has drastically changed in the Tokyo metropolitan area after the opening of it.

Curently, most trains on the Tokaido Main Line are directly operated onto the northern routes such as the Takasaki, Utsunomiya and Joban lines via the Ueno-Tokyo Line. So, we can embark on the Joban Line limited express train (the E657 series), Hitachi and Tokiwa from Shinagawa Station on the Tokaido Main Line. It looks convenient for passengers.

Please wait a moment. The Ueno-Tokyo Line is not all good. For instance, one of my colleagues complains that it became difficult to get a seat on the train to travel home in Yokohama City on the Tokaido Main Line. Before the new timetable started, he could easily secure a seat from Tokyo Terminal, as it was a starting station of the Tokaido Main Line; however, it has become difficult, since the origin of the trains has changed to the northern routes, after the new timetable started.

Commuters in the Tokyo metropolitan area have mixed feelings about the Ueno-Tokyo Line.

EMU Izukyu 2100 series (left) and the JR East E657 (right) series stand at Tokyo Station

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Train to the Hot Spot on the Sakurajima Line

Special poster train, the EMU JR West 201 series stands at Universal City Station

When I visited Osaka with my family last year, our main purpose was to see a new attraction in an amusement park, Universal Studios Japan (USJ). Along with Tokyo Disney Resort, USJ is a famous amusement park in Japan. It was opened in 2001 as the fourth theme park of Universal Parks & Resorts. It had been popular among tourists; however, subsequent to the late 2000's, the number of visitors decreased sharply.

On July 15th, 2014, USJ opened a new attraction to the public as a revival measure... "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter". Needless to say, this attraction was taken from the famous fantasy novels called the Harry Potter series. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has authentic-looking reproductions of the world of Harry Potter. I don't want to talk anymore about the attraction itself as you should just wait until you see it.

In the meantime, to visit USJ, please get off at Universal City Station on the JR West Sakurajima Line. It takes about 10 minutes from Osaka Station. Special poster trains, the EMU 201 series, are operated at intervals of 8 to 15 minutes. When I took the train last December, it was very crowded, like rush hour, even on a cold winter weekday. The only consolation was that we could use Suica and Pasmo (prepaid IC cards for railway passengers) of the Tokyo metropolitan area on this crowded line in Osaka.

The Sakurajima Line... it was a train to the hot spot in Osaka City.

"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" in USJ near Universal City Station on the Sakurajima Line

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Tokyu 8007F from Danish Rail-fan's Photo Album

Set number 8007F of the EMU Tokyu 8000 series travels on the Toyoko Line (1995 or 1996)
Photo: Nicolai Okkels 
I am going to show you an old train picture in the Tokyo metropolitan area from a Danish rail-fan's photo album again. My thanks go to Mr. Nicolai Okkels, who kindly sent me the picture.

The top photo is set number 8007F of the EMU Tokyu 8000 series on the Toyoko Line. When I was a high school student, I took the Toyoko Line to school. It was a 10-minute trip from Shibuya Terminal and I used the 8000 series every day. The 8000 series was the main fleet of the Toyoko Line at that time, but, the final set of the 8000 series was retired from the track in 2008.

I was probably inseparable from the 8000 series. I ran into the 8000 series again in Jakarta, Indonesia, when I was stationed there several years ago. The local railway operator, PT KAI (Indonesian National Railways) was pursuing the modernization of the trains in Jakarta. Three sets of the 8000 series were moved there to spend a new life after retirement from Tokyu.

Specifically, 8007F was my favorite in Jakarta. Its shining corrugated stainless steel body with blue-colored stripes is engraved in my mind's eye (see the following photo). The interior of the train was nostalgic, as there were many remnants from the days of Japan in the train. For instance, some cautionary statement stickers, which were written in Japanese, were still inside the train.

The EMU Tokyu 8000 series... it is my unforgettable train.
Set number 8007F stands at Gambir Station, Jakarta, Indonesia (December, 2007)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Tsurumi Line: Urban Local Route

EMU JR East 205-1100 series arrives at Kokudo Station on the Tsurumi Line

If you want to get a feel for a local line in an urban area, please visit the JR East Tsurumi Line. The route consists of the Main Line (7 km), Umishibaura Branch Line (1.7 km) and the Ookawa Branch Line (1 km), extending to the eastern part of Yokohama and western Kawasaki cities in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Tsurumi Line was originally opened as a freight line in 1926 by Tsurumi Rinko Railway. The objective of the railway was to transport materials and fuels to and from Keihin Industrial Area. After completion of the electrification in 1930, passenger transportation was also commenced for commuters, who worked for factories on the route. The Tsurumi Line was then merged into Japanese Government Railways in 1943 due to wartime shortage. Currently, the Tsurumi Line belongs to East Japan Railway Company (JR East).

