Friday, 30 March 2018

2018 Sakura Season in Tokyo: The Inokashira Line

EMU Keio 1000 series travels on the Inokashira Line backed by fully bloomed Sakura trees

On March 17th, the Meteorological Agency of Japan declared that sakura (cherry) blossoms had started blooming in Tokyo. The agency then reported that they fully blossomed on March 24th.

As I post year after year, Japanese people harbor romantic emotions towards sakura blossoms. We are also reminded of the emptiness of life seeing the beautiful blossoms dropping only a week after they fully blossom. This season is precious for us. Sakura viewing is a part of Japanese culture; famous sakura spots are crowded with admirers. They spread mats on the ground under the blossoms, and have parties with their family, friends and colleagues.

This year, I visited Takaido, which is close to my parents' house. We can see beautiful sakura trees on the bank of the Kanda River and the Keio-Inokashira Line. It is a place filled with memories for me since I went to a kindergarten in Takaido when I was a kid. We kindergarten pupils often walked along the stream and the track with our teacher seeing the fully bloomed sakura trees and the rattling trains.

Currently, the EMU 1000 series is the sole model on the Inokashira Line. It was launched in 1996 to replace the old model, the 3000 series. A total of 29 sets were built by Tokyu Sharyo and Nippon Sharyo. The 1000 series comprises five 20 m-long cars. The first batch is composed of two motor cars and three trailers, while the second batch is changed to consist of three motor cars and two trailers to prevent from racing.

A fully bloomed Sakura tree and the EMU Keio 1000 series

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Sayonara to the Old Express Train

Set 2011 (original color) of the EMU Keikyu 2000 series (March, 2018)

On March 5th, Keikyu Corporation made a press release announcing that their old express train, the EMU 2000 series, will be retired from the track by the end of March.

The 2000 series was commissioned in 1982 for the express train. A total of 12 sets, 72 cars, were built by Tokyu Sharyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. One set comprised 8 or 4 cars. The 2000 series originally had 4 doors per car and cross seats. One car had both forward and backward facing seats across the center of a car, which means that the passengers looked at each other across the center of a car. It was quite unique.

In 1998, a new express model, namely EMU 2100 series, was launched. The position of the Keikyu's flagship train was replaced with the 2100 series. The 2000 series was modified to become the standard commuter trains with 6 doors per car and long seats. The color design of the train bodies was also changed to the standard one, which is red with a white stripe under the windows. Set 2011 only has the original color design, which is two-toned red and ivory. Recently, the 2000 series was commissioned as the airport access train between Haneda Airport and the Yokohama area.

According to a media report, the last run of the 2000 series was conducted on March 25th. Many rail-fans flocked to the Keikyu Line. Sayonara (good-bye) and Arigatou (thank you), the 2000 series.

Set 2018 of the EMU Keikyu 2000 series before modification
Photo: Nicolai Okkels (1996)

Friday, 23 March 2018

Visit to Fujimigaoka Railyard

Fujimigaoka Railyard near Fujimigaoka Station on the Keio Inokashira Line

Do you have good luck of the draw? No, I don't. I have normally no luck with lotteries at all, but I was recently a lucky person. I won the lottery to join the opening of Fujimigaoka Railyard on the Keio-Inokashira Line. I visited there on March 17th, while grasping the winning notification of the lottery. It was a warm and clear day on the weekend so that I could fully enjoy this precious opportunity.

Fujimigaoka is the sole railyard on the Keio-Inokashira Line, which is located next to Fujimigaoka station. A total of 29 sets, 145 units of rolling stock are maintained there. They are all the EMU 1000 series, which was commissioned in 1996. One of the features of this stainless-steel body EMU is that each train set shows a different color on the front mask and side lines. Those are salmon-pink, white, ivory-white, lilac-colored and so on. The electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. The gauge size is 1,067 mm, which is different from the Keio Line.

In the railyard, I saw many rail-fans, families and couples. Children were playing with the miniature Keio trains. On the other hand, rail-fans like me could see precious scenes such as the lifting up of a train body by a crane. I also experienced train washing by a washing machine boarding on a train.

For a memory of the visit, I purchased a new pen case, which is made of train sheet cloth, before leaving the railyard.

