Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Abandoned Track in Samukawa Town

Abandoned track of the Samukawa Branch Line

Walking on abandoned tracks is popular among rail-fans in Japan. So far, many guide books have been published, and those are selling well. It is probably difficult to understand for non-rail-fans, but to imagine an appearance of a past railway on an abandoned track is quite exciting. This feeling is probably similar with those of people who like history.

The ex-Samukawa Branch Line is no exception. It was opened as a branch line of the Sagami Line in 1923. The route was originally functioned to transport gravels from Sagami riverbed to large cities for constructions. Connecting Samukawa on the Sagami Line to Shinomiya, then shortened to Nishi-Samukawa, the route length was 1.5 km. The track was un-electrified and single. The gauge size was 1,067 mm. After 61 years of its history, the Samukawa Branch Line was abolished in 1984 by Japanese National Railways due to a decrease of passengers.

After the abolition, the site of the railway track was remodeled as a pavement, namely Ichinomiya Greenway, but a part of the section is still preserved as it was at that time. I saw that a cat was sitting on the ex-railway track to relax, as surely it is quite a safe place nowadays.

For your information, Samukawa was developed as a temple town of Samukawa Shrine. It is well known as the ichinomiya (a shrine occupying the highest rank in a prefecture) of Kanagawa Prefecture, some 60 km southwest of Tokyo.

Samukawa Shrine near Samukawa Station on the JR East Sagami Line

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Blue Pond: Hybrid Train to World Heritage Site

DMU JR East HB-E300 series, Resort Shirakami-Aoike, leaves Akita Station

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit Akita City, which is a distance of 660 km north of Tokyo. It is a main city of Akita Prefecture in Tohoku District. Although I was very busy there, I could have a slight chance to see several trains at Akita Station after my assignment. 

One of the unique trains, which I could get a shot of at Akita Station, was Resort Shirakami-Aoike (Blue Pond), which is a sister train of Resort Shirakami-Buna (Japanese Beech). Shirakami is famous for its unspoiled expanse of virgin forest in the mountains in Akita Prefecture. It was designated as the World Heritage List in 1993. Aoike is known as a beautiful blue colored pond located within the forest. Needless to say, Resort Shirakami-Aoike train is operated for this World Heritage site via Oou Main and Gonoh lines from Akita Station.

Different from Buna, Aoike train is a hybrid powered. Its formal name is the JR East HB-E300 series. Using a diesel engine, induction motors, VVVF (adjustable voltage adjustable frequency) inverters and lithium-ion batteries, the HB-E300 series is a hybrid train. The induction motors also act as generators during braking, so the generated electricity is charged when the brakes are applied.

A total of 3 sets, 8 units of the HB-E300 series have been built since 2010 by Tokyu Sharyo and Niigata Transys. The other 2 sets are operated in Nagano and Aomori Prefecture under the names of Resort Furusato (Hometown) and Resort Asunaro (Hiba arborvitae).

Side view of the HB-E300 series

Official information about Resort Shirakami trains:

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Komorebi Path on the Seibuen Line

EMU Seibu 2000N series travels on the Seibuen Line

On June 5th, the Japan Meteorological Agency announced that this year's rainy season had begun in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but so far we had only a little rain. Such a dry rainy season is called "karatsuyu". If karatsuyu occurs, in many cases, water to be used in the summer cannot be secured resulting in drought.

Although the water shortage will be a problem, karatsuyu is suitable for walking in suburban areas. I visited Hachikoku-yama in the western part of Tokyo Metropolis last weekend. I enjoyed walking in the forest, where I could see beautiful "komorebi". Kimorebi means that sunlight filters through the trees - the interplay between the light and the leaves. I saw a beautiful komorebi path there.

To get to Hachikoku-yama, the Seibu-Seibuen Line is convenient. Connecting Higashi-Murayama Station on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line to Seibuen Terminal near Jukkooku-yama, its operating length is 2.4 km. It is a local route with an electrified single track. The gauge size is 1,067 mm. The electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead.

I got on the EMU 2000N series. Among the train fleet on the Seibu lines, I like the 2000N series best. The yellow colored body and two large rounded front lights are Seibu Railway's traditional design. Meanwhile, two large panoramic front windows with an emergency front door was an up-to-date style in 1988, when the 2000N series was launched. 28 years have already passed, but it is not out of date.

I enjoyed the komorebi path and the train on the Seibuen Line.

Komorebi path near Seibuen Station on the Seibuen Line

Monday, 20 June 2016

Slope Car on Hakone Mountain

Slope Car, Kaho Monorail Type KMR-6, is operated in a resort hotel on Hakone Mountain

Hakone is a famous resort area in the western suburb of Tokyo. By taking a commuter train, we can reach this beautiful and cool highland easily from downtown Tokyo. It is said that 19 million tourists visit there every year, since they can enjoy the beautiful nature and the hot springs (onsens).

