Saturday, 30 April 2016

2016 Sakura Season on the Chuo Line

EMU JR East 211 series arrives at Shiotsu Station on the Chuo Line

April is the Sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan. With so many hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots available, it's hard to select which one is the best. After wavering, I headed to the west with my family.

Our destination was Uenohara City, located in the eastern part of Yamanashi Prefecture, some 70 km west of Tokyo. It was not an area for sightseeing and/or tourist attractions, but it was a quiet hanami spot in the countryside. The best spot was found along a natural river. Full blown Sakura trees were seen backed by beautiful mountains. Spring has come.

To get to this beautiful spot, we took the JR East Chuo Line. Our vehicle was a local train, the EMU 211 series. The 211 series took over the old 115 series in 2015. A total of 50 sets, 192 units have been moved from the Takasaki, Utsunomiya and Tokaido lines. The 211 series has a stainless steel body with light blue and emerald colored stripes, the same as so called Nagano-color trains.

The 211 series was developed by Japanese National Railways in 1985. It has a bit outdated field excitation electric control system, but we must not forget that the 211 series has realized a large amount of operating cost reduction using its regenerative braking system. I like its whirring sound generated by the DC motor.

Gorgeous cherry blossoms and the local trains... enjoy your spring weekends on the Chuo Line.

The cherry blossoms on the bank of Tsuru River are in full bloom near Uenohara Station

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Buna: Honored Guest from the Gonoh Line

Resort Shirakami "Buna" train is exhibited at Ueno Terminal

From April 9th to 10th, Ueno Terminal received an honored guest from the Gonoh Line in Tohoku District, some 750 km north of Tokyo.

Who was the honored guest?

She was the sightseeing train, Resort Shirakami "Buna (Japanese beech)", the DMU Class KiHa 48. Buna was exhibited at platform 17 of Ueno Terminal for promoting tourism to the Shirakami Mountains. Shirakami is famous for its unspoiled expanse of virgin forest in the mountains. It was designated as the first site of the World Heritage List in Japan in 1993. Japanese beech trees make up a large portion of the forest.

JR East operates sightseeing trains, Resort Shirakami, on the Gonoh Line in the Shirakami area. A total of 3 sets, namely Resort Shirakami "Buna", "Kumagera (black woodpecker)" and "Aoike (blue pond)", are on duty. Buna is a 4-car train (KiHa 48-701, 1701, 1543 and 702) including two compartment cars. It was modified from the diesel railcar Class KiHa 40 by JR East Tsuchizaki Factory and Niigata Transys in 2003. The large windows to view the beautiful scenery are distinctive.

On May 6th in 2015, JR East made a press release announcing that the new Buna train will be launched in July, 2016, replacing the existing Buna train. The new Buna is the HB-E300 series, a diesel hybrid train. The specification is similar with those on the Koumi Line and the Senseki-Tohoku Line.

I can't wait to see the new Buna.

Side view of Buna train

Official information about the sightseeing train, Resort Shirakami:
Official information about the sightseeing train, Resort Shirakami (in Japanese): 
Official information about the new Buna train (in Japanese):

Sunday, 24 April 2016

EMU E235 Series: New Model on the Yamanote Line

EMU JR East E235 series arrives at Shinagawa Station on the Yamanote Line

On November 30th, 2015, JR East launched a new EMU model, E235 series, on the Yamanote Line for the first time in 13 years. The E235 series is a direct current EMU built by J-TREC Niitsu Factory. It is an 11-car train consisting of 6 motor cars and 5 trailers.

The Yamanote Line is well known as Japan's most crowded railway. The track is double. Its gauge size is 1067mm. The electric system is 1500V DC overhead. This busy line is looped through several downtown areas of Tokyo. Its total length is 34 km and all the trains run in the same direction throughout the day; clockwise or counter-clockwise. The train covers the entire route in about 60 minutes. There are 29 stations and most of them are interchange stations to the subway, private railways and/or other JR lines.

The first set (number 01), made its debut last year, but the operation was cancelled just after the commencement of its commercial operation, because the on board train monitoring system went down. After the software modification, the E235 series was launched again on March 7th, 2016. Since then, the E235 series has been operated smoothly.

The E235 series has an advanced apparatus such as a SIC-element VVVF inverter (variable frequency drive) electric control system. I agree with its originality, but the outer design of the E235 series is not my cup of tea to be honest. Many rail-fans call it "a microwave oven" because of its front design.

It is hard to please everybody.

Side view of KuHa 234-1, the EMU JR East E235 series

Official information about the JR East E235 series (in Japanese):

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Advent of Spring in Sagamihara City

EMU JR East 205-500 series travels on the Sagami Line

Sagamihara is an inland city in Kanagawa Prefecture, some 50 km west of Tokyo. In the beginning of April, this city says goodbye to winter and says hello to spring. I recently visited Sagamihara with my family. Our purpose of the visit was to see the Katakuri flowers in Shiroyama Katakuri Village. Katakuri (Japanese Dogtooth Violet) produced lovely purple colored blossoms in the forest. It heralded the arrival of spring. We saw many holidaymakers visit there to celebrate the coming of spring.

