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Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park – May, 2019

The Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (Poppo Town!) is located at the end of a valley in the south-west of Gunma Prefecture. The location is significant as it's the start of the Usui Pass, a now-closed (operated between 1883 and 1997) difficult mountain pass between Yokokawa Station, Gunma and Karuizawa Station, Nagano. The pass was no longer needed once tunnels (and then Shinkansen) were built.

If you look at the article on wikipedia, you can see that the site used to be a much simpler open-air park. Fortunately, some investment has seen it turn into a fully-featured tourist attraction! You can even drive an EF63!

Getting there...

It's an easy day-trip from Tokyo, but not so much from Osaka. Fortunately, after mastering the ordering of Sunrise Seto/Izumo tickets, I'd worked out that catching the midnight Sunrise to Tokyo would work perfectly. Arriving (as long as we kept to schedule) at 0708 in the morning would allow for an easy transfer to a Nagano-bound Shinkansen.


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The sunrise arrived perfectly on-time to Osaka and I made it into my Solo apartment. Unlike the previous 'Single' apartment, the Solos are a much more cramped experience.

Well, it's really only the entry that's cramped. As you can see, if you don't duck, you'll smack straight into the wooden frame up top. That wooden area is actually the footwell of the apartment above. The apartments are really efficient built together into the railway carriage!

Due to already knowing that there was no buffet car, no time was spent searching. It was already midnight, so I just passed out and proceeded on a very uneventful trip to Tokyo.


A quick bit of shopping and tranfering from the standard lines to the Shinkansen lines (make sure you enter the Tohoku gates and not the Tokaido gates!) allowed a smooth transition to this beauty...


I remember when the E7 Series was just released. The E7 series was built in conjuction with the W7 Series, which was built for the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It was exciting to know that the new Shinkansen line via Nagano and Toyama was getting closer to Osaka. But back to the actual vehicle, the style and colour are just fantastic. It's amazing how many of them are in operation now and how they're just seen as run-of-the-mill. Taking things for granted is such a painful human tendency.

Anwyay, where were we? The next transfer was at Takasaki Station. If you were actually wanting to go through the pass, stay on the train... you'll bolt through the tunnel and pop out at Karuizawa Station... Maybe you're searching for the Terrace House Set? But that's no good for us... we want to stay on this side and switch to the Zairaisen (在来線, conventional lines). Takasaki Station doesn't disappoint when it comes to a variety of EMUs!


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Yessss! A Super Hitachi! Wait... Akagi? They've been relegated off the old service since the new E657 series EMU came in. This is one of my favourite designs.


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Anyway... that boring EMU in front was ours... we were going on the now-underused commuter local line up to Yokokawa. Previously, this line used to use beautiful express EMUs that received banking locos before the pass, but that's all a thing of the past now!

Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park

From the station, it's a quick walk to the park. Turn left out of the station and walk through the carpark towards the red brick wall and beautiful mountain valley. For some reason I didn't take a photo of the front gate! I need to remember to properly survey sites when I'm on holidays! So here's a shot from inside the park with a beautiful 485 Series.


And from here, I'm just going to dump photos of everything I saw (and touched! Finally my ultra-ultra-favourite EF58 was in reach!) But first, here's a map of the site. From the map, there's a 'torokko' railway line that forms the perimeter. Inside, up the back of the town, is a smaller 9" ride-on railway. Both were still warming up when I was there, so I didn't check them out.


From here, it's just a matter of wandering through and checking everything out...


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Right up the back was this very tired-looking Asama. I believe this was actually part of the previous EMU fleet that ran through the pass. I'm sure it'll be next on the list for refurbishment. There was quite a lot of work already being undertaken.

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I really really wish there was functional EF58 running tours. I can't believe they've all been stuffed-and-mounted.


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Model Railway Diorama

Once you've conquered the outside area, it's time to head inside and check out the displays. You'll find two floors of information on everything from track-laying to signalling. Unfortunately, very little English is available. I didn't check if there was an English audio guide.


That's the building to enter. Inside you'll find the following...


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Those electro-mechanical displays above are fantastic. They'll show you the power routing through an electric locomotive.


There was also a cute infrastructure evaluation vehicle mounted out the front. Maybe from the Shinkansen depot?

Drive your own train!

The park offers guests a full course to learn to drive an EF63 locomotive. To do this, there's a one-off day course valued at 30,000 yen. You then pay 5,000 yen per drive.
You'll find more information on their site.


You'll find the driving experience on the northern side of the park. The line runs up into the valley, as it's actually the original Usui Pass line! I think you get to travel all the way to the tunnel entrance? That loco above was actually being driven by a guest when I was there.

Back to Takasaki

What was next? A freight yard! But before that, a 'quick' 'walk' (aka spirited job) across Takasaki City in the blistering heat to:


Hahaha... Many treasures found. And then... another 'quick' 'walk' to the freight yards. You'll find these to the south-east of Takasaki Station. For fellow otakus, there's a road that passes through the middle of the depot, providing some fantastic vantage points.

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From here, it was a slow crawl back to the station. It's a fair 30-minute walk... which gets exponentially longer in the summer heat. Make sure you bounce from the shade to the nearest convenience store along the way!


There's actually a great shaded path under the Shinkansen tracks!

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SL Yamaguchi – May 2019

A trip to Japan is never complete without seeing at least one Steam Locomotive. This time round I nearly missed out due to a well-needed sleep-in, but, thanks to the beautiful Shinkansen timetable, I was able to leave hours-upon-hours late and still see this majestic creature in action! A quick trip was made from Shin-Osaka to Shin-Yamaguchi on the Hikari.

Shin-Yamaguchi is one of those non-central Shinkansen stations that act as a transfer point to train lines that'll actually take you into the town the station is named after. Does that make sense? probably not. If you see 'Shin-' prepended to a station name, it means it's either a new standard train line station in the town where an existing non-'Shin-' station already existed, or it's a Shinkansen connection that was built away from the center of the town. Usually the later is done if the path for the Shinkansen line was going to be too destructive, expensive or inefficient.


