Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hinoyama Ropeway: Access to the Superb Scenery

Hinoyama Ropeway

Hinoyama (Fire Mountain) is a small mountain in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, about 1,100 km west of Tokyo. The altitude of the summit is 268.2 meters above sea level. The name, Hinoyama, came from the medieval fire signal station, not from a volcano. Currently, Hinoyama is known as a public park with beautiful flowers and scenery of the Kanmon Straits. I visited this superb spot last month with my family.

To get to the summit, Hinoyama Ropeway is convenient. It is an aerial tramway, which opened in 1958. Connecting Dannoura and Hinoyama stations, its route length is 438.96 meters. The height difference between the two stations is 165 meters. Its maximum inclination is 29.1 degrees. The gondola is operated every 20 minutes with an operating speed of 3.0 meters. It takes 4 minutes to go one way. The current gondolas, namely number 1 (Manju) and number 2 (Kanju), were built by Osaka Sharyo in 1978. Each gondola can hold up to 31 passengers.

The view from the summit was fantastic. It was a gorgeous spot to enjoy both views of the Kanmon Straits and Kanmon Bridge between Honshu (the main island of Japan) and Kyushu Island. The distant view of Mojiko Retro Heimat (height: 127 meters) in the urban area on Kyushu Island was also my favorite.

Although we visited Hinoyama during the daytime, the night view is also very beautiful, according to the Shimonoseki Tourism and Convention Association. We are going to visit there after sunset next time.

View of Kanmon Bridge and Mojiko Retro Heimat from Hinoyama Mountain

Monday, May 22, 2017

8568F: Tobu Revival Colored Train

8568F of the Tobu 8000 series travels on the Kameido Line

The Tobu-Kameido Line is a branch route of the Isesaki Line. It looks like a local line in the urban area. Connecting Kameido on the JR East Sobu Line and Hikifune on the Tobu Isesaki Line, there are five stations on the 3.4 km route. The track is double and electrified. The electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. Its gauge size is 1,067 mm.

Two-car trains (Mc + Tc) of the EMU 8000 series travel slowly on the Kameido Line. The train threads its way through shopping streets, densely built-up residential areas, and small factories. Its operating interval is every 7 to 8 minutes during rush hour and every 10 minutes during the daytime. The standard color of the 8000 series is white with a blue stripe.

On February 16th of this year, Tobu launched a new special colored train, 8568F (unit number 8568 and 8668) of the EMU 8000 series on the Kameido Line. It has a dark green colored body with a white stripe. Its color design is a revival of the test paint in the 1950s. For your information, 8568F was originally built in 1974 by Tokyu Sharyo and currently belongs to Kasukabe Rail Yard. It is also operated on the Daishi Line depending on the day. 

Along with 8577F (unit numbers 8577 and 8588), which is also a revival colored train with the orange and yellow colored design of the 1950s, 8568F has become a new star among the local kids and rail-fans.

8568F of the Tobu 8000 series arrives at Omurai Station on the Kameido Line

Friday, May 19, 2017

Shimonoseki: Key Junction City for Transportation

EMU JR West 115 series arrives at Shimonoseki Station on the Sanyo Main Line

Shimonoseki is the largest city of Yamaguchi Prefecture, about 1,100 km west of Tokyo. It is known as the westernmost city of Honshu Island (the main island). Currently, Shimonoseki has a population of 280,000.

Shimonoseki is also known as the key junction city for transportation. It is very close to Kita-Kyushu City on Kyushu Island across the Kanmon Straits. There are three tunnels and one bridge between the two cities, which are for the Sanyo Shinkansen (tunnel), the Sanyo Main Line (tunnel), the National Route 2 (tunnel), and the Kanmon Expressway (suspension bridge). As a result of these strong transportation ties, Shimonoseki and Kita-Kyushu cities form one greater urban area (the Kanmon Metropolitan area), which has a population of 1.3 million. If you want to access the urban scenery of this area, I recommend that you visit Kaikyo Yume Tower, which is a landmark of Shimonoseki City.

In the meantime, JR West's Shimonoseki functions as the gateway station to Honshu Island. Currently, most of the long distance passengers travelling between Honshu and Kyushu Island take the Sanyo Shinkansen via Shin-Shimonoseki (New Shimonoseki) station; however, Shimonoseki station is still crowded with local people traveling between the two islands.

The EMU JR West 115 series is the main fleet on the Sanyo Main Line. It is a standard commuter train with a dark yellow-colored body. When I visited Shimonoseki last month, I came across a rare renovated car, KuMoHa 114-1106, which had a unique flat face.

