Christmas always provides an opportunity to raid the childhood cupboards. My brother had once owned a Super Nintendo and I was sure it was still in the house somewhere.
I was looking for it because of this...
Yes, they made a "Super Version" of A-Train III for the Super Nintendo. Well.. that is actually where I am wrong... it's for the Super Famicom and this is what I got when trying to run it...
Fail... to emulation we go! A quick google of "Take the A-Train" and "SNES" resulted in the acquisition of a relevant ROM (I own the cartridge, so this is OK, right?) and ZSNES.
From above, you can see everything worked fine. The game jumps through two menus: the first allows you to chose a previous game, or start new, and the second lets you configure a new game. I'll explain all this soon. I'm now waiting for a USB SNES controller to play this properly.
Note that when you are thrown into the map, the whole world rotates smoothly. The developers seem to have used every part of the SNES graphics hardware to produce very smooth translations and sprite effects. Even the music and sound effects are fantastic! This seems to be very different from the standard PC A-Train III.
Whilst continuing my quest to acuire every version of A-Train, I came across the
Sega Megadrive version on eBay. Never one to resist, I did a quick little bit of research to see if it'd work on a console over here once imported. I stubmled across the following eBay page regarding NTSC Megadrive games on PAL consoles and was assured that, although there's a cartridge shape difference, the games could be made to work.
I then found an AtGames Megadrive Clone (that link is to the Genesis, can't see the mega drive on their site?) for dirt cheap on eBay and everything arrived in short order. I disregarded any sound advice on the clones and just bought it. Here's a brutal review of this console. Update: It actually might be that this cartridge wouldn't work on a real Australian Mega Drive and that this clone saved me and allowed me to play the game.
As you can see, the game came boxed and in great condition. An interesting fact: the game cost 8700yen at time of release! The instruction manual is huge and I'll need a lot of help to get through it. Fortunately the game fit perfectly into the Mega Drive Clone.
And the million dollar test...
What's USA doing there? Time to work out how this game differs!
After finding A-Train for the MSX, the Famicom, the Amiga and the Megadrive, I googled a little more and found out that version 3 was released for the PC Engine. Of course, this is the actual version three, not I or II that were released on Japan earlier. It's on par with the first A-Train to be released to the west. I found a copy on eBay and couldn't resist!
Yeah, this was a video game console released by Hudson Soft and NEC in Japan. It was later released in the west as the TurboGrafx-16. It was released at around the same time as the SNES and Sega Genesis.
This console made history as the first to have a CD-ROM expansion and then an inbuilt CD-ROM when the Duo was released. The console kept evolving and a second version of the PC Engine CD-ROM format was released. They named it Super CD-ROM². Older machines could be 'upgraded' via a System Card (HuCard) to be able to read the newer CD format.
Multiple variations of the PC Engine were built, check out the wikipedia link for more information.
A-Train III for the PC Engine
This version of A-Train has great sound effects and utilises the CD Audio for background music. It requires the Super CD-ROM² System Card to boot.
I don't actually have a PC Engine, so I did a little investigation on how to emulate it. Turns out that Magic Engine needs to be purchased and mednafen needs a serious amount of configuration work to boot off a real CD.
Running with Ootake
This couldn't be easier... download Ootake from here and install it. You'll find an icon on your desktop once installed; double-click this. Initially you're greeted with a disclaimer. Insert your Game CD and then choose CD-ROM. You'll need a system card image to boot into the machine as a Super CD-ROM², a little googling should get this for you without too much effort. Once you've selected the file, hit OK...
Now to work out how to play the game ... Ootake emulates the PC Engine Mouse and this game happily uses it, so it shouldn't be too different from the other versions!
Thanks to Jetstar, I've been frequenting Narita International Airport lately as there is a great Melbourne to Tokyo direct flight on the Dreamliner 787. Sure, it's Jetstar, so you know what you're getting, but the red-eye timing is great on the way there and it's also not too early in the morning on the way back. Unfortunately, it seems that Qantas has seen how lucrative this leg is and will take it back early in the new year?