Anwyay... the main point? I had to transfer to that beautiful 'Persimmon' KIHA above, which would then take me through to Miyano, just north of Yamaguchi Station. It's actually a relatively short point and quite a lot of the services terminate here.


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It was a really beautiful station... very summery... nice weather too, if not slightly overcast! There's a 7-11 Konbini just down the road too, if you're hungry. Locals were having a BBQ in the apartment carpark just next to the station and the kids were mucking around playing sports. Every so often they'd yell out "hello foreigner" and smile... hah... the parents were a little embarrassed.

Before-long, the main event occurred.

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An afternoon well spent! But of course... there's always a familiar shop... somewhere nearby! This time it was just north of Shin-Yamaguchi Station. First step, back on the DMU.


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And a light-hearted jog through town... it had just started to spit...


Success! Meanwhile, back at the Shinkansen station... it's a great spot to view freight on the lower lines...


And passing bullets on the above-lines...


I'm sure I took a video-or-two of them... time to search the card(s).

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MS Access: Error 6 – Overflow

A quick break between posts of the recent trip to Japan: I was distracted at work by a user who was experiencing a bug in an Access Database. Now, my team has never built access databases, but we're still the first-point-of-call for technical support on internally developed applications; even if not developed by us, nor in this decade!

We'd also just recently migrated a SQL server from one Windows VM to another, so there was a high chance that a user had been orphaned in the process... either way, I dug in.

First step: Reproduce locally!

I had the user screen-share over Skype so I could see what was going on. There was a very quick path to reproduction, so I took a copy of the database and brought it over to my machine. In no time I had the following:

Error 6 Overflow

Time to find the code?

Unlocking an Access DB

To get into the backend code, you need to unlock all the menus. Hit the File menu and then choose Privacy Options.

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From here... make sure the following items are checked. Allow Special Keys is required for breakpoints to trigger in the VBA script!


Close the database and open it again.

Hacking the code

You'll now have the navigation pain on the left-hand side. Somewhere down the bottom you should have one or more modules containing the code throwing errors.

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Double-clicking Module1 presenting me with the following... of course, like any good organisation, we had the passwords well-documented!

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Once in... breakpoints were set and code was tested. The breakpoints didn't initially trigger, as I hadn't set the Allow Special Keys option. The name really doesn't make sense, but it's required if you want to debug! Once going though, I found that the code wouldn't hit another breakpoint inside the following function...

Public Sub RetrieveTestNamesFromSpecs(iBulkID As Integer)
        Dim RCountDB As DAO.Database
        Set RCountDB = CurrentDb
End Sub

Nothing really special! But the Overflow error was happening before the function started. A breakpoint on the 'Set' line would never get hit. I looked at the line before the function call and didn't see anything incriminating. I then checked the value of the variable being passed in as iBulkdID. It was 32790. That's a pretty ominous number for anyone who understands bytes... or variable sizes. It turns out that an Access Database Integer only supports the value range of -32768 to 32768. Our ID had surpassed this and was therefore not 'fitting in' to the variable.

Changing this to a Long fixed the issue! I handed the DB back to the user and dusted my hands.

More Casting!

Before long I had the DB back on my desk as there was a new Overflow Error. I quickly dug into the code and found that the error was happening when executing the following SQL.

        strSQL = "SELECT * FROM [TblName] where [CName] = " & Me.Variable & " Order By CInt(CName) Asc"
        Set rs = RCountDB.OpenRecordset(strSQL)

Anyone playing at home will see the error straight-away, but I wasn't used to Access SQL syntax. Long-story-short, that CInt is trying to cast the value as an Integer, and we already know that it doesn't fit! A quick conversion to CLng fixed this error as well!

I then scoured the rest of the code for crappy Integer references...


Chizu Express and Tsuyama – May, 2019

After a fantastic nights accomodation in Hayabusa, I was off to Tsuyama via the Chizu Express railway. The trip started from Hayabusa Station where the 8:51am service took me to Koge Station. This saw a transfer onto the 9:02am Super Hakuto, southbound to Chizu Station.


To transfer to the Chizu Express Railway, you have to exit Chizu Station and walk around the outside of the building to a separate entrance. In the foyer, you'll find a station employee ready to sell you tickets to your destination. I was off to Sayo, with a small stop in-between!


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Koi-Yamagata Station

The Chizu Express runs cute little DMUs, that resemble the Super Hakuto livery, and I chose the local service for the first leg of my journey. The second stop along the way is Koi-Yamagata Station and also happens to be a timing-point/passing-loop on the single line. This was fantastic, as I wanted to actually stop at the station to take random photos. I confirmed how long the train would stopped for with the driver before hopping off onto the platform!

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Isn't it cute? The prefix 'Koi' means romance and, well, they've gone nuts with the pink! It was actually really nice that both DMUs stopped for over a minute next to eachother. Maybe it's destiny to meet someone else from the other vehicle? I surely didn't.

Awakura-Onsen Station

We were then held for 7 minutes at Awakuraonsen Station. This station is another timing-point which lets a Super-Oki bolt past in the other direction. I was too busy taking panorama shots and forgot to wait for the express to come through. I was totally not ready when it did!


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It was actually a really nice place to stop-over. I couldn't see where the actual onsen was located, but a bunch of grandparents got off for a bathe. A bunch of American teenagers then got on to go through to Osaka. I overheard them fighting over which train to transfer to... and so quickly interrupted them and sorted out their predicament. The funniest part was when the most incorrect of them agreed with me afterwards, saying "oh yes, of course that's the way to go."

Sayo Station

Although bound by concrete buildings, Sayo Station also had quite a pleasant demeanour. Maybe it was just the constant hum of diesel engines bolting through. It was quite a busy station!