Why can we get a feel for a local line on the Tsurumi Line? One of the reasons is that the trains are very infrequent on that line. For instance, there are only three trains a day leaving Ookawa Station on weekends. The other reason is its short trains, which are composed of only three cars.

The main fleet of the Tsurumi Line is the EMU 205-1100 series. A total of 9 sets, 27 units are operated on the route. They had been operated on the Saikyo Line, and were moved to the Tsurumi Line in 2004. The yellow and light blue colored stripes are distinct accents of these trains.

EMU JR East 205-1100 series leaves Asano Station on the Tsurumi Line

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Strawberry Road on the Sobu Main Line

EMU JR East 255 series stands at Tokyo Station (Yokosuka-Sobu Line, Underground Platform 2) 
Winter has gone and spring is here in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The maximum daytime temperature is more than 10 degrees Celsius every day. Let's enjoy a stroll on the weekend. I visited Sammu City in Chiba Prefecture, some 80 km east of Tokyo with my family. Our target was strawberry, which was a fruit in season in this area. We headed to so-called "Strawberry Road" in the city.

What is Strawberry Road? It is an area where strawberry farms are clustered. They are small scale and operated by families. We dropped in on one such farm and enjoyed strawberry picking. Strawberries were cultivated in PVC greenhouses, which were kept around 25 degrees Celsius. The red and ripe strawberries were grown in abundance. They were very sweet and fragrant.

To get to Strawberry Road, we took the JR East Sobu Main Line from Tokyo Station (underground platform 2), and got off at Narutoh Station. It took about one hour by the limited express train, "Shiosai (sound of the surf)".

Our vehicle was the EMU 255 series that day. The 255 series was launched in 1993 to replace the old models such as the 183 series. One set of the 255 series is composed of 9 cars. A total of 5 sets, 45 units have been manufactured so far by Tokyu and Kinki Sharyo.

The sweet strawberry and the comfortable train... the trip to Sammu City was a great deal of enjoyment.
Strawberry farm near Narutoh Station on the Sobu Main Line

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fuji-san: New Name of JR East's Holiday Rapid Train

Display on the front of the EMU JR East 189 series, "Holiday Rapid, Fuji-san"
It is slightly old news, but JR East changed the name of its train that travels to the foot of Mt. Fuji on July 6th, 2013. The new name of the train is "Holiday Rapid Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji)".

What is Holiday Rapid? It is a JR East's special train operated between the city area and the tourist sites on the weekends. For instance, Holiday Rapid Okutama is operated between Shinjuku and Okutama, and Holiday Rapid Kamakura is operated between Minami-Koshigaya and Kamakura stations. Holiday Rapid is an express service, but no extra fee is needed for boarding. So, many holidaymakers use it to go to the resort areas in the suburbs of Tokyo.

Holiday Rapid Fuji-san was originally named Holiday Rapid Kawaguchi-ko (Lake Kawaguchi). Why has the train name been changed? Because, Mt. Fuji was added to the UNESCO list of the World Heritage sites on June 22nd, 2013, Taking this opportunity, JR East changed the name of the train to promote tourists to visit the new heritage site. You can see the new name "Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji)" on the frontal display of the train.

For your information, the EMU JR East 189 series went into service as Holiday Rapid Fuji-san train. The 189 series was launched in 1975 by Japan National Railways (JNR). It is frequently called "JNR limited express type" EMU. Although JNR has been abolished, many rail fans are still boosterish about this design with a large bonnet.

Holiday Rapid Fuji-san is operated between JR East Shinjuku (or Tokyo) and Kawaguchi-ko on the Fujikyu Line.
Holiday Rapid Fuji-san (left) and the Ozashiki 485, Hana (right)
More information about Holiday Rapid Fuji-san (Fujikyu website, in Japanese):

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Toei 8800 Series: Colorful Trams on the Arakawa Line

Electroc car, number 8801 of the Toei 8800 series leaves Ootsuka-ekimae Stop
If you are tired of the hectic pace of urban life, why don't you ride on a tram to relax? The streetcars travel at a leisurely pace on the track in the downtown Tokyo area. Although a modern railway system has been developed, there are still two traditional tram routes in the Tokyo metropolitan area. One of them is the Tokyu-Setagaya Line and the other is the Toei(Tokyo Metropolitan Government)-Arakawa Line.