Lifting up of a train body by a crane

Official information about the trains on the Keio and Inokashira lines (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Public Transportation in the Waterfront Area

EMU Tokyo Monorail 1000 series travels in the waterfront area of Tokyo Metropolis

Tokyo is a super-high density city. More than 30 million people live in this small metropolitan area. It has been spreading into the suburbs, underground, air and sea. There are many reclaimed lands on Tokyo Bay. What is the public transportation like in this newly created waterfront area?

Firstly, the railway is the main transportation artery. The JR East Keiyo Line plays an important role in the eastern part of the waterfront area. It was fully opened in 1990, connecting Tokyo and Soga in Chiba Prefecture.

Secondly, AGT (Automated Guideway Transit) is also important in the central part of the waterfront area. The Yurikamome Line was opened in 1995, connecting Shimbashi and Ariake. It was later extended to Toyosu, a newly developed residential quarter.

Thirdly, the Monorail is a traditional transportation mean. The Haneda Line of Tokyo Monorail Company was opened in the western part of the waterfront area in 1964, connecting Hamamatsucho and Tokyo International Airport (Haneda). The track was mainly constructed on the canals in the reclaimed lands. 

Please don't forget one more public transportation mean. It is a water bus. Currently, at least three companies operate several routes in the waterfront area. They have unique boats to attract passengers. A newly established Urban Launch has a small boat. Connecting Shibaura, Odaiba and Toyosu, the company operates seven services per day. The route is located mainly on the canals, rivers and the coastal part of Tokyo Bay.

Mini-travel in the waterfront area is an excellent attraction in Tokyo.

A water bus travels in the waterfront area of Tokyo Metropolis

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Nostalgic Diesel Rail-car on the Tenryu-Hamanako Line

Diesel rail-car, TH3501, travels on the Tenryu-Hamanako Line

As I posted before, Tenryu-Hamanako Railway is a local company in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 270 km west of Tokyo. It is the former Futamata Line of Japanese National Railways (JNR), and was spun off from JNR and privatized in 1986. Connecting Kakegawa and Shinjohara on the JR Central Tokaido Main Line, the route length is 67.7 km. The track is single and non-electrified. The gauge size is 1,067 mm. A lovely diesel rail-car is operated every half an hour on average.

Along with the TH2100 series, which I introduced before, a diesel rail-car, TH3000 series, plays an important role on the Tenryu-Hamanako Line. The TH3000 was launched in 1995 to increase transportation capacity of the line. A total of two units were built by Fuji Heavy Industries (present Subaru). One unit, named TH3502, was scrapped in 2010; therefore, only one unit, named TH3501, is operated as an active member. The TH3000 series has an 18 meter-long steel body and a diesel engine, which was made by Cummins Inc., with 257 kW output. The transmission system is hydraulic.

Currently, TH3501 is operated as a "Slow Life Train". Its concept is enjoying what the Japanese landscape used to be. Riding the slow train, passengers can enjoy the nostalgic landscape in the countryside. For that purpose, beautiful window curtains and headrests are equipped as train interior decorations. They are made by Finnish fabric brand, Marimekko.

Riding the TH3000 series diesel rail-car, I enjoyed the slow life on the Tenryu-Hamanoko Line with my family.

Diesel rail-car, TH 2100 series (left) and TH3500 series (right)

Official information about Tenryu Hamanako Railway:
https://www.tenhama.co.jp/english/
Official information about Slow Life Train (in Japanese):
Official information about the trains on the Tenryu-Hamanako Line (in Japanese):

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Two Rebirth Stories in Ome City

Electric locomotive ED16 1 is preserved in the Ome Railway Park (April, 2013)

Ome is a small city located in the western part of Tokyo Metropolis. I visited this suburban city with my family last month, and found two rebirth stories.

The first story is about plums. Ome was famous for its plum blossoms, after which the city was named. In late February, the plum trees showed off their beautiful white and pink-colored flowers here and there. It was the herald of spring. The tragedy occurred in 2009. Many plum trees in the city were infected with Plum pox virus. It was the first case in Japan. After the specialists' investigation, the mayor decided to cut down all the plum trees in public places, and replanted seedlings. Now that nine years have passed since the replanting, the plum trees in Ome Plum Park have bloomed beautifully, although the trees are still small.