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Watching grandparents drink beer on the platform at ~1030 in the morning was a treat. I wonder if they were off to the onsen also?


There's an old roundhouse here that is now a museum and I'd wanted to visit it for quite a while! The DMU above took it's sweet time to get to Tsuyama, but that was a good thing... it was a beautiful ride through the country-side. There was one grandpa, fluent in English, who decided to tell me otherwise: that this slow little train took too long. He also wanted advice on a hotel in Tsuyama, of which I had nothing to give, as I was heading back to Shin-Osaka that afternoon.


Out the front you'll find a stuffed-and-mounted C11 looking splendid!

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Hahahaha... that hurts my eyes... but hey, I nearly succeeded. I then caught a taxi to a local Hard-Off ... which I didn't take a photo of. Maybe because I was distracted, talking to the driver about finding treasure in the junk corners. He was very surprised that someone would travel to central Honshu just to visit a Hard-Off... I mentioned it was also for the roundhouse and he was happy to wait outside the shop, before proceeding to take me to my other destination!

Tsuyama Roundhouse

This is so beautifully presented! There's nearly zero english, so don't go there to learn things... but do go there just to see some beautiful old JNR-era rolling-stock up close!


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I couldn't quite stop taking photos... the weather was a little overcast, but the scenery was fantastic! There was even a diorama of the actual yard... the roundhouse was perfectly represented.




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I then quickly strolled back to Tsuyama station to catch the Kotobuki to Okayama.

500-series Ex-Evangelion Shinkansen

I think? The colour-styling made it feel like something from the anime. I loved the controls up the front also. I also loved the fact that I had the whole train to myself! It was a Kodama after-all and I suppose people prefer the faster services.


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Even though it was an all-stops, it still felt like a fast trip back!

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Wakasa Railway – May, 2019

I'd made it overnight from Tokyo to Izumoshi with the intent on getting to Wakasa Railway from the northern side of Honshu. After transferring at Tottori I travelled south through to Koge Station which happens to be the location of the branch to Wakasa. The Wakasa Railway runs services through from Tottori Station, but chose to take the Super Hakuto instead.


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To ride the Wakasa Railway, I purchased a ticket from the kind ladies behind the information desk inside the Koge Station waiting room. It doesn't quite look like a ticket counter, but rest-assured they have everything you need! After purchasing, I re-entered the Koge Station platforms on my new ticket (rail pass is no good here!) and found that a DMU, named Sakura #4, had arrived and was ready to take me two stops through to Hayabusa.



I don't know who the character is on the side!


When booking this trip, I'd initially intended to stay in Tottori. I was going to follow the usual rule of staying in a bigger town; better options to eat/shop/sleep, etc. It turned out that Tottori hotel prices, for that specific weekend, were exorbitant! I still haven't worked out why... but I imagine there was a festival of some sort on. In the end it turned out to be a blessing in disguise! A little further searching let me stumble across BASE 8823 Hayabusa.

This guest house is built to support motorcyclists touring the area. It turns out that, due to the name of the town, many Suzuki Hayabusa owners frequent the area for the winding mountain roads. All I can say is: the place is absolutely beautiful! The hosts are awesome (both motorcycle enthusiasts themselves) and will look after anything you require. Dinner was a slight issue, as everything was shut by the time I was ready to eat... but there was a Lawson convenience store a short bicycle (free rental from the guest house!) ride away. And riding through the ride fields at dusk on a summer night in the middle-of-nowhere was simply perfect!


As you can see, the guest house itself is a converted farm house. The owners have fitted it out beautifully into dorm-style accommodation. Breakfast was even provided, Japanese-style, and it was delicious! But that's enough about the lodgings... highly recommended!


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Before I even checked into the accommodation, I'd spent a little time wandering around Hayabusa Station. The next northbound service of the Wakasa Railway was to come through shortly and it turned out to be the DMU with a full Hayabusa motorbike livery... it was really quite stunning! There's also a stuffed-and-mounted electric freight locomotive and passenger car in the vicinity.


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I then walked to the accomodation, checked in and borrowed a bike to ride back to the station. The sun was already fading, but it'd be worth the trip to see the pink stuffed-and-mounted steam locomotive at the end of the line.


The Hayabusa DMU came back through Koge-bound before my service was to head up into the mountains.

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That last picture is actually a note on the side of the electric locomotive where the numberplate should be. Someone has stolen it and they're asking for assistance! What a bunch of assholes...I wonder if it was a baka tourist.


Hayabusa Station has another guestbook like that back at Nishi-Oyama. I didn't leave a note this time...


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There's also a cool amount of paraphernalia in the station house itself. They're very aware of Suzuki and the Hayabusa Motorcycle! I wonder if there's actually a real connection to the name; did the designer come to this area of the world and decide to name the bike after it? Or is there a further meaning to the word 'Hayabusa'? Sounds like fast-something. Update: Turns out Hayabusa is the Japanese word for Peregrine Falcon, something I just found out thanks to hearing about Hayabusa2's landing on an asteroid!

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Before long, my Wakasa-bound service arrived.

Wakasa Station

The goal was to ride the Wakasa Railway and also see the famous 'pink' C11 steam engine that was up in the station yard. As I was checking in to the accommodation above, I was actually informed that they had re-painted it to original black around 3 days earlier! Hah, what timing.


My Hayabusa DMU dropped me off and then the staff changed over so the maintenance crew could take it to the shed.. it had done it's job for the day! Without a tripod, I then tried to line up some night photography of the yard. There was nothing easy about finding a good angle and then a good resting position for a steady camera. Luckily it was a warm night and my hands were steady!


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Wakasa Town

There was time before the return service and, although the railway staff had already offered to drive me back to the accommodation (talk about Japanese hospitality!, the accommodation was a 20 minute drive away), I was happy to wander around and check the place out further.