Night view of Kaikyo Yume Tower (153m) near Shimonoseki Station

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

EMU 500 Series: Tobu New Limited Express Train

EMU Tobu 500 series, limited express train "Revaty", travels on the Nikko Line 

Tobu is the largest private railway company in the Tokyo metropolitan area. They operate 463 km of track. The routes extend from Tokyo to four surrounding prefectures, namely Saitama, Chiba, Tochigi and Gumma. To enhance convenience for transportation between these prefectures and Tokyo is Tobu's large business challenge. One of the solutions, which the company recently provided, is the following.

On April 21st, Tobu launched a new limited express train, the EMU 500 series. As you may know, Tobu already has two limited express models, namely the 100 series (Spacia) and the 200 series (Ryomo), at that time. Why did they launch the new model?

The new model, EMU 500 series, is a 3-car train and it is easy to couple and decouple each train set. As a result, Tobu has become a flexible train operation. For instance, one 6-car train, which is composed of two sets of the 500 series, is operated from Asakusa Terminal in Tokyo to Shimo-Imaichi junction. It is, then, decoupled into two 3-car trains. One set is directly operated to Tobu-Nikko, the famous World Heritage Site; meanwhile another set is also directly operated to the Kinugawa area, a reputable hot spring resort. It is quite convenient for passengers.

The nickname of the 500 series is "Revaty". It is a coined word, synthesized from variety and liberty. I am looking forward to riding on Revaty and traveling to Nikko in the near future.

EMU Tobu 500 series (left) and the 20000 series (right) at Kita-Kasukabe Station

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Late Spring on the Yamada Line

Diesel rail-car JR East KiHa 110 series travels on the Yamada Line in Morioka City

The "front line" of the Sakura (cherry blossoms) is going up north. After enjoying the 2017 Sakura season in Tokyo, I headed to the Tohoku District at the weekend to enjoy Sakura again with my family. Our destination was Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture, about 540 km north of Tokyo. Our friend lives there.

One of the Sakura viewing spots, to which our fiend took us, was Yonai Water Purifying Plant in the eastern part of Morioka City. It was a famous spot among the local people. In this season, more than 30 weeping-cherry trees bloom there and the plant site has a special opening for the public. We saw many visitors admiring the light pink-colored blossoms. It was a late coming of spring in the northern country.

The Yonai Water Purifying Plant is located in front of Kami-Yonai Station on the JR East Yamada Line. Currently, trains on the Yamada Line are operated only between Morioka and Kami-Yonai stations (9.9 km) in the western section. In other words, the section between Kami-Yonai and Kawauchi (51.6 km) has been interrupted by large-scale landslides since August 8th, 2016. The diesel rail-car, KiHa 110 series, is the sole model on the line. It is operated as a single car only once every two hours on average during the daytime. The track of the Yamada Line is single and un-electrified.

JR East continues to strive towards achieving post-disaster recovery. I hope the train operations are back to normal as soon as possible.

Full-blown weeping-cherry trees near Kami-Yonai Station on the Yamada Line

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The 999 Train on the Seibu Line

Set 20158 of the EMU Seibu 20000 series, Galaxy Express 999, travels on the Seibu Line

Galaxy Express 999 is a popular TV animation series created by Matsumoto Reiji. The series depicts the future world, where planets in the galactic system are connected to each other by the Galaxy Railway. In this future world set in 2221 AD, rich people have mechanical bodies; meanwhile poor people still have living flesh. The main character, Tetsuro, who is a poor boy, travels in the galactic system by Galaxy Express 999 train on the Galaxy Railway to look for free mechanical bodies with Maetel, who is a Princess of the Machine Empire.

Because Matsumoto Reiji lives in Nerima Ward on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line, Seibu Railway has been operating a special poster train, Galaxy Express 999 (hereinafter referred to as the 999 train), starting from May, 2009. The first generation 999 train, namely set 3011 of the EMU 3000 series, was operated until December, 2014. The current 999 train, namely set 20158 of the EMU 20000 series, is the second generation one, which was launched on October 8th in 2016. It will be operated until the end of March, 2019.

The EMU Seibu 20000 series debuted in 2000 as a new generation commuter train following the EMU 6000 series. So far, a total of 18 sets, 144 units have been built by Hitachi. The standard cars have blue colored stripes on the aluminum bodies; while the 999 train has green colored bodies with Tetsuro and Maetel characters.