The second rebirth story is about the exhibitions in Ome Railway Park. This unique museum was opened in 1962 by ex-Japanese National Railways. A total of 11 retired rolling stocks, such as EMUs and locomotives, were exhibited. The problem was that some exhibitions were damaged by time. In 2017, the museum finally decided to repair precious exhibitions such as the electric locomotive, Class ED16. As you may know, the Class ED16 was a direct current locomotive for freight trains. It was launched in 1931 on the Chuo Main Line and the Joetsu Line.

I am looking forward to the rebirthing of plum blossoms and the old rolling stock in Ome City. 

Ome Plum Park (March, 2018)

Monday, 12 March 2018

Special Nostalgic Train on the Ginza Line

Set 39 of the EMU Tokyo Metro 1000 series leaves Omotesando Station on the Ginza Line

As I posted before, the EMU Tokyo Metro 01 series had been retired from the Ginza Line by March 9th, 2017. It means that the EMU 1000 series was the sole model operated on the line. As a rail-fan, I wanted a variation of the trains on the Ginza Line.

I received good news on January 17th, 2017. Tokyo Metro launched a special train, set 39 of the 1000 series, on the Ginza Line, as if they met my expectations. What is the difference between standard sets and set 39 of the 1000 series? Set 39 has more classical bodies and interiors than those of the standard sets. For instance, set 39 has window sills and headers-like body design. It also has a large single front light. There are wood-grain-like interior walls. Interior auxiliary lamps are equipped. The handholds are brass-like. These preferences come from the electric car 1001, which was known as the first Japanese subway train built in 1927. I saw electric car 1001 several times in the Subway Museum. I felt that set 39 and electric car 1001 were very similar.

The Ginza subway is the oldest subway route in Japan. It was partially opened between Ueno and Asakusa (2.2km) in 1927. Then, the entire route, between Shibuya and Asakusa (14.3km), was fully opened in 1934 by Tokyo Subway Company (present Tokyo Metro). The track gauge is 1,435mm and the electric system is 600V DC. The electric collecting system is the third rail without pantographs.

Interior of set 39, EMU Tokyo Metro 1000 series

Official information about the special train of the EMU1000 series (in Japanese):

Friday, 9 March 2018

Shell Mound on the Chiba Urban Monorail Line

EMU Chiba Urban Monorail 0 series travels on the Route 2

Where did your ancestors come from? How many of your ancestors do you know about? I know only that my ancestors lived in present-Kanagawa prefecture located about 30 km southwest of Tokyo. It was not more than 200 years ago.

Then, what was your ancestor's style of living about 5,000 years ago? It is a difficult question. The only thing that I can do is to see archaeological ruins. Kasori Shell Mound is a good example. It is located in Chiba City, about 40 km east of Tokyo. The Shell Mound is a dump site of the ancients. It was placed around their settlements. The primary garbage is shells, but animal and fish bones are also found. It looks like just a natural fossil bed, but it was artificial because traces of bonfire were also found in the mound. Currently, this shell mound is covered with a roof. Visitors can observe the illuminated section of the mound through the glass. Kasori Shell Mound was designated a Special Historic Site in 2017 by the government.

To visit this precious site, the nearest station is Sakuragi on Route 2 of the Chiba Urban Monorail. The EMU 0 series is the latest model launched in 2012. A total of 4 sets, 8 units were built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 2012 and 2014. It was given the nickname Urban Flyer, as passengers can enjoy the flying experience as a birdman.

I enjoyed the ancient style of living and the latest flying experience on the same day.

Kasori Shell Mound near Sakuragi Station on the Route 2 of the Chiba Urban Monorail line

Official information about the trains on the Chiba Urban Monorail lines (in Japanese):

Monday, 5 March 2018

EMU 3000V Series: New Model with Slanted Eyes

EMU 3000V series is exhibited at Nippa Rail Yard (October, 2017)

What kind of automobile design is popular in your country? In Japan, many new models have "slanted eye-shaped front lights". This is also true of trains. For instance in Tokyo, the EMU Keio 5000 series and the 5th batch of the Tokyo Metro 9000 series have slanted eye-shaped front lights. Similarly, the EMU Hankyu 1000 series and the JR West 225 series in Osaka have slanted eye-shaped front lights.