Getting to and from Narita Airport quickly means taking either take the JR East N'EX or Keisei Skyliner. On the way, other small towns flick by in the windows... these Limited Express trains don't bother stopping when it's not convenient.
Thanks again to Jetstar, we suffered a huge delay when returning to Melbourne. Well, actually, it wasn't Jetstar's fault. Melbourne Airport received a bad batch of aviation fuel and any plane loaded with it had to dump its tanks. Other planes waiting for fuel had nowhere to go and no fuel to receive.
Due to this, our operating aircraft was delayed. I received an email at midnight (before a midday flight the next day) telling me that my 12:50 would leave at 14:45. That's awesome when you're in Tokyo, as there's no end of stuff to do. Unfortunately, the email did not mention what time check-in was. Since the plane was suffering a 2+ hour delay, could I go to the check-in 2+ hours later? This was non-refundable-cargo-hold-style Jetstar and so I wasn't going to take that risk. I made it to the check-in desk at 10am for my 14:45 flight and the attendant happily checked in my obese bag! (Famicom + Games, MSX + Games, Model Trains, Pla-Rail, etc)
Now, thanks to Jetstar being an LCC, I was in Terminal 3 in Narita Airport with not much to do. I really like the terminal; the 'running track' is great to get people into the orderly fashion of Japan straight away and the food court is nice. But ... once through security (and they even warn you with signs stating so) there is nothing do to but sit in massage chairs.
It was 1030, the flight wasn't boarding until 1420. That was ... nearly 4 hours! Let's check out the closest town.
Yes, there is actually a town called Narita. It's located just south-west of the airport and isn't huge. The limited express trains of both companies (they have individual stations) often don't stop here. Therefore I jumped on the next Keisei local train (I no longer had a JR Pass and I wanted to test the competition) and travelled one stop.
So far, 15 minute walk to the station from Terminal 3, 2 minute ticket purchase, 5 minute wait and then 10 minute transit. We're here! McDonald's is out the front of the Keisei Narita Station. I had my last binge on delicious Japanese-style western food.
A quick walk north-east along the Keisei route saw a vista of a sweeping curve, but the elevation to take a shot from the road was too low. I intruded on a building's fire-escape and was quickly asked to move on.
It seems that, although it's a small town, I'm not the first Gaijin here and other intruders have done the same thing. If so, I'm not surprised; it would've been perfect to have the Skyliner bolting in with the sun where it was.
JR Narita Station
Oh well, time to check out JR. Wandering along any road north-west from Keisei will get you to the JR Narita Station. It's a lot larger and has a nice yard to the south. The N'EX trains come through frequently, but I was never in the right place at the right time.
There's a viewing deck on the far side, near the bicycle parking. After this, I circumnavigated the yard to the south-west. At the time, this seemed like a great idea. I was wrong though... it's a LONG walk and it was already hot with the sun in your face most of the way. The road also doesn't provide any vantage point to the railway below. Once you get to the south-eastern side of the tracks, you're then too elevated to get a good shot without catenary. It was still nice to check out the sleepy town though!
Keisei Narita Station
After dawdling further around, you'll start intercepting level crossings for Keisei. This doesn't happen with JR, as their tracks are all grade-separated. From the south-west, where the companies rails cross (oh crap... if I'd looked at a map then I would've gone down to check out this over/under!) you can walk up the main road between both companies. You get a good view of Keisei to the right and the odd view of JR between buildings.
Further down the road, on the right, you'll hit some level crossings.
And then... if you hang for longer than 20-or-so minutes, you're bound to see the one we're all waiting for.
Now that I look back; waiting down at the area where JR passes over Keisei, regardless of the incorrect morning light, would've been a great opportunity. Oh well.. gives me something to go back for!
