Category Archives: Uncategorized

The train factory will have to wait…

In the previous post, I wrote about a train factory in Niigata Prefecture allowing the public to view the inside of the factory. The event will still continue as planned tomorrow, but I’m afraid that due to a very sudden family emergency, I will be not be able to make it and instead have to head to Tokyo.

It’s unfortunate as this factory opens it’s doors only once a year to the public, and I thought it would make a very interesting article, but I’ll just have to try again next year.

However, I know that until then, there will be plenty of train adventures in between that time! So, there will always be something to look forward to.

Since I’ll be in Tokyo for the weekend, if I see anything interesting (train-related or not) I’ll post it to my Twitter page.

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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!


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?


Hobbies are expensive.

early happy birthday to me.

I just couldn’t help myself.

I was already planning to use the JR East Japan Pass next month to travel around Tohoku, and I knew that the chances of riding the new E5 Hayabusa were slim to none since it’s only in service twice a day and seat reservations fill up FAST (tickets go on sale a month before at 10:00am, and are usually gone by 10:01am).

But when I saw that there was ONE seat available in Gran Class, I had to take it, despite the cost. Quoting a friend, it’s the ”pinnicle of the JR fleet.” I don’t know how the option was available. Maybe someone cancelled their seat, or made a mistake? I have no idea.

But all I know is that on July 9th, I have the pleasure of being one of the few people that day to ride the most luxurious seat on the most luxurious train in Japan.

Expect a FULL report complete with tons of pictures and a few videos.

Also, I’ll put up the conclusion of the Niigata Stamp Rally this weekend.


Lunch Break

Thought it was too nice of a day to stay inside for lunch, so I ventured a bit outside of the office to a nearby ice cream shop. Hopped to the park across the street and watched the trains go by. I was gonna take a picture of the ice cream as the Shinkansen was rolling by, but it was starting to melt. Can’t ignore a melting ice cream cone, right?

Later in the week, expect a write-up about the Echigo 2-Day Pass, a regional rail pass for Niigata Prefecture. Also, I’ll be taking a trip this weekend (using said pass), so keep on the lookout for that too. Hopefully the weather can be as well-behaved as it was today. –fingers crossed–


Welcome to Densha de Japan!

Ah, the first post. Breathe her in.

To be honest, this isn’t my first time to write a blog. I used to write one a few years ago about coming to Japan. Unfortunately, that never seemed to materialize…but yet, 4 years later, I thought I finally have enough interesting stuff to talk about.

And that folks, will be about the Japanese Railway System. -fanfare-

Ughghghghghghggg...

 

But why? How have I become a 鉄ちゃん (tecchan=railway fan)?? Well, I grew up and lived in Southern California for 24 years. Anyone who’s ever been there knows that you can’t get anywhere without a car. Sure, there’s a Metro through Downtown LA and also some trains that run north and south to and from San Diego. But it’s not efficient! If you’re looking to get somewhere quickly, using your car is the way to go…but even getting to your destination quickly isn’t guaranteed with all the traffic. And then there’s the mess of trying to get onto the right freeway and….ugh, sweet jesus.

Let’s get back on topic. So, I came to Japan, carless, and had to rely on public transportation for the first time in my life. It was at THAT MOMENT that I fell in love with trains. Of course, the bullet train is a technological marvel…having the ability to whisk people away at 300 km/h ON TIME. But I also came to rely on local trains a lot. Their rails network nationwide connecting you to huge metropolitans like Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, but at the same time burrowing deep through the Japanese Alps and it’s countless lush, green, beautiful forests. Looking out the window of a train, staring at the woods, I can’t help but wonder if Totoro is in there somewhere. Millions of people use the train everyday, and for good reason. It’s fast, efficient, safe, and relatively cheap…sometimes. Continuing on…

Why a train blog?

Well, I figured this: theres already TONS of blogs in English about different aspects of Japanese culture such as anime, Japanese ramen, Pokemon, maid cafes, AKB48, English teachers who hate their students, animated tentacle sex, Japanese bento boxes, weird stuff sold in convenient stores, and of course, crazy Japanese inventions.

 

Oh, that last site never gets old.

With that being said, I can not find a comprehensive train blog in English. Sure, some sites have nibbles of information here or there, but nothing where I can be like, WOW THAT WAS HELPFUL AND ALL IN ONE PLACE. I suppose that goal was left for someone like me. And I’m willing to take on the challenge…if you’re willing to read of course. And if not, that’s cool too.

So, let’s explore Japan together, by train. I know you wanna. Besides, where else could you find shit like this:

 

Is this even real?


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