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The dolls were slightly creepy, but supposedly a 'thing' for the area. Otherwise, everyone was watching TV or having dinner. I skulked around town, trying to get nice angles and be as inconspicuous as possible. The water coming off the mountain was running down all the open street drains and gave the town a beautiful background soundtrack.

Back at the station I finally found the pink SL! You could even pay to drive this one!


The railway also has a few more DMUs that have been lovingly restored and customised. When returned to the accommodation, I was told this maroon version had beautiful wooden floors. Too bad I couldn't check it out.

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My DMU arrived from Koge for it's final return shuttle. I purchased a normal ticket, but the station staff (the same employee who offered me the lift home) gave me the 'vintage' version!

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I just had to add in that last picture... the dolls are everywhere!

Early-morning departure

After a delicious breakfast at the guest house, I wandered off for the station. The weather and scenery was beautiful!



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Yes! The maroon DMU with the wooden floors! It was very nicely outfitted. From here it was back to Koge to transfer south through to Tsuyama... with a stop along the Chizu Railway first.

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Tokyo to Izumoshi – Sunrise Seto – May, 2019

This was a fun trip! I had wanted to ride the Sunrise Izumo/Seto for a while.. especially as all the overnight trains are going the way of the Dodo! This service departs Tokyo at 10pm each night and splits at Okayama to to then arrive at either Izumoshi or Takamatsu (sometimes extended to Kotohira.) I was intent on visiting the north coast of Honshu and so chose the Sunrise Izumo. Thanks to the JR Rail Pass, it's easy to get to Tokyo in time for dinner, with the train then waiting for you at Tokyo Station for the 10pm departure. The train cannot be boarded in the Osaka area as it passes through at around 4am.

Not wanting to waste a trip to Tokyo, I got there mid-afternoon and went up to the usual Urawa area for a few photos.


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There wasn't much happening, and I wanted to get to Akihabara for a bit, so I left earlier than expected... but not before I realised that there was a Hard-Off in the Urawa area!


Much time was then spent in Akihabara where I picked up a new Xperia 10 Plus and a Fujitsu Q506ME tablet. Both from a second-hand chain and both seemingly foreign to Japan as there were absolutely zero accessories available. I had to then survive 2 weeks without protection on the phone, but it worked perfectly regardless!

Tokyo Station

There's always something interesting to see here... During the evening peak you'll find intermittent express services to whisk people away to places further afield. Below is a Shonan Liner which'll take you to Odawara.


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And, interestingly enough, here's another Shonan Liner which'll also take you to Odawara!


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And a Hitachi ready to head north...


Before long the Sunrise service pulled in... I was in a 'Single' Room on car 9. Thanks to the platform signs, it's easy to know where to be in-advance...

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Once aboard, you'll find the aisles to be quite narrow. You'll then, if you're anywhere near 186cm, find the rooms to be slightly ... restricting. Turns out the bed was long enough though, just watch your head when entering and exiting the room.

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Unlike previous trips (Twilight Express) on overnight trains (Hokutosei), this train is all about travel and less about amenities. There's a shower, and a really nice 'lounge' area (last image above), but otherwise no food or drink. Actually, I lie, there's a tiny vending machine... no beer though! We departed perfectly on time at 10pm and there wasn't much else to do but sleep!

Oh, Deer

I had awoken at around 3am and noticed that the train had stopped. I could also hear radio-transmissions meaning the guard was wandering around and something was up. Looking outside, I saw Ogaki station... definitely not a place we were meant to pull up at, but I wasn't interested in sticky-beaking and so just rolled over and passed out. The next time I awoke, it was just after 5am and the sun was well up. We were sitting on one of the platforms at Shin-Osaka station and I'd actually been awoken by the conductor announcements. I could just make out 'ofurete', 'gomenasai' and 'if you want to get to your destination on time, then please transfer here for the Shinkansen.' We were around 2 hours late!

I stayed on the delayed train as I wasn't in a huge hurry; at the end of his announcement about transferring, the conductor had described the revised timetable which would see the train arrive at Izumoshi at around midday. I could deal with this! From the lounge area, I then overheard some other passengers discussing the cause: the freight train in front of us, somewhere near Ogaki, had cleaned up a deer on the tracks and we couldn't pass. We'd been held for over 2 hours whilst they dealt with the mess. It was all a little bittersweet: I was unhappy to be running late, but really happy to have full daylight outside whilst express-running. It's awesome when you're not stopping at stations and just flying through towns. Even better when there's a beautifully-large window and comfortable seats!

Just before Okayama, the conductor came back on with alternative options for those not wanting to meander... it turned out that if one changed to the Limited Express Yakumo here, you could get to Izumoshi one hour quicker. Now, I don't actually get this.. a whole hour!? We're on a train that has less-than-or-equal stops to the Yakumo between Okayama and Izumoshi, but the Yakumo can get there one whole hour faster? Can't they just schedule our train outta here right now and let us run in front? Maybe it's because the Yakumo can tilt? Maybe I don't understand the pathing? Either way, I'd already slept on the Sunrise Izumo and was happy with the decision to save an hour and ride the Yakumo. Before that though, I had time to watch the Sunrise do its thing...


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And then it was a short bolt to the next service...


What a beautiful relic!

The North Coast

Once at Izumo City, I ventured to the nearby heavenly-palace... but it was terrible... no hobbies and very few electronics... Off-House is not Hard-Off!


There was a silver lining though... I got to see a cool view of the Yakumo that had taken me to Izumo in the station from street-level. Sure, it's not that interesting, but I loved the angle.


Before-long I was back on another DMU off along the northern edge of Honshu. Next stop was Nogi station.. but before getting there, we were actually going to have to pass the Sunrise Izumo!


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Hah, so I get to ride it and take a photo of it running in daylight! Win-win. Next win was just south of Kogi Station. Many good things found...


Yonago Station

I then walked to Matsue Station from Hard-Off... let me tell you that was quite a trek! Especially when the temperature is up in the high 20s! Grab a taxi if you choose to follow this path. Somehow I perfectly caught the next express through to Yonago.