From here, it was a quick local trip back to the airport for a second and then third lunch.
Is it just me or does Keisei have an Amtrak feel to their livery?
N3331 Bar and Cafe is located inside the mAAch ecute building in Ochanomizu, Tokyo. This is actually the old Manseibashi Train Station on the Chuo Line between Ochanomizu and Kanda Stations. Unfortunately, trains no longer stop here, so you'll need to walk from either of the stations mentioned above. You can also get here from Akihabara or the Tokyo Metro Kanda Subway Station, Shin-Ochanomizu Subway Station or Awajicho Subway Station.
The cafe actually populates the entire width of a short section of the original station platform and is therefore located right between the rails. You'll get to see a variety of local, express and limited express trains from your table.
Note, it is required that you place an order prior to entering the cafe. I assume that the proprietor gets a lot of seat-warmers, rather than patrons and therefore at least wants a small amount of custom from each guest. The Kirin lager is delicious!
You'll also be vying for position. As you can tell, the best table is up the end where the tecchan were recording the movements. Unfortunately they therefore were my subjects as well as the trains :)
Sun sets early in Winter and the beer glasses were empty; so it was off to Akihabara for one last shopping expedition. Exiting the building proves how nice the renovations are.
A short walk and you're back in the thick of it!
After a lovely t-shirt-and-shorts-weather 25 degrees in Miyazaki, it was colder in Osaka. A few days later we arrived in Tokyo to a pleasant day, somewhat similar to Osaka weather.
After failing to correctly find a good location in the Urawa area last time, I had decided this time it was time to venture onto the Musashino Line and check out the freight as they branch down from the north.
This station is located to the west of Musashi-Urawa station and forms the left leg of the triangle with the Tohoku Line. Because of this, any freight that wants to head west uses this line to bypass the city. I arrived there on a really nice pre-winter afternoon and the setting sun provided a very surreal glow on all trains approaching from the east.
You can tell you're in the right place when there's already a row of fans blocking your first shot :)
I saw one express passenger train, but it wasn't until now that I realised it was a school excursion! The kanji is 修学旅行.
Next up was an EMU transfer. Totally fluked it.
Back to Minamisenju
I'd stayed in hostels here before, but this time I chose AirBNB. The apartment was in Arakawa-ku and had an amazing view of the Joban line, right after the freight line joined from the Sumidagawa Yard.
There was a constant barrage of passenger trains, including express trains.
And then the odd freight train!
Having a beer on the balcony provided a perfect end to a fun day. The weather was getting eerily cool though.
First Tokyo November Snow in 54 Years?
WTF... it was freezing. What was happening... the sunset was amazing the evening before... where'd the heat go?
Hahaha... that is ACTUALLY snow. And the flakes are huge. It's even settled around the neighbourhood already!
Venturing out into it saw that the trains were actually struggling. Quite a few delays and a few track faults? I always laugh when Melbourne fails in the heat but never expected Japan to be caught unawares.
Back to Nishi-Urawa, the long way...
As that I was staying right next to Minamisenju Station, and knowing that freight traversed the Musashino Line, a direct path was cut to the closest Musashino Station. This happened to be Shin-Koshigaya Station on the Tobu SkyTree Line. Initially a local train was taken, but a transfer to an express occurred halfway down the line when the delays meant that the local would take a lot longer than expected.
The snow was simply beautiful and not getting any lighter. It was actually making it pretty hard to focus on the trains over the large flakes!
At Shin-Koshigaya Station, lunch was had at Matsuya. Once thawed out, we entered JR Minami-Koshigaya Station and departed for Nishi-Urawa once more.
Even in the snow, there were still avid fans taking photos.
This shot was nearly totally blocked by the EMU. My fellow photo taker got a little excited!
An umbrella would've been a really great idea... keeping snow off the lens was a challenge.
From there it was off to Akihabara...