The Arakawa Line had been operated as two tram routes, namely Route 27 and 32. They were integrated into one route, the Arakawa Line, in 1974. Connecting Waseda and Minowabashi, its operating length is 12.2 km. The track is 1,372 mm dual-gauge. The electric system is 600V DC overhead.

The electric railcar 8800 series is the newest model on the Arakawa Line. It was launched in 2008 to replace the decrepit 7500 series. A total of 10 units have been manufactured so far by Alna Sharyo. One of the distinct features of the 8800 series is its body colors. They are rose-red (unit number 8801-8805), violet (8806-8807), orange (8808-8809) and yellow (8810). There is only one yellow-colored car (unit number 8808). So, Tokyoites think that a person, who rides a yellow colored tram, will obtain happiness, as it is rare. It is a typical toshi-densetsu (an urban legend), which is rumored by city dwellers.

I am going to show you the rose-red and violet-colored trams this time. They are beautiful and also make me happy.
Electroc car number 8807 of the Toei 8800 series leaves Ohji-ekimae Stop
More information about the electric cars on the Toei-Arakawa Line (in Japanese):

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Tokyo Michiterasu 2014 in the Tokyo Station Area

Multicolored illuminations on the walls of Marunouchi Entrance Building in Tokyo Station

It is a little bit old news, but an annual event, Tokyo Michi Terasu was held from 24th to 28th of December last year in the Tokyo Station area.

What is Tokyo Michi Terasu? It is an illumination event in the area in and around Tokyo Station. Urban streets are nicely decorated with millions of LED lights. The main event is the lighting up of the Marunouchi Entrance Building of Tokyo Station. Specifically, last year's illumination was beautiful commemorating the 100th anniversary of the station's operation. The theme of the illumination was "Color of Taisho era romance".

I saw multicolored illuminations on the walls of Marunouchi Entrance Building. They were pink, purple, blue, yellow and so on. Plenty of people were treated to the fantastic view. Since there are an established numbers hotels and shopping malls in the area, many people enjoyed the illuminations after shopping and/or an early dinner in the area.

For your information, the Marunouchi Entrance Building was opened in 1914 as a main building of the central station in Tokyo Metropolis. This building was severely destroyed by an air strike in 1945. Although it was repaired after WWII, the design of the roof was changed, because it was a stop-gap measure. JR East spent 500 million dollars and completed the renovation work in October, 2012. The red brick masonry of the building has been brought back to be the same as it was when it first opened.

Fantastic view of the special illuminations of Marunouchi Entrance Building in Tokyo Station

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Nostalgic Nankai Train in Sakai City

EMU Nankai 6300 series leaves Sakai-Higashi Station on the Kohya Line
When I took a trip to Osaka last year, I visited an observation room of Sakai City Office to get a bird's-eye view of huge Daisen Mounded Tomb, which was constructed in the early 5th century. I had expected a clear view similar to that of Goryokaku in Hokkaido, but I was disappointed, as I couldn't see it clearly from a distance.

I snapped out of the disappointment when, instead of a clear view of the ancient tomb, I could find a railway track in view of my eyes. It was the Kohya Line of Nankai Electric Railway. Let's go to see it!

Ten minutes later, I reached the track and came across a nostalgic train, the EMU 6300 series. This train was originally launched in 1970 under its name, the 6100 series. A total of 76 units have been manufactured over 4 years. Renovation of the decrepit 6100 series then started in 1996. Changing bogies and interiors, 48 units of renovated trains have debuted so far under its new name, the 6300 series.

The 6300 series is on my top favorite list. Its specification is rather old, but the shining corrugated stainless steel bodies are nostalgic and definitely my cup of tea. Its wide-set eyes (two rounded front lights) are cute and a forest of box-shaped air-conditioners covering their roofs is spectacular. For your information, Nankai is one of the major private railway companies in the Osaka area.

