Monthly Archives: September 2011

Where do baby trains come from?

Ever wonder where baby trains come from? This question literally keeps me up for hours (not really).

Well, the answer may come soon as on Saturday, October 8th, 2011, the Niitsu Rolling Stock Manufacturing Factory will be opening it’s doors to the public!

The facility is a massive JR train manufacturing factory located in the southeastern part of Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture.

It’s an extremely rare opportunity to enter this factory as it only allows the public in once a year, much like the Wonka Factory, but no golden ticket will be necessary as admission is free.

Although there are several JR East-owned factories throughout Eastern Japan, this factory’s main product is the E233-Series train, which if you’ve ever been to Tokyo, or have lived in or around there, odds are you have ridden this series.

E233 Series 5000 Model

The E233 Series has numerous models serving many lines in and out of Tokyo including the Keihin-Tohoku Line, Keiyo Line, Chuo Line, Negishi Line, Joban Line, and a couple of others, all which are major arteries in the entire Tokyo Metropolitan transportation system. On this day only, visitors to the factory will have the chance to ride an E233 fresh from the factory line itself, right before being shipped off to Tokyo for service.

Other activities throughout the day include:

  • A tour of the factory itself
  • A ride along a miniaturized version of the E233
  • A ride along a miniaturized version of a Steam Locomotive (SL)
  • Model Train exhibition

…among others.

Below are some links that have additional detail about the event:

Detailed list of events: Here.
Poster of the event: Here.

Factory opens at 10:00am and will close at 3:30pm. There’ll be a free shuttle running from Niitsu Station to the factory, or you can choose to walk, which takes about 15 minutes.

I’ll be doing live updates via Twitter throughout the day, and will write a report about the factory in the days to follow.

Any questions about the factory, about the site, or have a suggestion for something I should cover? Leave a comment!


Thank you, thank you! This blog has hit 3,000 views!!!

Since opening this blog last December, I’ve made 23 posts, have gone on at least 7 trips throughout the country, and there are a few of you who have commented on my posts, which I look forward to more than anything else. For that, thank you!!

I love traveling, whether it be my train, car, monorail, boat, bicycle, mule, whatever….and I want this blog to be a bigger part of my travels not only in Japan, but around the world. For these reasons, I’ve decided to start a twitter page (and it seems like I’m the last in the world to start an account…).

Follow furenchitoasto on Twitter

On Twitter, I’ll be making posts as I’m on the train, taking pictures of whatever seems interesting. It’s almost like you get to ride along with me! Also, I like to think of it as a Behind the Scenes view into what goes into this blog.

Whether you follow or not, thanks for reading!

Finally, I want to make a promise. I will update this site at least ONCE a week from now on.

There have been a few times where it can go weeks without a post, but I’ve realized that the deeper I dive into the Japanese Railway culture, the more stuff there is to talk about. Until next time!

Steam trains are loud.

I was taking a trip to Akita Pref. when I had to make a transfer at Niigata Station.

Little did I know, I was just in time to catch this leaving the station:

This is a C57-180 series steam locomotive, which usually makes the trip from Niigata to Aizu-Wakamatsu along the Banetsu-East line. However, due to heavy rain, flooding, and landslides from a storm that ripped through the area at the end of July, part of the line has been washed away and is still undergoing repairs.

So, railway officials have changed the course of the SL until the line can be repaired and also changing the name of the service to SL夏休み体験号, or the SL Summer Vacation Experience Train. The trip isn’t as long as the one to Aizu-Wakamatsu, but at least it allows JR to continue to run the steam train during the summer vacation.

Anyways, I wasn’t in Niigata to ride the SL. I was there to ride this:

Kirakira Uetsu

I’ll be writing about this in a soon to be published post, so keep an eye out for that.

The Most Mysterious Station in Japan: Doai Station

Doai Station is just one out of the hundreds of stations that exist in the JR East family. But like most families, there’s going to be that very distant fifth cousin that no one really knows about.

Doai Station is located near the Niigata/Gunma Prefecture border along the JR Joetsu Line.