Night Time in Minamisenju
Japan is always picturesque at night, so we went for an urban crawl photographing the scenes whilst trying not to freak out the locals.
That last shot is a bit of cool street art depicting the Arakawa Street Car line that has a terminus just around the corner.
Freight at Mikawashima Station
The next day was back to brisk but sunny weather, so we checked out the area to the west of the apartment.
The freight line drops away from the Joban Line at Mikawashima Station and there are a few level crossings to be taken advantage of. Unfortunately, the lighting in the morning isn't good for west-bound trains.
Arakawa Toden Line
This is a small tram line running in the inner-north of Tokyo. It's all single-car EMUs and runs light rail at the east end.
Most of my photos are in the shade as the line runs between tall buildings most of the time. I recommend checking it out later in the day!
Last day in Minamisenju
A final shot from the balcony in the late-morning sun provided great lighting!
The one location I haven't mentioned yet is the Sumidagawa Freight Yard which was just east of where I was staying. I've been here before a few times and have never been disappointed. There's always something being shunted, as well as services departing and arriving. This time they have a new hybrid shunter!
And that was a wrap.. I'll post two more articles on Tokyo. We stopped through the N3331 Cafe in Ochanomizu and also ventured into Narita town itself as Jetstar delayed our flight!
From Shimonoseki, a Hikari was taken to Osaka. Staying in the Shin-Osaka area meant for a bit of urban exploring around the Yodogawa precinct.
This is the first station to the north of Shin-Osaka station. It's only for local trains, so most pass. There's a level crossing right next to the station and the gates are down more often than not. It's the Kyoto/Tokaido Line, so you'll see a good selection of both freight and express passenger trains. There's also a recycle shop on the 'west' side of the level crossing where I happened to buy my Famicom from!
Hankyu Depot, Kishibe
From Higashi-Yodogawa Station, you can take a local towards Kyoto and find yourself at Kishibe Station. From here, it's a short walk along the Tokaido line to see the Hankyu yards. It's a large complex and there were some interesting sights!: carriages being completely overhauled, works trains being formed and consists being stored/started in all roads. The closest Hankyu station is Shojaku.
Closer around to Shojaku is the running line to Kyoto.. meaning it is very busy.
Meanwhile, don't forget to keep an eye on the Tokaido line. You're right near Suita yard at this point and there's always something happening.
I returned to Kishibe and then took a quick trip to Takatsuki. There was a recycle shop there that I'd been too years back. It has a GREAT selection of railway stock, but also famicom games. I actually found A-Train for 500yen! From Takatsuki, I took the Hankyu line to Awaji.
I do love the green velour of those Hankyu consists!
This area is being set up for a huge overhaul. Looks like everything is about to be elevated and they're building some huge concrete towers which, after being joined and completed, will form the base for the elevated line.
The trek to the bridge is pretty straightforward. In past trips, I've used wifi dongles, but this time we all got international data sims and they work a treat. Sure, no calls or sms (so when my credit card got skimmed I had to switch the sim card back), but the data is brilliant. Following google maps made sure that I didn't get lost!
Along the way you could see the work being done on the "East Osaka Line" from Suita. They're busy double-tracking all the bridges and making a wye at the Suita end so that trains can come from Shin-Osaka and turn right.
This area has changed as well. The bridge itself used to be single track (on the right) with a pedestrian path on the left. Not so anymore...
So they've actually ripped up the pedestrian path, layed the new track, connected it and then re-laid the track on the right.
They still have quite a bit of tracklaying to go before the whole lot is connected. Supposedly it's taking a long time as they've had to re-acquire land that has been 'squatted' on. There's a few buildings that owners have illegally built into the old corridor!
I'd timed the trip to co-incide with a freight service. Usually I'd hang around for an hour waiting... but I had a friend with me and there was no need to waste their time also! We started walking in the direction of a final recycle shop for the day until I heard the bloody level crossing activate!