I recently visited Hakone Mountain for the first time in a year, and found a lovely monorail, called Slope Car, in a resort hotel located on the top of the hill. It is a beautiful place, but the problem is that the onsen is located in a deep valley. Access to the onsen is a bit hard for elderly and/or physically-handicapped guests.

To go down to the onsen, the hotel constructed Slope Car in 2005. Connecting the fourth floor of the hotel building to the onsen in the valley, the route length is 30 m. The maximum inclination of the route is 30 degrees. It takes one minute to move between the highest and the lowest stops. To be exact, this Slope Car is classified as an elevator under the Building Standards Act, not a monorail under the Railway Business Act. It is similar to the ex-shuttle system in Narita Airport Terminal 2 and the monorail in Asukayama Park in Tokyo.

The vehicle, which can hold up to 6 passengers, is Type KMR-6 of the Kaho Monorail Company built in 2005. It is driverless using an electric motor with a rack-and-pinion driving system.
The track of Slope Car
Official information about Slope Car, Kaho Monorail:

Friday, 17 June 2016

Sayonara New Nanohana, the EMU 485 Series

EMU JR East 485 series, "New Nanohana", stands at Shinjuku Station (May, 2013)

On May 27th, JR East Chiba Branch Office made a press release announcing that "New Nanohana" will soon be retired from the track.

The EMU 485 series, New Nanohana, is classified as a Joyful Train (leisure train) by JR East. It is a 6-car train with AC-DC (Alternate Current - Direct Current) dual electric systems. Thanks to the dual system, New Nanohana can be operated on most of the tracks except non-electrified ones on the JR East lines. Its blue colored body with a white colored stripe is vivid and my favorite; but it is not the color of a Nanohana (canola flower). The Nanohana color (i.e. yellow color), is used only on the frontal face of the train. That is a bit strange. New Nanohana is known as an "ozashiki train", whose interior is arranged as a Japanese style straw-matted room, but it is also possible to arrange as a standard cross-seated train... quite unique.

I am concerned about the post-New Nanohana train. After the retirement of New Nanohana, who will take over the role of Joyful Train in the Chiba area? It has not been announced yet from JR East. I am also anxious about the future of the other Joyful Trains, such as Resort-Yamadori, Irodori, Utage, Hana and Yuu. They have also become old. I can't take my eyes off the railway news reports.

Sayonara (good-bye) and Arigato (thank you) New Nanohana. The last run is planned on the 21st of August, 2016.

Side view of MoRo 485-6, New Nanohana (May, 2013)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Promise of 2016 Hydrangea Season in Tokyo

Set 1714F passes through full-blown hydrangea in front of Higashi-Matsubara Station
It is June already. Time really flies. June is a rainy season just before mid-summer in Tokyo. We have hot and humid days. Although it is a gloomy period, one of the things that save our feelings is fully bloomed hydrangeas. When one god deserts you, another will pick you up. This Japanese maxim is definitely correct. Before the 2016 flower season, I am going to show you last year's fully bloomed hydrangeas on the Keio-Inokashira Line.

Keio Electric Railway has been working on planting hydrangeas on the embankments of the railways to prevent slope failure and protect the environment since 1991. Nowadays, we can see colorful hydrangea blossoms at the side of the railway tracks in June, specifically around Higashi-Matsubara Station on the Inokashira Line. I visited there again last year, and enjoyed seeing illuminated flowers in front of the platform. Just five years ago, it was still an undiscovered hydrangea viewing spot, but Higashi-Matsubara was no longer the undiscovered spot last year. It had become a famous place for hydrangea flowers.

By the way, I like the vivid train, EMU Keio 1000 series standing against the colorful hydrangea flowers in the background. One of the features of this stainless-steel body EMU is that each train set shows a different color on the front mask and the side lines. A total of eight colors are known... and are called the rainbow colors.

June is the gloomy rainy season in Tokyo, but, is the best period on the Keio-Inokashira Line.

Set 1703F passes through full-blown hydrangea in front of Higashi-Matsubara Station

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Early Summer on the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 1000 series leaves Tsurumaki-onsen Station on the Odawara Line

It is early summer in Tokyo. Sunlight is strong and the maximum daytime temperature reaches 25 degrees Celsius every day. Before full-blown summer, it is a brief window of comfortable days.

At the end of last month, I visited Kanagawa Prefecture with my family. Our destination was Kobo-yama Park, which is a foothill of Tanzawa Mountains. This natural park is composed of three hills, namely Mt. Sengen, Mt. Kobo and Mt. Gongen. The highest peak is Mt. Gongen, which is 235 m above sea level. Although it is a small peak, steep climbing made us sweat under the strong sunlight. The view from the Mt. Gongen was fantastic. We could see the downtown area of Hadano City behind the deep green forest. Meandering Kaname River was also beautiful and shining.

To get to this scenic spot, the Odakyu-Odawara Line is convenient. It takes about one hour from Shinjuku, a subcenter of Tokyo, by an express train. The EMU 1000 series is one of the representative models on the line. This model was launched in 1988 as Odakyu's first stainless-steel car with induction motors. A total of 36 sets, 196 units have been built by Tokyu Sharyo, Nippon Sharyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

In April, 2014, Odakyu made a press release announcing that the EMU 1000 series will be renovated one by one. The rollsigns of destination display devices on the bodies will be changed to the latest LED displays. I have to take pictures of the current appearance at once.