How to get to Katakuri Village? There are three railway routes to get to Hashimoto, the nearest station. They are the JR East Sagami Line, the Yokohama Line and the Keio Sagamihara Line. The JR East Sagami Line penetrates Sagamihara City from north to south. Connecting Hashimoto and Chigasaki, the total length is 33.3 km. The entire route is electrified and single. The electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. 4-car trains are operated every 20 minutes on average.

The vehicle operated on the Sagami Line is an EMU, 205-500 series. It was launched in 1991, when the route was electrified. So far, a total of 13 sets, 52 units have been built by Tokyu Sharyo and JR East Oofuna Factory. The specification is rather old, but the 205-500 series is still operated as the only model on the Sagami Line. It will be replaced by the new model, E233 series, someday, but it has not been officially announced yet.

Japanese Dogtooth Violet is blown in Shiroyama Katakuri Village near Hashimoto Station

Monday, 18 April 2016

Museum Hopping in Oomiya City

Diesel Railcar KiHa 41307 is exhibited in the Railway Museum in Oomiya City
Oomiya is known as the city of cultures. I have recently visited two kinds of museums with my family.

KiHa 41307 of the Class KiHa 41300 was my favorite exhibition at the Railway Museum. It was a diesel railcar built by Kawasaki Sharyo in 1934. The original number was KiHa 41056 of the Class KiHa 41000. This old railcar was once modified as a natural gas railcar, KiHa 41207, and was operated in Niigata and Chiba prefectures, as these areas produced natural gas. As you may know, natural gas has an explosion hazard, so it was modified again to a diesel railcar, KiHa 41307 in 1952. I like this old-fashioned diesel railcar, specifically its curved front design. The large single rounded front light is also my favorite. KiHa 41307 was eventually retired from the tracks in 1985.

After visiting the Railway Museum, we also visited the Bonsai Museum in Oomiya City, which is totally different from the Railway Museum. Bonsai are miniaturized potted plants, which have been grown for a long time to look as they appear in nature. They are unique to Japan. The pine tree is cited as typical, but all sorts of other plants and trees are nurtured. We could see many bonsai trees in this museum. They were small, but looked like a huge trees if we took in them closely. It was a fantastic experience for us.

Museum hopping is a good way for visitors to enjoy in Oomiya City.
Bonsai Museum in Oomiya City

Friday, 15 April 2016

Sayonara Cassiopeia, the Premium Sleeper Train

Overnight sleeper train, "Cassiopeia", stands at Ueno Station (August, 2013)

Along with Super-Hakucho, another limited express train, Cassiopeia, was abolished on the Tsugaru Kaikyo (Seikan subsea tunnel) Line on March 21st. Cassiopeia was the premier overnight sleeper train operated between Ueno, a subcenter of Tokyo, and Sapporo, the main city of Hokkaido.

Cassiopeia was launched in 1999 by JR East and JR Hokkaido. It was a 12-car train pulled by an electric locomotive, Class EF510 (Ueno - Aomori), Class ED79 (Aomori - Hakodate) and the diesel locomotive Class DD51 (Hakodate -Sapporo). Cassiopeia had not only sleeping beds, but also showers, a dining car and a lounge car. To book the seats was very difficult specifically in long holiday seasons, as it was very popular among travelers. During its seventeen hour journey between Ueno and Sapporo, the passengers boarding on Cassiopeia could enjoy many things. They could enjoy luxury dinners in the dining car. Passing through the world's longest subsea tunnel on the Tsugaru Kaikyo Line was a big event. The beautiful scenery of sunset and sunrise from the lounge cars was also a big hit.

Corresponding to the inauguration of Hokkaido Shinkansen, Cassiopeia was abolished. I had been thinking that someday I would travel by Cassiopeia, but it had not come about due to being busy everyday. JR East plans to continue to operate Cassiopeia, as a special train only for peak seasons and/or a group tour train, but it has not yet been officially announced. Sayonara (good-bye) Cassiopeia. See you sometime again.
Side view of KaHaFu 26-1, the overnight sleeper train, "Cassiopeia" (August, 2013)

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Fifth Anniversary of Tokyo Railway Labyrinth

EMU JR Hokkaido H5 series stands at Tokyo Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen

Tokyo Railway Labyrinth had its fifth anniversary last week. I thank all my blog readers for visiting this website and sending comments to me over the last five years. Sorry, it has taken me so long to respond to you, as I have recently been very busy.

When I started this blog, I was stationed in Indonesia. At that time, my home country, Japan, was facing difficulties, including a tsunami that followed a giant earthquake. Putting out the information on Japanese railways was one of my supports to my home country, since most of the railways and trains were saved by the earthquake resistant construction and safety system. Since then, I have been introducing you to the labyrinth of railway routes and their trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area. I think that process is going to go on.