When heading southbound on the Joetsu Line towards Takasaki/Saitama/Tokyo, Doai Station looks like any other station positioned in the middle of nowhere. There are no station attendants checking or selling tickets, no signage letting you know where you’re at exactly, and not a hint of civilization. But plenty of nature!

it's just you and the mountain bugs

When heading northbound towards Niigata, it’s a completely different experience. Technically, this station has two different platforms, resting on two different levels, far, far apart from each other. This is because at the station just south of Doai, which is Yubiso Station, the Joetsu Line becomes double-tracked, meaning one direction goes one way, and the other another way.

Doai Station at the top, Yubiso Station at the bottom

While the southbound platform is remains outdoor, the northbound platform is deep in the middle of an adjacent mountain. How deep is it?

486 steps deep!! Or 70 meters underground. It’s SO far into the mountain that its been given a special name: 日本一のモグラ駅, or Japan’s number one station for moles.

entrance leading into the station

From the platform to the entrance of the station, it’s more or less a 10-minute walk, depending on how quickly you can go up 486 steps. When reaching the 462nd step, there’s a sign on a (broken) door saying:

From top to bottom: Job well done! 462 steps. Distance from here to the ticket gate is 143 meters away, including two more stairways totaling an additional 24 steps. Good luck!

I believe those little red dots above “Good luck” point out sarcasm…

would it really be that hard to fix it?

At the 474th step, you’ll reach another tunnel with windows looking out towards a river running below.

A few turns later, you’ll come to the main building, which serves as the main entrance to the station. Not the most beautiful place in the world, especially since it looks as cold as the concrete which its built from.

feels more like entering a bomb shelter than a train station

Although there is fixed lighting throughout the entire route, it still remains pretty dark, almost to a point where you’d need a flashlight if venturing around at dark.

As I made my way outside, I got my first glimpse of what was in front of the station. After allowing my eyes to readjust, I was better able to get an idea of what was around.

unfortunately, the station was getting a new paint job during my visit

In front of the station is a bus stop that leads up to Tanikawa-dake, a popular hiking area in the summer, and a great place to take the ropeway up to the top of the mountain and see all the leaves change their color in the autumn.

thats the bridge that leads into the mountain

other half of the bridge leading into the mountain

Beyond the road was quite possibly the clearest, bluest river I’ve ever seen in Japan.

not photoshopped or enhanced!

Since I had an hour to kill before catching my return train, I took the opportunity to dip my feet in for a bit.

“For a bit” may be an overstatement as the water was FREEZING. Instead, I found a nice rock to sit on and tried to take in the nature as much as I could.

Heading up the road, you can see the railroad bridge that crosses over the river. I thought about walking up to the ropeway, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to go hiking, so I make my way back down towards the station.

Following the road back, in the distance was a gift shop, which I’m guessing is a place tour buses stop at when going to and from the ropeway. I already had lunch planned out later in the day, but a snack did sound nice, so I walked over there to see what they had.

wasn't even sure it was open, considering the absence of cars in the parking lot

Inside, was a gift shop that sold local specialities and sweets. Adjacent to that was a restaurant that sold your typical Japanese lunches, such as curry and rice, pork cutlets, and udon and soba noodles. I ended up getting Tanikawa no Tsuki, which is a small cake that can be filled with various flavors. I got the chocolate filled one, which ended up being a good choice!

also comes in strawberry cream and custard flavors!

also comes in strawberry cream and custard flavors!

It was then time to head back to the station. It’s hard to visualize what it’s like descending nearly 500 steps to a train platform…

…so I took a video of it for you to enjoy.

looking northbound

If you’re a hiker, it’s a very convenience station to go to because of all the trails in the area. If you’re a train nut like myself, these quirky, unique stations are a treat to visit. But I would imagine that anyone outside of those two interests would find little reason to get off at Doai Station. According to a report released by the Gunma Prefectural Government, an average of only 16 people use this station in one day. Amazing when you consider the fact that nearly 3.5 million people use Shinjuku Station in Tokyo every day.

However, if it means that I can travel to more places that so few people get the chance to do, then it only makes the journey a tad more memorable, yeah?

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