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Tottori Station

From Yonago, there was a fight to get onto the Super Oki which was running 10 minutes late. It was also jam-packed and is only two cars with one being fully reserved and booked out! In the end we all made it on and bolted through to Tottori where much fun was had, once again, rummaging through the junk corner...


Hard-Off was hard-ly across-the-road from the station, so it was an easy stopover before returning to take the next southbound DMU through to Koge and Wakasa!

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Tosu, Kikitsu, Sasebo – May, 2019

Heading to the places in the title of this post when starting from Miyazaki requires a transfer through Kagoshima. I hadn't actually Google'd if Kagoshima had any Hard-Offs on the initial trip through, so I was happily surprised to find one in the vicinity of Taniyama Station. Thanks to departing earlier-than-expected from Nichinan I managed to see Umisachi-Yamasachi again and visit another Hard-Off! Awesome!

Taniyama, Kagoshima

This mini-stopover turned out to be a little bit more effort that I expected. The walk to-and-from the station was pretty tough with an already-heavy bag an some very warm weather for 10am in the morning! Regardless, I made it there and picked up a Densha-de-Go controller for the PC!


The station itself was actually a new build! It's been elevated and they're busy renewing the entire area underneath. I caught my favourite train back towards Kagoshima-Chuo and was presented with another bonus for the morning: passing the Ibusuki No Tamebiko! It's actually a really crazy-looking train with its 50/50 black/white cab!


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At that point, Kagoshima was totally ticked off the list. It was time to head north and tackle the final blue 200DC.

Tosu and Shin-Tosu

Of course, there's always time for a detour. I'd Google'd the crap out of the Seven Stars In Kyushu tour train and, intially, worked out that it'd be visiting Nagasaki on the Sunday that I was departing Kyushuu. After I'd booked everything, I then realised I'd calculated by a standard off-by-one error and that the Nagasaki visit was the day before and that the train would be passing through Tosu when I was! A bonus, but the initial plan was to catch it at Kikitsu... oh well.

From Kagoshima, it was a very quick trip north to Shin-Tosu with a just-as-quick transfer to Tosu station. From here, it was just convenience-store lunches and platform waiting. There was a delightful amount of interesting things to check out!

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That middle witches hat above is hilarious. 'Pidgeon' in Japanese is 'Hato' and it's warning you not to sit on the bench as you'll get shat on!


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And then the main event...


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So bloody fancy! I never intend on ever spending that much on a train fare... but it did look overly pretty (shiny)!


There's also a cute stuffed-and-mounted steamer on the stadium-side of the station. I'll research more to work out what it is.


Also a fantastic story describing the impact of smoking... I've seen it before but it's always great to refresh the memory.

I finally boarded a Kamome Service to Nagasaki, transfering at Isahaya to get a local through to Ichinuno.


Yup, not Kikitsu... Ichinnuno. I skipped past where I was going to stay as there was enough time to check out a shop... I bet you can't guess which!



I then returned to Kikitsu and stayed overnight at the Kikitsu Station Hotel. The hotel was nice and clean... but I got there at dinner time and the restaurant wasn't open in the evenings. The bathhouse was also shut, but I didn't ask if it was renovations or completely closed. Luckily the room had a nicely outfitted bathroom.


The lack of dinner was unfortunate though, as the town also had zero options at that time on a Sunday. Then again, now that I look at a map, I realised I should have crossed the railway down to the main road and hunted down dinner.. but I was exhausted and happy to sleep.

The next morning saw an early start, taking the first train towards Sasebo. Before that, though, I quickly checked out the Kikitsu Station precinct. Between the hotel and the station was a level crossing. This had a pedestrian overpass...


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...but it was actually a ruin! Closed to pedestrians, who then had to perilously navigate the side of the road on the rail-level crossing. Crossing the rails provided a nice treat though! There was an old computer shop which seemed to specialise in junk!



Too bad it was super-early and the shop was shut! I really would have liked time to check out the warez. Would've been very interesting to see what I could fit in my backpack. I think that they proprietor would really be hoping the customers knew what they were looking for, though... as rummaging through that shopped looked nigh impossible!


From Kikitsu, it was time to get to Sasebo and tick-off westernmost JR train station! The Seaside Liner actually takes you all the way from Nagasaki through to Sasebo and is a fantastic ride. As I've mentioned before, the 200DC has a beautiful sound!



There was a quick stop-over at Haiki to allow the collection of passengers on the Huis-Ten-Boch who had come from Tosu. Here I actually changed to an express... just because I could.


The ex-Relay-Tsubame 787 Series EMUs really are delightful.


It was time to tick off the westernmost extent of the JR network. Sasebo isn't actually the 'westernmost railway station of Japan', but it is the limit of the JR Rail Pass. It was actually pretty hard finding the plaque/monument to officially signify this and I ended up having to ask the travel information desk. They promptly walked me straight the ornaments.



And then you get to check out the cute little Sasebo Railway and, of course, more DC200s... but this time they cheated and also painted a KIHA in the same blue.

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I just happened to ride the KIHA back to Hui and it turns out that they're actually promoting and thanking the unit for its service!



This is a small stop on the way back to Tosu. You get one guess as to why I ventured there...


On the way to and from Hui station to Hard-Off, there was a beautiful uphill road that crosses the railway where the railway is also crossing a river. It would've been a great spot to grab the blue Seaside Liner passing, if I hadn't wanted to ride the next service! I really need to start spacing out these trips and just taking my time.

Haiki, Shin-Tosu, Home...

The next service was taken out of Hui where one has to change directions to get back to Tosu quicker. The Seaside Liner continued on to Nagasaki, but a Midori Express + Huis Ten Boch came through Haiki not long after. The train actually joins here... one half from Sasebo and the other from the Huis Ten Boch park itself.