In commemoration of the fifth anniversary, I am going to show you a train with the number "5" in the name... the EMU H"5" series. The EMU JR Hokkaido H5 series is the Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen train launched on March 26th this year. Along with the JR East E5 series, the H5 series is operated as a super express train "Hayabusa (Falcon)" with a maximum speed of 320km/h. A total of 4 sets, 40 units, have been built by Hitachi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The specification of the H5 series is the same as the E5 series, but the color of the side stripe (lilac color) is different from the E5 series (pink color).

Side view of the EMU JR Hokkaido H5 series

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Vineger Field on the Nippo Main Line

EMU JR Kyushu 787 series, Limited Express "Kirishima", stands at Kagoshima-chuo Station

Kagoshima Prefecture, which is located in the southernmost part of Kyushu Island, is famous for its vinegar brewing. You can see a vast "vinegar field" in the northern part of the prefecture. What is the vinegar field? It is an outdoor land, where a vast amount of vinegar pots are preserved. Materials for brewing the vinegar are only steamed rice, rice-malt and underground water. Receiving the sun's heat, the vinegar has been matured for a maximum of three years in the pots in the vinegar field.

To get to this vast vinegar field, please take the limited express train, "Kirishima", from Kagoshima-chuo Station on the Nippo Main Line. Kagoshima-chuo is the gateway station to Kagoshima Prefecture. It is also known as the terminal of the Kyushu Shinkansen. Your nearest station to the vinegar field is Kokubu. It takes about half an hour from Kagoshima-chuo.

Your vehicle is the JR Kyushu 787 series launched in 1992. It is an EMU for the 1,067 mm-gauge track with 20,000 V (60 Hz) AC overhead electric system. So far, a total of 140 units have been built by Hitachi and Kinki-Sharyo. The 787 series won the 1993 Blue Ribbon Prize by Japan Railfan Club as the best train that debuted in 1992. Its metallic colored body with the futuristic front design is quite unique and popular among tourists.

The vast vinegar field and the futuristic train... you can enjoy two kinds of unique features in Kagoshima Prefecture.

"Vineger field" is seen near Kokubu Station on the Nippo Main Line

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Toei 6191: Preserved Streetcar in Fuchu City

Electric car Toei 6191 is preserved in the Traffic Park in Fuchu city

As you may know, Tokyo once had a 181 km-long extensive tram network, which functioned as commuter transportation arteries in the mega-city. Time has passed and most routes have already been abolished due to heavy traffic jams.

To learn the history of trams in Tokyo, the best way is to see the preserved streetcars. For instance, the Toei (the Transportation Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government) 6000 series is perfect. The 6000 series was launched in 1947 as the first model after WWII. During the war, a total of 600 carriages of streetcars were lost by air raids. Supplies of new trams were essential for commuter transportation in Tokyo at that time. The 6000 series is a 12m-long street car for the 600 V DC electric system. A total of 290 carriages have been built by Nippon Sharyo and the other manufacturers, but currently, only six carriages are preserved in a depot, a kindergarten and public parks. They are unit number, 6063, 6080, 6086, 6159, 6162 and 6191.

Unit number 6191 is preserved in the Traffic Park of Fuchu City. The 6191 was built in 1950 by Nippon Sharyo. It was retired from the track in 1978, and brought to the park in 1981 for preservation. Since then, the 6191 has been maintained in good conditions by local rail-fans. The classic three front windows and a large single rounded front light is my favorite.

The preserved 6000 series streetcar... it is a witness of the glorious tram history in Tokyo.

Side view of Toei 6191

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Yoritomo-sakura on the Uchibo Line

EMU JR East E257-500 series, limited express "Shinuku-Sazanami" arrives at Hota Station

Kawazu-sakura, otherwise known as "winter cherry", was found by chance in 1955 in Kawazu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture. It is thick and pink-colored, and blooms in February to March for longer than standard Sakura. It has been lovingly cared for and planted by local people.

Today, Kawazu-sakura is spread throughout Japan. For instance, a total of 600 Kawazu-sakura trees, which were renamed to Yoritomo-sakura by local people, are in full bloom on the embankments of Hota River in Kyonan Town, Chiba Prefecture. It is at the beginning of March... one month earlier than that of standard Sakura. It is marking the ending of winter and the advent of spring.

To see this beautiful full-blown Yoritomo-sakura, please take the JR East Uchibo Line and get off at Hota Station. The limited express train, "Shinjuku-Sazanami", is operated every weekend. It takes 1 hour and 50 minutes from Shinjuku, a subcenter of Tokyo. Your vehicle is the 1,500 V direct current EMU, E257-500 series.

The E257-500 series was launched in 2004 replacing the old trains, EMU 183 and 189 series. The blue, white and yellow, three-toned body is very vivid. The blue stands for the ocean. The white stands for the beach. Meanwhile the yellow stands for the canola flowers in Chiba Prefecture. So far, a total of 19 sets, 95 carriages of the E257-500 series, have been built by Hitachi, Tokyu Sharyo and Kinki Sharyo.

Seasonally blooming Yoritomo-sakura and the three-toned express train provide glorious scenery on the Uchibo Line.

Full-blown Yoritomo-sakura is seen near Hota Station on the JR East Uchibo Line