I do love an EF-510. First time I've seen one on this line! We continued to the recycle shop ... but on the way, found something a little more interesting!
This poor old DF50-4 has been stuffed, mounted and forgotten. I was never expecting to find this locomotive; I knew that there was an EH10 in the area, but not this DF50. I actually forgot to track down the EH10, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this locomotive!
I love Kyoto. I'd be happy to write a post that only said that. Usually when I'm in Kyoto, I'll either be found at the Railway Museum (actually, it's been twice now and I haven't visited it since it has been renovated!) or up at Mt. Kurama via the Eiden (Railway). This time, I was on the Eiden, but I veered right.
Demachiyanagi Station to Mount Hiei
Hiei-zan is the mountain range to the north-east of Kyoto and forms a dividing range between it and Otsu. As with all mountains in the Kyoto area, Hiei-zan has multiple shrines, multiple temples and multiple transport methods for conquering it. Fortunately, one of those is the famous Eizan Dentetsu (shortened to Eiden) which starts at Demachiyanagi station and ventures to the base of the mountain. Of course, Eiden also heads of north-west towards Mt Kurama and I recommend this trip too.
The trip to the base of Hiei-zan is quick and you'll end up at Yasehieizanguchi station in around 20 minutes.
The garden around the station is also picturesque! Autumn was a great time to come. Turns out I was there a week before the snow.
The autumn colours were so very different from the colours experienced in Nichinan a few days earlier!
After hopping off the train, we're off to the cable car. This is a standard vertical mountain climber, like the peak tram in Hong Kong. It passes the opposing car half way and offers amazing views the whole way!
There's enough seats, but I'd recommend getting up as high as possible. It'll give you a better view out the front.
The view out the side isn't bad either!
At the top, the attendants will politely ask you all to get off as quickly as possible... please follow their instructions and do this!
Are we at the top yet? Not quite. There's one more mode of transport to go! Let's just take in that view first.
That's north-east Kyoto in the left of that picture above. The loop hanging in the foreground is a target. Buy some rocks for 100yen and throw them. Make a wish and it'll come true if your lobbed rocks make it through the middle. Anyway, back to the mountain climbing.
You've made it! You're at the top of the mountain! How crisp is that air? It's now a short walk to the bus stop... so enjoy the scenery. Don't worry about the main building of the ropeway machinery, it's perfectly structurally sound.
Follow the signs and you'll end up at a bus-stop/carpark/kiosk/garden-museum.
If you head right once you're at the carpark, you'll find the toilet and a great view of Otsu city.
Heading then to the other side of the kiosk, you'll see a nice view of Lake Biwako to the north.
Follow the bus timetable and work out when the next one is. They're about 30mins apart. If you have time, grab a frankfurt with sauce from the kiosk. Yum!
Notice that set of white lines on the right of the image above? That's actually where you are meant to line up! We followed the tourists in front and lined up in the wrong spot! Either way, the bus is uneventful and you're going to want to get off at the first stop.
Sakamoto Cable Car
From here, there's only one mode of transport down. You'll hear it a few times, but it's only one method because it's the longest cable car in Japan. There's even tunnels! Before that though, there's a 20min walk to get to the station. Check out Enrakuji while you're up here!
Jump into the station and buy a ticket... but don't forget to check out the surrounds!
There's a cool display on the second floor of the station. The stairs up are inside.
Check out the times and line up prior to departure, you'll want a good seat!
The view down is fantastic and mainly out the left. There are a few bits to the right too though.
The last picture above is of the road through to JR Hiei-zan Sakamoto Station. After exiting the station, turn left and follow the road. It'll curve right and then head straight down towards Lake Biwako. The station is about 20mins down the road. (So are a few good places for lunch!)
JR Hiei-zan Sakamoto Station
This is a suburban raised station along the lake, north of Otsu. It's appropriately named as it is the closest JR station to the Sakamoto Cable Car. Some freight trains come through here, but most travel down the other side of Lake Biwako. The JR West Thunderbird express runs through this station.