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The trains are really quite stunning design-wise. Super comfy and clean too... but that's just Japan, right? Before I knew it we were stopping off and it was time to trek to the next Hard-Off. Actually, this time I hailed a taxi as it was pretty muggy outside.

On the way back I admired the view of the Shinkansen tracks over rice fields... and a stockpile of vending machines!

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And then beautifully-fluked intercepting the southbound freighter!


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Back at Shin-Tosu I was on the first eastbound Sakura... Thanks again, Kyushu!

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Nichinan City, Miyazaki – May, 2019

Nichinan City is an area consisting of a few separate towns, just south of Miyazaki in Kyushu. I make sure to make the pilgrimage here each time I visit Japan as a friend from University is now a Shingon Monk in Nichinan Town! Go and visit if you're in the area! (And Shuhei, congratulations on your new baby boy!)

Anyway, this time around the plan was to spend two nights and just relax. The area is known for beaches, temples and a very quiet way-of-life... and that's exactly what I was after. Of course, it also wouldn't hurt to actually see Umisachi-Yamasachi running!

After quite an eventful Friday night, we had all day saturday to do whatever we pleased. As per standard Japanese hospitality, it was up to the guest to work out what they wanted to do... but I was totally happy to go with the flow. It happened to be Buddha's birthday the next day, so I actually asked if there was anything that needed to be done in preparation and got the following response: "Actually, could you help me? We need to pick 1000 purple flowers from the country-side." Hahaha... sounds perfect!

Uchinoda Station

The best part? Shuhei made sure that we picked flowers near to the railway line! We ended up in the vicinity of Uchinoda Station on the Nichinan Line between Kitago and Obi. It was such a beautiful setting!


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I kept an eye on the train timetable... actually Google Maps did for me... I was really impressed with the accuracy of the "next departures" feature!


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It wasn't long before a beautiful white/blue KIHA dawdled through, perfectly vintage amongst the country-side scenery. We then continued harvesting flowers... before nearly driving over a snake... which was probably waiting for us in the grass. Happy to still be alive.

Oodotsu Station

Not much happening here, at the time, but the station build had been totally re-built recnetly. The new design is actually beautiful and it's good to see they've used a nearly 100%-wooden design!


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I then checked the timetable for the Umisachi-Yamasachi and realised we had time for lunch! It was therefore off to Nakau in Aburatsu.

Horikawa Canal

On the way back after lunch, before getting into position at the famous curved bridge just south of Aburatsu, we stopped in at Horikawa Canal to check out the beautiful buildings and temple!

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Those were not happy cats... but they at least had somewhere safe to live.

South Aburatsu / Sumitani River

I don't know how else to describe this area, but it's the 'famous' bridge (for railfans, anwyay) just south of Aburatsu. Google Maps says that it's the mouth of the Sumitani River. It's a beautiful curved bridge that looks like something straight from a Kato Unitrack catalogue!


It also seems to be a private settlement, so I'd warn anyone heading into the area to act responsibly! We ventured down onto the beach, but before we even got there a KIHA DMU passed through. I hadn't realised how close to the tracks we actually were when walking through down the paths.


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The goal here was to wait for the Umisachi-Yamasachi. It does one run back and forth from Miyazaki to Nichinan on both Saturday and Sunday. It had already run south on this Saturday, but it actually returns to Aburatsu between trips. Therefore it actually crosses this bridge 4 times each day. We were around 40mins earlier than it's departure time from Nichinan Station, so it had to pass us? Right?

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We loitered for quite a while, building random 'sculptures' on the beach... before we realised it was only 5-minutes before the service was to depart Nichinan. It must have already passed this bridge! Of course, it had time whilst we were checking out Horikawa Canal above! Ooooooops. We made a hasty decision to get to the next famous bridge at Oodotsu.

Umisachi-Yamasachi in Oodotsu

Nailed it. We made it to the bridge, positioning ourselves on the sea wall just to the west of it. Before long the DMU totally dawdled across... playing it's musical horn! Pretty cute.


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A relaxing evening was then had... I was even taught how to play Settlers of Catan.

Miyazaki Station

I departed early sunday morning, as I had plans to get to Sasebo, taking the first northbound service to Miyazaki. I was delightfully distracted by the assortment of DMU vehicles in the yard!

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Little did I even think that my timing would perfectly co-incide with the Umisachi-Yamasahi departing Miyazaki for Nichinan!


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Right-time-right-place is always a nice achievement! Next stop, Tosu.

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Yamakawa and Nishi-Oyama, Kyushu – May 2019

After a brief stop-over at Kumamoto, it was time to head further south... to the end of the railway network! This was to be the first time I'd hit any of the four extents of the railway in Japan. As mentioned, the journey started at Kumamoto where a Sakura service took me straight through to Kagoshima-Chuo. I'm really quite surprised they didn't name the station 'Shin-Kagoshima'.

Whilst waiting for my service to Yamakawa, I checked out the station. It has a very Kyushu-vibe of slightly weathered but still totally functional.

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I was expecting the service to be a white DMU... but was totally blown away when my favourite-ever DMU approached! Hell yess... that two of three 200DCs!



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I hadn't been expecting it as the timetable shows a 'Nanohana' express which is what I thought this livery ran on. Turns out the white/blue livery is the rarity! Without a thought I jumped on-board and waited for departure. The vehicle had a very nice hum on idle... but that was about to get better. The transmission sounded fantastic as it changed gears, something very strange for a train to be doing!


Before long we'd circled the left-hand-side of the bay via the Ibusukimakurazaki Line that surrounds Sakurajima, a dormant volcano just east of Kagoshima City. I had initially thought that Ibusuki Station was the terminus of the line and that another continued through to Makurazaki, but it turns out it's the same line all the way through. Ibusuki is one of the larger towns, south of Kagoshima, and most of the passengers got off here for the weekend outings. I continued one further stop through to Yamakawa.


