Friday, May 6, 2016

Traditional Craft on the Nagaragawa Railway

Diesel railcar Nagara 500 series arrives at Minami-Kodakara Onsen Station
Mino is a small city in Gifu Prefecture, about 420 km west of Tokyo. The city is famous for being the producer of traditional handmade paper, "Mino-washi", which has a history of about 1,200 years. The oldest record of Mino-washi is seen in a government document in 702. In 1985, Mino-washi was designated a Traditional Craft by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry).

Mino-washi is tough, bug-proof, and really versatile. Sometimes it is dyed after the sheets are dry, instead of during the paper-making process. You can see beautiful Mino-washi artworks in the Mino Washi Akari Art Hall in the downtown area.

To visit this art city, please take Nagaragawa Railway and get off at Mino-shi Station. Nagaragawa Railway was partially opened as the Etsumi-nansen (Etsumi South Line) by Japanese Government Railways in 1923. It then fully opened in 1934 between Mino Oota and Hokuno stations (72.1 km). The route was privatized under the name of Nagaragawa Railway in 1986. The track is single and un-electrified. The gauge size is 1,067 mm.

One of the fleets on the route is the 17 m-long diesel railcar, Nagara 500 series, launched in 2007. So far, a total of three units have been built by Niigata Transys. It has a Hitachi 295 ps / 2100 rpm direct blast type diesel engine. A grape colored body with light blue and white stripes is my favorite.

Traditional handmade papers and lovely trains... enjoy your holidays in Mono City!

Mino-washi artworks are exhibited at the Mino Washi Akari Art Hall near Mino-shi Station
Official information about rollingstock of Nagaragawa Railway (in Japanese):

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 Sakura Season in the Chichibu Area

EMU Seibu 9000 series travels on the Ikebukuro Line
Even if Someiyoshino (a kind of cherry) blossoms fall, the other kinds of Sakura (cherry) start blooming in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Yaezakura (double cherry) is a famous Sakura blooming after Someiyoshino. As its name suggests, Yaezakura has double petals. Their pink color is darker than those of Someiyoshino.
My favorite spot to view Yaezakura is Mt. Hodo in the Chichibu area, which is located about 90 km northwest of Tokyo. In late April, the foot of the mountain is wrapped by a dark pink color. After the sunset, we can also enjoy yozakura (viewing cherry blossoms at night), as it is beautifully lit up.
To view this gorgeous Yaezakura, please take the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line to Seibu-Chichibu, then transfer to the Chichibu Railway to Nagatoro, the nearest station to Mt. Hodo. One of the major fleet on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line is the EMU 9000 series. It is the final model of the yellow colored train on the line. The 9000 series was launched in 1993 reusing the old equipment of the retired 101 series. So far, a total of 8 sets, 80 carriages have been built by the Seibu Tokorozawa Factory.

Due to reusing of equipment from the old train, the specification of the 9000 series was rather old. Seibu Railway converted the old rheostatic electric control system into the latest VVVF inverter (variable frequency drive) system from 2004 to 2007.

Boarding on the yellow colored traditional Seibu train, I could visit the traditional Sakura viewing spot comfortably

Full blooming Yaezakura is lit up at the foot of Mt. Hodo in the Chichibu area

Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 Sakura Season on the Chuo Line

EMU JR East 211 series arrives at Shiotsu Station on the Chuo Line

April is the Sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan. With so many hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots available, it's hard to select which one is the best. After wavering, I headed to the west with my family.

Our destination was Uenohara City, located in the eastern part of Yamanashi Prefecture, some 70 km west of Tokyo. It was not an area for sightseeing and/or tourist attractions, but it was a quiet hanami spot in the countryside. The best spot was found along a natural river. Full blown Sakura trees were seen backed by beautiful mountains. Spring has come.

To get to this beautiful spot, we took the JR East Chuo Line. Our vehicle was a local train, the EMU 211 series. The 211 series took over the old 115 series in 2015. A total of 50 sets, 192 units have been moved from the Takasaki, Utsunomiya and Tokaido lines. The 211 series has a stainless steel body with light blue and emerald colored stripes, the same as so called Nagano-color trains.

The 211 series was developed by Japanese National Railways in 1985. It has a bit outdated field excitation electric control system, but we must not forget that the 211 series has realized a large amount of operating cost reduction using its regenerative braking system. I like its whirring sound generated by the DC motor.

Gorgeous cherry blossoms and the local trains... enjoy your spring weekends on the Chuo Line.

The cherry blossoms on the bank of Tsuru River are in full bloom near Uenohara Station