Sceinic view from Mt. Gongen near Hadano Station on the Odawara Line

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Kinkazan Ropeway: Access to the Night Viewing Spot

Kinkazan Ropeway

As I posted before, Gifu Castle is the symbol of Gifu City, about 400 km west of Tokyo. The castle was constructed at the top of Mt. Kinkazan, 329 m above sea level, by Nikaido Yukimasa in 1201. The current building was reconstructed in 1955, imitating its medieval features. I recently visited this mountain castle one day in the evening with my family.

To visit Gifu Castle, Kinkazan Ropeway is convenient. It is an aerial tramway opened in 1955 by Kinkazan Corporation, a member of the Meitetsu (Nagoya Railway) group. Connecting Kinka-sanroku and Kinka-sancho stations, its route length is 599 m. The height difference between the two stations is 255 m. It takes about 3.5 minutes to go one way. The operation interval is 10 to 15 minutes during the daytime, but it is also operated in the evening during peak seasons. The current gondolas are the 6th generation ones, built by Osaka Sharyo Kogyo in 2011. Each gondola can hold up to 45 passengers.

After arriving at Kinka-sancho Station, it took about 10 minutes to get to the castle on foot. The view from the castle tower was fantastic. It was a gorgeous spot specifically to enjoy a night view of Gifu City. We could see the meandering Nagara River in the downtown area backed by numerous city lights. The lit up bridges across the river were also good accents.

Kinkazan of Gifu City... it is worthwhile to come from afar.

Night view of Gifu City and Nagara River from Gifu Castle

Sunday, 5 June 2016

EMU Keio 9749F: Sanrio Poster Train

Set 9749F of the EMU Keio 9030 series arrives at Keio Tama Center Station

As I posted in my last blog, Keio Electric railway and Sanrio Entertainment Company are jointly promoting tourism to Sanrio Puroland (an indoor theme park), which is located in front of Keio Tama Center Station on the Keio-Sagamihara Line. In accordance with their promotion plan, Keio launched a special poster train on March 12th this year.

The poster train is Set 9749F of the EMU Keio 9030 series. Set 9749F was originally launched in 2009 as the 19th set of the 9030 series. Keio has recently decorated this 10-car train with lovely Sanrio mascots, such as Hello-Kitty, Pomupomu Pudding, Little Twin Stars and Cinnamon Roll. After its debut, the poster train is very popular among kids and their mothers. Interior of the poster train is also decorated with Sanrio characters. For your information, the EMU Keio 9030 series was commissioned in 2005. So far, a total of 20 sets, 200 units, have been built by Nippon Sharyo. The 9030 series is directly operated onto the subway, Toei Shinjuku Line, via Shinjuku Station.

In the meantime, the Keio-Sagamihara Line is known as an access route to Tama Newtown. Connecting Chofu on the Keio Main Line and Hashimoto on the JR East Yokohama and Sagami lines, its route length is 22.6 km. Most of the route is elevated. The track is electrified and double. The electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. The gauge size is 1,372mm despite most railway track gauges in Japan being 1,067 or 1,435mm. The 1,372mm is quite unique.

Side view of Unit 9799, the EMU Keio 9030 series

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Keio Tama Center: Gateway Station to the Dream World

The station name plate of "Keio Tama Center" is decorated with a Sanrio mascot

Tama Center is the central area of Tama Newtown in Tokyo Metropolis. It was jointly developed by the central and metropolitan governments to solve the explosion of the urban population in the 1960s. The current population of the newtown area is nearly 200,000. Three railways, namely Keio, Odakyu and Tama Monorail, pull into Tama Center Station. A total of 140,000 passengers use this station every day.

Tama Center is also known as the nearest station to Sanrio Puroland, which is an indoor theme park operated by Sanrio Entertainment Company. Many kids, mainly girls, visit this dream world to meet with famous mascots such as "Hello-Kitty" on weekends. So, the railway companies can produce a precious income by transporting passengers to and from Sanrio Puroland.

On February 24th, Keio and Sanrio jointly made a press release announcing that the Keio Tama Center Station will be renovated to become a "welcome station" to Sanrio Puroland by this summer. Needless to say, the purpose of the renovation is to promote tourism to Sanrio Puroland. The station facilities are being gradually ornamented by Sanrio mascots.

For instance, the station name plates have been replaced by the special ones with Sanrio mascots. The station clocks have also been replaced by lovely ones with Hello-Kitty. The other facilities, such as elevators, automatic ticket vending machines, automatic ticket gates, platform floors and pillars are also being changed to the special ones.

Keio Tama Center... it is a gateway station to the dream world.

The station clock of Keio Tama Center is decorated with a Sanrio mascot, "Hello-Kitty"

Official information about renovated Keio Tama Center Station (in Japanese):