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This station has two roads so that one consist can layover if needed. My service was a rapid from Kagoshima-chuo which terminated here and stayed in platform 2 until it's return working. Whilst I walked from the station, a white and blue KIHA 47 came through!


That was enought trains for now though, it was now time to cross the road and check into my lodgings.

Kuriya Guest House

Yamakawa is a small port town, south of Kagoshima, that relies heavily on the local fishing trade. You can therefore only imagine the cuisine available at Kuriya Guest House. Hardly across the road from Yamakawa station, this beautiful ryokan has all the treats one needs for a short stay. There's a full restaurant and even a bathouse underneath. You can use the bathhouse, after an entry fee, even if you're not staying the night.


One note... Check-in is 5pm! You might not find any staff there mid-afternoon! I happened to get there at 4:55pm and hung around for a bit watching trains. The staff speak a little english, so get ready to practice all the Japanese you've learnt thus far. The bathhouse is only open in the evenings (or it was when I was there), so make sure you clean up before sleeping as there's no ability to do so in the morning. Well, I lie, there's a wash-basin and toilets if you know how to make-shift it.

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The rooms are as basic as you'd expect. There's aircon and a TV, but it's pay-per-use and you'll need to insert 100yen coins to get anything out of them. There's also vending machines in the corridors. I had enough time for food before the next service to Nishi-Oyama, so I spoiled myself in the restaurant.


As you can see, there's a full assortment of liquor... there's also a great selection on the menu! I chose the makerel set and was not disappointed!


I noticed on a few of the seats that other customers had left autographs. I can't make out the signatures... but can you see anyone famous?

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Note that the view is also fantastic... you're food will be with you in no-time as you're daydreaming of a lifetime on the water. I didn't have time to daydream though... there was a mission at hand!

Nishi-Oyama - The southernmost station of the JR network

Thanks to summer sunlight, there was still enough time to get to Nishi-Oyama and check it out. I had initially intended to do this the next morning, but after checking out the timetables I realised I could get there and back with minimal effort and tick it off the list! It was therefore a quick walk back to Yamakawa Station where I had a little bit of time to look around whilst I waited for my westbound service.

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Finally, this time I was to ride a white/blue KIHA 47.


From Yamakawa, it's only two stops to Nishi-Oyama. 'Nishi' means west, so it's half-expected that the station inbetween is Oyama itself. 'Oyama' means 'Big Mountain', relating to either the mountain to the north, or the one you're about to see to the west.

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So, Nishi-Oyama station... there's a single platform on a single track and ... lots of country-side! Fortunately, since it's slightly-famous, there's also a gift-shop, free wifi and a toilet! There's even vending machines... but they were the only thing that was open when I visited at night. Actually, there's also a few more things: crazy locals. I had a guy come down on his tiny scooter-motorbike to tell me not to walk onto the tracks. Actually, I already knew that:


As temtping as it would be to get that bullshit-instagram-perfect shot of the sun trailing off past the railway line, I refused. To prove a point, I actually walked all the way round via the level-crossing to get to the other side of the rails. I mean, officially, this station sees in the order of 8 trains a day... with a huge 6-hour gap in the middle... so you're more likely to get taken out by a crazy local on a scooter, than a train... but rules be rules and I followed them.


See!, level-crossing aparatus! I'm really happy I walked around actually as it provided a good angle to get the whole station in view... and I got to meet some huge cabbage!

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There really isn't much in the other direction... It was also getting pretty dark.


Back to the north side of the station and I really only had the vending machines at my disposal; and then, only one was actually working... so I bought a coffee. The gift shop was shut and ... there's only one shop. Fortunately the toilets were available.

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Back towards the station and the carpark has some nice ornaments to mark the heritage of the area. First you get a bell to wish yourself luck in the future... then a post box if you want to send someone a postcard.

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There's then some further information on the surroundings...


And a motorbike from North Korea...


What? This actually became a talking point between me and the crazy local. He first warned me of the rules... which was fine... but then asked if I owned the bike. I suggested it was probably a day-tripper who would come back on the rails and return somewhere via the bike. Either way, I don't even think it's legal to ride a Kim-Jong-Un plated auto-bai in Japan? Who knows...

Whilst waiting for the return service, I realised there was a strange box on the platform...


What does that say? Thinking Exit Notes?

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Ahhhhhhh... craaaaap. Why didn't I know there was a notebook here to sign!? Look at all these well-wishers! And the odd flatulence-filled ogre? I'd have to come back in the morning. I'd have to also find a pen first... I left it in my main carry-on bag and didn't put anything into my Kyushu-weekender backpack!

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Before-long I was back in Yamakawa to wash-up and relax. Did I mention that my room over-looked the street and railway? I didn't even have to ask!

Back to Ibusuki for a Pen!

I didn't have one and reception had already shut when I got back to the lodging. There was also no shop to be found near the station in Yamakawa... so I pulled out my trusty google and worked out a plan of attack. It ended up that I'd leave on the first eastbound service, stop at Ibusuki, get a pen from the local convenience store (as well as breakfast) and then return back to Nishi-Oyama once more.

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I love it when my favourite train is just waiting at a station for me. The 200DC made short-work of the single hop to Ibusuki, but then continued on to Kagoshima-chuo. I started wandering to the convenience store, but then realised that there'd be another service coming south... fortunately there was a level-crossing along the way, so I waited around, confusing a local who was already working on his garden.

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After completing the relevant purchases (I love it that convenience stores in Japan are actually convenient!), I did a lap of Ibusuki yard.

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Finally, with all equipment in-hand (or, at least, in-bag) I jumped on the next westbound service through to Nishi-Oyama. It happened, again, to be a white and blue KIHA47. It seems these are the only model that runs further west than Yamakawa.


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A note was finally left...


And the shop was open! I helped myself to a Mango Cider.

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A funny thing then happened... a tour-bus full of elderly citizens arrived, ready to take the same train as me back to Kagoshima-Chuo. There must be a retreat somewhere up in the mountains.