The dog that trots about finds a bone... I came across my favorite train that day.
View of Daisen Mounded Tomb and Nankai Kohya Line track from Sakai City Office

Saturday, 7 March 2015

EMU E233-2000 Series on the Joban Local Line

EMU JR East E233-2000 series arrives at Shin-Matsudo Station on the Joban Local Line
In Japan, there is a common saying that "the lighthouse does not shine on its base". Perhaps, you also have the same kind of proverb in your country meaning that we are apt to overlook important things that lie close at hand.

One such example is the EMU JR East E233-2000 series. I have already introduced many trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area in this blog, but I found that there was no post about this important train, which I often come across on the way to my office. It is proverbial of "the lighthouse does not shine on its base", isn't it?

The E233-2000 series is a commuter train on the JR East Joban Local Line. It is operated between Toride in Ibaraki Prefecture and Ayase in Tokyo Metropolis. All trains are directly operated onto the subway, Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, to Yoyogi-Uehara Station. The E233-2000 was launched in 2009 to replace the old 207-900 and the 203 series. A total of 18 sets, 180 units, have been manufactured so far by Tokyu Sharyo. Different from the other E233 series, the E233-2000 doesn't have a skirt squeezing part on its body, because the loading gauge of the Chiyoda Line is narrower than standard railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The other specification is basically the same as the standard E233 series, which is operated on the Chuo Rapid Line.

The E233-2000 series... she is a lean-faced beauty on the busy commuter line.
EMU JR East E233-2000 series stands at Yoyogi-Uehara Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Doll's Festival on the Mito Line

EMU JR East 415-1500 series arrives at Tomobe Station on the Mito Line
March 3rd was Hina-Matsuri, the Doll's Festival for girls. In this season, most families with girls in Japan display a set of dolls in ancient court costumes and pray for the girls' growth and happiness. It is believed that the dolls protect people from sickness or ill-fortune.

Hina-matsuri of Makabe Town in Ibaraki Prefecture is specifically famous, as the local people hold a large- scale festival. Many private houses, shops, temples and shrines display dolls and are open to the public. Visitors can freely come up to these places and see the precious dolls. I visited this small town with my family last weekend and came upon a private house by chance. We saw fantastic dolls displayed in a traditional Japanese-style room there. According to the owner, the oldest ones were made over a century ago. The dolls have been treasured for generations.

To get to this festival town, we took the JR East Mito Line and got off at Iwase Station. It took about two hours from the downtown Tokyo area, transferring at Tomobe Station on the Joban Line. The JR East Mito Line is an East-West trending local route in the northern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Our vehicle was the EMU 415-1500 series. The 415-1500 series was launched as an AC-DC dual system train in 1986. It is a 4-car train that has bolster-less bogies. The electric control system is an old-fashioned rheostatic with a field weakening mechanism, but it was still maintained in good condition.
Hina-matsuri decolation is seen in Makabe Town near Iwase Station on the Mito Line

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Thunderbirds Are Go!

EMU JR West 683-4000 series, Thunderbird Express, stands at Osaka Station

You probably remember a British science-fiction TV series, "Thunderbirds", which has been repeatedly broadcasted throughout the world since the middle 1960s. It was produced using marionette puppetry. Thunderbirds are an international rescue team that go to disaster scenes in their high-tech rescue vehicles. My favorite one was Thunderbird 2, which was a VTOL carrier craft. I still remember that I was psyched to build a plastic model of it, when I was a child.

We also have a Thunderbird in Japan, but it is not a rescue vehicle. It is an express train operated between Osaka and the Hokuriku Region. Please look at the picture. It is Thunderbird Express, EMU JR West 683-4000 series, standing at Osaka Station.

The 683-4000 series was launched in 2009 to replace an old express train, the 485 series. A total of 12 sets, 108 units, have been manufactured so far by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Kinki Sharyo. It is an AC-DC dual system train with a maximum speed of 130 km per hour. 255 kW induction motors with an IGBT-VVVF inverter control (variable frequency drive) system are equipped on the train.

To be honest, I prefer the other Thunderbird Express train, the EMU 681 series, to the 683-4000 series, since its sharp features on the front are more handsome than those of the 683-4000 series, but unfortunately, I couldn't shoot the 681 series that day. The first train, "Thunderbird 1", leaves Osaka Station at 7.09 am and heads to Toyama Terminal.

Thunderbirds are go!
Side view of the EMU JR West 683-4000 series

More information about Thunderbird Express, EMU 681 and 683 series (in Japanese):