Although Maetel is a beautiful woman, her eyes, which are painted on the front of the 999 train, are a little scary for me.

Side view of the Galaxy Express 999 train 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Nagato-Yumoto: Historical Hot Spring on the Mine Line

Diesel rail-car, JR West KiHa 120 series, travels on the Mine Line

Nagato-Yumoto is a hot spring town in Nagato City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, about 1,100 km west of Tokyo. The first hot spring was found in 1427 by the chief priest of Taineiji Buddhist Temple. Its original spring source is still preserved with care by the temple. Nagato-Yumoto has been developing as a resort town since the 19th century, and it became popular after the opening of the Mine Line in 1924. I visited this traditional resort with my family last month.

The nearest station to the resort area is Nagato-Yumoto on the Mine Line. Connecting Asa on the Sanyo Main Line and Nagato-shi on the San-in Main Line, the operating length of the Mine Line is 46 km. The track is single and un-electrified. The train is operated every two hours on average.

JR West's diesel rail-car, the KiHa 120 series, is a sole fleet on the Mine Line. It is operated alone or with two cars. The 120 series is a small sized (16.3 meter-long) rail-car launched in 1991 to replace the old models, the 20, the 35, and the 45 series. So far, 89 units have been built by Niigata Tekkosho and JR West Goto Factory.

After getting off at Nagato-Yumoto Station, we visited the resort area. Plenty of Koinoboris (carp streamers) were flying above Otozure River. Children's Day was nearly upon us. The local people were praying for the healthy growth of children of the world by putting up the carp-shaped banners.

Koinoboris (carp streamers) fly above Otozure River near Nagato-Yumoto Station 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mie: Another Access Route to the G7 City

DMU JR Central KiHa 75 series, Rapid train "Mie", stands at Nagoya Station

Shima is a resort city in Mie Prefecture, about 510 km west of Tokyo. It is a famous area for enjoying marine activities, with a beautiful archipelago and cultivation of pearls. Shima is also known as the host city for the 2016 G7 Summit. To get to this G7 city, the most common route is the Kintetsu Line. It takes two hours from Nagoya to Kashikojima, the center of the resort area, by a gorgeous limited express train, Shimakaze (Breeze in the Shima area). A leisure train, Tsudoi (gathering), is also popular among families with children.

What else? Please don't forget that JR Central also has an access route to the area. It is the rapid train, Mie, operated between Nagoya and Toba. It takes about two hours via the Kansai Main Line, the Ise Railway Line, the Kisei Main Line and the Sangu Line.

Mie is operated by DMU (diesel multiple unit), because the section between Kawarada and Toba is non-electrified. The vehicle is the JR Central's KiHa 75 series. It was launched in 1993 to replace the old DMU models in the Nagoya area. So far, a total of 40 sets, 80 units have been built by Nippon Sharyo.

Although it is a minor access route to the Shima area, I saw many passengers on the Mie rapid train, when I used it last year. It was probably because the Mie's fare is lower than that of Kintetsu limited express train. Specifically, young passengers prefer the Mie rapid train.

Side view of the DMU KiHa 75 series

Official information about the DMU KiHa 75 series (in Japanese):

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kochi: Gateway Station to the Historical City

DMU Tosa-Kuroshio Railway 2000 series stands at Kochi Station on the Dosan Line

Kochi Prefecture is situated in the southern part of Shikoku Island, about 600 to 800 km west of Tokyo. Its main city name is also Kochi. As of April this year, Kochi City has a population of 332,000. This city has grown as the castle city of the lords of Tosa Province, since the early 17th century. We can still see the beautiful castle tower in the center of the city as it was.

JR Shikoku's Kochi Station is the gateway to this historical main city. It was opened in 1924 by the ex-Japanese Government Railways. The current station was completed in 2008. It has four elevated non-electrified tracks of the Dosan Line with two platforms covered by a semi-cylindrical dome, called the Whale Dome. The station building was also opened in 2008 beneath the tracks and the platforms. Its interior is unified in white to be full of spaciousness.

When I visited Kochi Station one day in January of this year, I saw two kinds of trains standing at the tracks. They were the diesel rail-car 1000 series and the DMU 2000 series. The former was a local train; while the latter was a limited express Nampu (south wind). Nampu was for Okayama, the main city of Okayama Prefecture on the main island of Japan, via Seto-Ohashi Railway Bridge (13.1 km long suspension bridge on the Seto Inland Sea). The DMU 2000 series is owned by a local company, named Tosa-Kuroshio Railway. 

JR Shikoku Kochi Station