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From there, it was back to Kagoshima. Whilst stopping-over at Ibusuki, everyone's phones started making this weird alert sound. A really cute voice then, from all phones at once, proclaimed "Jisshin Desu!"... A new earthquake warning system?! I'd never heard this before and it was quite surreal. I quickly messaged my friend in Miyazaki/Nichinan (of whom I was about to visit) and he mentioned it was 5.something and he felt it... but we didn't in Ibusuki.


Sakurajima looked angrier-than-usual as we approached Kagoshima.

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Kumamoto – May, 2019

Thanks to the Kyushu Shinkansen, it's now really easy to make a stop-over at Kumamoto when on the way further south. The travel times are as good as getting to Tokyo and it's always nice to ride on the Tsubame class! I've also wanted to check out the Kumaden for a long time... and realised there was a Hard-Off nearby, so it was time to visit!


The morning started with a spirited run to Shin-Osaka Station to get the first westbound Shinkansen. Being that I hadn't eaten yet, I utilised the facilities on the platform!

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It was then a very non-eventful trip on the Sakura to Kumamoto, the service itself continuing south to Kagoshima.


Kumamoto Station is one of the few where the Shinkansen hasn't caused a 'Shin-' station to be built. Therefore it's a very quick transfer to get down to the local lines below. One goal for this Kyushu trip was to see all three colours of the 200DC diesel series. I was straight away presented with a perfect specimen in red.


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I used it to transfer through to Kami-Kumamoto Station, slightly north-east of the main Kumamoto station. Here you will also find the terminus of Kumamoto Electric Railway's Kikuchi Line.


Thanks to the careful consideration given to transferring between trains in Japan, the timetables often line up perfectly and a short stroll gets you to the Kumaden with a train waiting to depart within minutes.


As with most private railways, Kumaden also uses hand-me-downs from other railways. This one just happened to be a Kumaden 200 Series EMU which is really a recycled Nankai 22000 Series. The unit was in good condition for its age. As you'll see later, Kumaden is constantly working on their vehicles, so I'm sure this one gets TLC!


I rode two stops through to Ikeda Station. This is a cute little single-platform station with a perfect view of the first tunnel.


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From here, it was a hike up the hill to Hard-Off where much junk was bought. They had a great 'Junk Corner' here where I found random old ISA Sound Cards and even a Roland SC-88!


The view of the station as you're coming back down is lovely... especially when it stops raining. I wanted to stay and take a picture with a train in it, but my timetable actually demanded that I ride that same train.


And in short time it came back through the tunnel. This actually happened to be the return service of the one I'd caught to the area.

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Patronage was light-on, but consistent. The interiors where of a 'local service' bench-seat style and very clean and tidy! For those people without an electronic ticket, you would take a paper ticket from the dispenser next to the entrance. You then give this to the driver at your destination and he'll calculate your fare. The machine in front of the driver also gives change from notes and 500yen coins.


Trams! - KamiKumamotoEkiMae Station

Sorry, that capitalisation above is all mine... it's in an effort to help you understand what that name means. Kami-Kumamoto is the area, "Eki" means station and "Mae" means in-front-of. Pretty self-explanatory actually! This is the name of the tram stop out the front of the JR KamiKumamoto Station.


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That last poster is hilarious... they must really have issues with zombies using their "smart"-phones and getting in the way of railway vehicles. I'm not surprised... I'm still to be found on the footpaths shoulder-barging people who can't be bothered to look up or keep-left.

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The station also has an engine-shed associated and there were quite a few trams, of assorted models, either resting or under repair. I ended up riding the one pictured, through to town for lunch.. with a new objective! I wanted to go and see the green frog! But, back to the tram... from the outside, you can get a hunch that it's also a private railway in need of more love. The inside was just as ... romantic.

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Beautiful velour seats (Hankyu-esque?), wooden floors and cable ties! The mechanical side was fantastic though; that tram purred it's way down the center of the streets with zero effort.


From here it was back to Kumaden once more. The 'green frog' that I eluded to above is none other than Aogaeru, the famous ex-Nankai Zoom Car that Kumaden (used to) run. I say used-to as I expected it to be running when I was there... I was sorely mistaken to hear that they'd taken it out of service 2 years earlier! Now it's all bloody Kumamon!

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Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I'd transferred from the Tram back to Kumaden and faced off with Kumamon on the railcar. Instead of running in fear, I negotiated the ticket system and rode through to Kita-Kumamoto (North Kumamoto for those playing at home) and was presented with a beautiful station, something akin to an Oigawa Railway scene!

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I spent quite a lot of time at this station... Once Kumamon was out of the picture, the colour-tones of the rail vehicles settled back into a normal palette... all except one, really...


There you are! Aogaeru! Wait... The 'Aoi' part of 'Aogaeru' means 'Blue'... it's green. But that's a-whole-other fight to be had with the Japanese language. And what? There's only half the train there. Turns out the other half is in Shibuya, Tokyo! I've even seen it there and didn't think that it was half of this set! Anyway... there was much more to see around the yard.

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There was a miriad of different company railway cars under all phases of restoration. That's a Tokyo Metro EMU right there, in pieces. It was even being driven back and forth single-car style! I would have thought that it'd have some kind of fail-safe tech to stop it working without further cars attached, but they obviously managed to override those sensors?

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Oh ... Kumamon really does pop-up everywhere... Of course, it's the #1 advertising element of Kumamoto City, so I suppose I can forgive them.


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Numerous services came and went before I took the Kikuchi Line back to Kami-Kumamoto. It was an easier transfer to the Shinkansen at Kumamoto station and I wanted to check out the full length of the line.


Not that it's a long line... or branch. From the map above, Kita-Kumamoto is at the junction down below where the branch joins. This poor 200 series was destined, all day?, to run back and forth between 5 stops.


I was then off to South Kagoshima... but I'll save that for another post!

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