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29Jun/190

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!

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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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28Jun/190

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!

Yamakawa

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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...

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And a motorbike from North Korea...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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

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27Jun/190

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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

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25Jun/190

Biwako-Hamaotsu Station – May, 2019

I'd seen a lot of photos and videos of this location, but had never been there to see it myself. Biwako-Hamaotsu Station, owned by theKeihan Railway Company, is located in down-town Otsu is the junction of the Keihan-Ishiyamasakamoto and Keihan-Keishin railway lines. Due to space limitations, the railway lines actually run down the middle of standard roads, working in perfect concert with the traffic light signals.

I arrived via JR Otsu Station after watching the last run of the 700 Series on the Ohmi Railway. It's a fair walk down to the Keihan Station, but you can interect either Keihan line to make it more interesting. I chose the Keihan-Ishiyamasakamoto Line just before Shimanoseki Station, heading downhill down Chuo Doori,

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Once you hit the level crossing, you'll see a few services as the frequency on the line is quite high. You then get to traverse an elevated pedestrian bridge through to the main station. From here you can view the line into the rear of the station.

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You can also view the boat race arena across the bay!

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If you look closely enough in that photo above, you'll see 5 boats taking their second corner, closest to the camera. They were non-stop whilst I was there.

The Main Intersection

At the end of the pedestrian bridge is the part I ventured here for...

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The intersection forms a railway junction between both lines and the tracks are actually quite wide apart. I can't tell if this is to avoid possible trappings of road vehicles, if any were to get in the way, or simply because the station is an island-platform design and requires the tracks to be wider apart. They could have just as easily created side platforms.

The two tracks here venture off in differing directions. From the station, the Keihan-Keishin Line heads uphill to the left and the Keihan-Ishiyamasakamoto Line heads straight ahead before snaking along the roadway.

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Before long, there were trains traversing the intersection in all directions.

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One of the Keihan-Ishiyamasakamoto Line wore headmarks, but they differed on each side of the train. Heisei in one direction and Reiwa in the other to mark the change of Emperor!

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I started to feel a little envious over the local photographers equipment... but was happy enough with the photos I managed to take.

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Meanwhile, there's quite a nice assortment of liveries...

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After a good hour of watching everything pass by (and digging in to some 7-chiki and coffee from the local konbini), I was off again back to Osaka. I highly recommend this area to anyone interested in street-running!

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21Jun/190

Ohmi Railway 700 Series Last Run – May, 2019

For the first time, a real Last Run event happened whilst I was visiting Japan. It was a total co-incidence and I was more than happy to participate. Well, I was more than happy to ride Ohmi Tetsudou's other trains as the actual Last Run tickets were all sold out.

Last Runs are quite an event in Japan. Most residents or railfans build real attachments to railway vehicles and are very sad to see them taken out of service. This time around it was the 700 Series "あかね号" (Akane-Go) which was to run a final trip down all lines before lowering its pantograph one final time.

Getting there

As I was staying in Shin-Osaka, the first step was to jump on a JR Special Rapid from Shin-Osaka to Ohmi-Hachiman. This was a relatively quick trip and I was actually surprised that the suggestion wasn't to take a Shinkansen to Maibara and bounce back. Once at Ohmi-Hachiman, you'll be presented with your first taste of the Ohmi Railway.

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The station is external to JR; there's no transfer facility. Once you're out of the JR station, you can turn right and head down to the ticket gates of Ohmi. Here you can purchase single tickets, but they also have a 'Smile Ticket' which provides 1-day unlimited travel... exactly what we needed!

Once on-board, it was a spirited run through to Yokaichi. (Not to be confused with Yokkaichi!) Being a private railway, you wont often find welded rail, so the ride was endearing. The sound of the wheels hitting the joints in the rail at quite a high speed was fantastic, especially with an older vehicle that isn't quite sound-proof. Of course, it's also recommended to sit down, or hold on, as the joints often offer quite a jolt.

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The railway crosses under the Tokaido Shinkansen between Yokaichi and Ohmi-Hachiman and I often actually wondered which railway this was when viewing from the Hikari between Kyoto and Maibara. I was really hoping to catch a glimpse of a Shikansen passing from the Ohmi Train, but no such luck in either direction.

Yokaichi Station

This was where the action started to increase. There was signage everywhere and a lot of interest in anything that moved. The station offers a pedestrian overbridge with windows that can be opened. These were already packed with people holding onto their vantage points. There was also a colourful selection of rolling stock hanging around the station. There's a central road to store consists when not in use.

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You'll note the netting above. They used it to prevent a build-up of humans at the bottom of the stairs which would then block the overpass. Of course, it prevented nice angles, but safety always comes first!

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A film crew started setting up down the end, as the Last-Run was actually about 20 minutes from approaching this station. We chose not to hang around for that and to take that pink EMU west to get a scenic country shot. The target was Daigakuen-Mae station.

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This is a tiny single-platform station which provides access to the local university.

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We quickly wandered to the eastern side of the university to check the view...

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It wasn't bad. We had also followed a few people through to this location and they then continue further in amongst the rice paddies... but I had a better idea... a spot to the west of the university that I'd discovered on Google Maps previously...

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Seems, even here, that others thought it was a good spot too. There was also a farmer ploughing a rice paddy.. a nice touch and nice sounds as I'd only ever seen such a practice from a train window.

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In no time the level crossing activated just after the station and the consist came through.

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It dawdled through the scene as it was a tourist service and no on the regular schedule. Regardless, it was good to see it running this leg of the company railway for the last time!

Make sure you switch the quality up to 720p60... it was the first time testing with a friends GoPro and didn't realise it would have such a wide field-of-view!

Back to Yokkaichi

A quick wander back to the platform got us onto the next east-bound service. This time a blue EMU. I only needed to ride one cream and one green to cover all liveries!

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From Yokaichi station, we walked into the local Shoutengai to see the 'market' that had been set up with memorabilia of the railway and 700-series.

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Unfortunately it was all already gone and there was really only a queue to buy tickets for the next let of the Last-Run tour. I didn't really want to ride the consist, so we just had a quick lunch and continued on.

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Back at the station there was anticipation for the 700-series to return from the west. A lot more people were hanging out to see it. The news crew was also in-position...

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Meanwhile, the Oi Ocha sponsored dark-green livery was in full-view.

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We wanted to take the next service back to Ohmi-Hachiman and so waited on the platform where the 700-series was to arrive.

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There was a little mayhem as everyone got the right angles for their photos and then we were off, in front of the 700-series, northbound. The next photo location was to be at Ichinobe Station... and it provided a fantastic scene.

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The graveyard was sort-of ironic... being that the fate of the 700-series was already decided. A southbound service passed through before the 700-series arrived.

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Loitering was then carried-out at the station, waiting for the next timetabled northbound service.

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Once on-board, we passed the 700-series on its last southbound run from Ohmi-Hachiman...

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Good Bye 700!

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