A total of around 35 minutes was spent on the platform. This saw 3 local trains (green), a freight loco hauling a diesel and a Thunderbird express.
From here it was a quick ride home via Kyoto.
We spent the day driving from Miyazaki to Shimonoseki, stopping through Nobeoka, Oita and Beppu. When you're on the highways, it's a very quick trip! Detouring off every so often provided great food and great recycle shops.
JR West have wrapped one of the last remaining 500 Series Shinkansens in EVA livery and it looks fantastic. It runs a Kodama service daily from Hakata to Shin Osaka. They've even gone as far as to refit the interior!
I was so hoping they'd play the theme song when the train was approaching... no such luck. I had to settle with it being sung at karaoke instead.
Sanyo Main Line
Down under the Shinkansen tracks, the Sanyo Main Line runs from Shin-Shimonoseki through Shimonoseki itself and then under a tunnel and into Hakata via Kokura. Just before Shimonoseki Station is Hatabu and a passenger yard. Turns out they're busy chopping up their stock :(
Fortunately, the timing was great that morning as the Shinkansen lined up nicely with a few freight services. An EF66 came through Hatabu as we were waiting.
Here's an EMU prior to getting the chop.
The overnighter in Shimonoseki came to a close and it was time to jump on a Hikari to Osaka.
Kyushuu is renowned for it's joyful trains. I was fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of one in the south-eastern part of the island and couldn't afford to miss it. The Umisachi Yamasachi runs on the Nichinan Line from Miyazaki to Nango nearly every weekend in the later months of the year. Here is the latest timetable. The conist uses two DMUs which used to run on the (now closed) Takachiho Railway between Nobeoka and Takachiho. I was visiting a friend who works in a local monastery that happened to be right next to the line just short of Nango.
We arrived late on a Saturday and I actually saw the consist bolt past as we drove from Miyazaki Airport to Nango. It was already too dark to bother trying to get a shot of it.
This quaint little port town is home to a fleet of fishing vessels. It's located north of the Toi Cape, just south of Aburatsu. The shrine I was staying at happened to be located right next to the railway.
The local Nichinan Line service operated like clockwork and shook the building when it went past. It worked perfectly as an alarm clock.
Every now and then you got a double-DMU consist... but I failed to get a good shot of it! There was a yellow KIHA also.
This train only runs on weekends and so I only had the following Sunday to track it down. The service runs from Miyazaki to Nango and therefore was to run right past the temple. Unfortunately we had a busy day planned, so I wasn't to be in the right spot to get it. My friend actually called JR Kyushu for us to determine where the train would be staged between runs; turns out that location was Aburatsu Station. We headed there during our travels to see it.
So... didn't get to see it running; and now that I think of it, the consist would've passed the temple 4 times! I initially thought it staged at Nango Station as there is a siding there. Either way, seeing it at Aburatsu Station was a great opportunity!
Nichinan Line Bridges
During the travels around Aburatsu and Nango, we came across some great vantage points for photos. There's a bridge in the south of Odotsu that provides a fantastic backdrop.
And then one just north of Odotsu, but do be careful: the beach there is private property and we were politely asked to leave!
As that I had the time and the location sorted, I thought I'd grab the tripod (or other suitable mounting point) and try for long-exposure shots of the DMU passing through. Turns out I suck; but it was fun trying!
That last one was actually at ~4:45am when the 'super moon' was up... hence the sky is also super-light.
We ended up driving to Shimonoseki from Miyazaki Airport. This meant a trip through Nobeoka for lunch. The main reason was to visit as many recycle shops as possible! Either way, it timed perfectly with the daily freight that heads into Nobeoka South freight depot.
Bad lighting... but I didn't have enough time to work out a better vantage point. The recycle shops were calling!