I also found a new model, which has slanted eye-shaped front lights in Yokohama. On April 9th, 2017, the Transportation Bureau, City of Yokohama (Yokohama Municipal Subway) launched a new model, the EMU 3000V series on their Blue Line. It debuted to replace an old model, the 3000A series. So far, only one set (six units) is commissioned, but Yokohama Municipal Subway plans to introduce six more sets (36 units) by 2022.

The 3000V series has a similar technical specification with that of previous models, but the 3000V series has new equipment, such as PQ monitoring bogies. The PQ monitoring bogie has special sensors to measure axle load (P) and horizontal pressure (Q). The PQ data is used for evaluating derailment risk. 

The Blue Line (40.4 km) is one of the main transportation arteries in Yokohama City. It has a total of 12 transfer stations to other railways making it very convenient. The electric collecting system is the third rail without pantograph, which is the same as the subway Ginza and Marunouchi lines in Tokyo.

EMU Yokohama Municipal Subway 1000 series (left) and 3000V series (right)

Official information about the trains on the Yokohama Municipal Subway lines (in Japanese):

Saturday, 3 March 2018

C11 368: Preserved SL in Nakano Ward

Steam locomotive C11 368 is preserved in Momijiyama Park near Nakano Station

Nakano is one of 23 wards in Tokyo Metropolis. It is located about 15 km west of the downtown area. Last month, I visited there to meet with my old friend. On my way back home, I stopped at Momijiyama Park near JR East Nakano Station to see a preserved steam locomotive (SL), named C11 368.

The class C11 was launched in 1932 to reinforce the transportation capacity on the local lines of Japanese Government Railways. It is a 2-6-4 type (Whyte notation) small tank locomotive. The maximum speed was 85 km/hour. The maximum output was 783 PS. A total of 381 units were built by Kisha Seizo, Kawasaki Sharyo, Hitachi and Nippon Sharyo. C11 368 was built in 1946 as the fourth batch of the class C11 SL by Nagoya Factory of Nippon Sharyo. After travelling 1.13 million km in the Sendai area of the Tohoku District, C11 368 was retired from the track in 1972, and preserved in Asukayama Park in Nakano Ward.

Currently, a total of 45 units of the class C11 are preserved in public parks, museums and rail yards throughout Japan. For instance, C11 245 is exhibited in Kugenuma Sports Park near JR East Fujisawa Station in Kanagawa Prefecture. On the other hand, C11 292 is preserved in Shimbashi SL Square near JR East Shimbashi Station in Tokyo Metropolis.

The steam locomotive class C11... it is even more popular since it was retired from the track.

Side view of steam locomotive C11 368

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Image of Kannon in Takasaki City

EMU JR East 211-3000 series stands at Takasaki Station on the Shinetsu Main Line

Many cities in the world have their own landmarks. For instance, New York has the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. In Japan, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree or Rainbow Bridge may be the landmarks of Tokyo Metropolis. What about in local cities? Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture has a beautiful castle. What about in Takasaki?

As I posted before, Tasasaki is located about 100 km north of Tokyo. It is famous among rail-fans as the city of locomotives. As its name suggests, many classic locomotives are still preserved and operated there. Takasaki has a famous landmark, named the image on Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) standing on Mt. Kannon. It was constructed in 1936 by a local businessman, Inoue Yasusaburo, for paying respect to the war dead. Its height is 41.8 meters, which was the tallest image of Kannon in the world at that time. Visitors can climb up the stairs inside and enjoy the beautiful city view from the top of the image of Kannon.

To get to this landmark, the nearest station is Takasaki on the JR East lines. When I visited there last December, I saw the EMU 211 series standing at the station. Unfortunately, my favorite old train, the 115 series with Shonan-colored bodies was not there, as it has been retired one after another. According to JR East, all the EMU 115 series trains with Shonan-colored bodies will disappear from the Takasaki Branch Office area by the end of March.

Byakue Kannon near Takasaki Station