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18Sep/190

Shin-Osaka Station Area – May 2019

Whilst recently staying in the area, I made it my goal to check out all corners of the railway. There's a lot to see around Shin-Osaka Station, so I'll try and document everything I stumbled across!

Staging Yards

To the west of Shin-Osaka Station, there's a large staging yard where all sorts of trains get cleaned/repaired/shunted. I started my walk around the yards from the south-east corner, as that was closest to the apartment.

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Straight up there were interesting things to be seen. The Salon Car Naniwa was stored, not to be going anywhere anytime soon, and the Twilight Express Mizukaze was being cleaned and prepared for an afternoon departure. I started my anti-clockwise walk around the yard.

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There wasn't much to be seen along the northern edge of the yard. Although you can see into the yard, under the shinkansen tracks, you can't really get much of a vantage point as the Tokaido line (for freight and non-revenue movements) runs along the ground level. On the western edge of the yard, there's a level crossing where the Tokaido Line runs out and re-connects with itself. I wonder if this part is actually called the Tokaido Line? It's the track that allows the freight trains to skip Osaka Station.

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The level crossing gives you a good fore-warning of railway events. Unfortunately, I only got to see it trigger once when a Thunderbird was dead-heading from Osaka in to the yard. The Twilight Express Mizukaze was being washed and didn't budge. I'd actually hoped it'd leave this yard via the apartment, but instead it seems to have exited on this west side, turned left at the triangle and proceeded down to Osaka Station.

I continued my lap around the yards, there's something to see over every fence... although you might have to jump!

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Freight Branch

That line I mentioned above splits off from the main line on the northern side of the actual platforms at Shin-Osaka Station. If you follow the road under the station to the west of the lines, then you'll cross the tracks. It's still a level crossing, so you'll know when something is coming.

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If you browse over to the Shin-Osaka Webcam write-up, you'll find interesting things that you can wait here for. Above is the light-engine movements that I've written about. If you see the DE10 run west at around 8am, then you'll have good chances of seeing it drag something east at around 2pm! Extra hint when there's others waiting around!

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Higashi-Yodogawa Station Area

Walking east from Shin-Osaka Station, you can do a lap of the area via the Higashi-Yodogawa Station pedestrian overpass. This station used to have a level crossing which, spanning over 10 tracks, was more-often-than-not closed.

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The station itself has received a huge upgrade, probably because of the new Higashi-Osaka Line changing the track layout quite a bit. The overpass it a bit of overkill... with REALLY LONG ramps to allow bicycles to easily be pushed over the hill.

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Walking down the southern(eastern?) side of the line, I realised I was in direct frame for the Shin-Osaka Webcam. It was dusk, so I used the flashlight on my phone to annoy the locals.

If you look really closely in the video above, I'm standing for the first 4 seconds to the left of the pedestrian underpass tunnel entrance. I'm wearing a white t-shirt and I hold my phone above my head to shine a tiny little white light for a few seconds. I then walk to the right, mid-way into the frame, to the next street corner and do the same again with my phone.

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Here's the neighbourhood in more light! Can you spot where the camera might be!?

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Shin-Osaka Station

Finally, the station itself! You'll see all sorts of services passing through here. Most stop, as it's the major connection to the Shinkansen above. Freight pass on the northern-most lines, either directly past the station (and the yard mentioned above), or through the station, past the apartment and down to Ajikawaguchi.

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With all the departure boards, you'll know exactly what's coming and going... I'm going to finish this article with a shot from 10 years ago, on the same platform, in what-feels-like another lifetime.

The Twilight Express pulls into ShinOsaka

Ahh... loco-hauled sleeper trains... I miss you.

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11Sep/190

Shin-Osaka Apartment – May 2019

It's just occurred to me that I've been visiting/staying at this apartment for well-over 10 years now. I first found it via a google search for "long stay apartments" in 2007, when I was planning my first longer-than-usual trip to Japan. The goal was to spend time away from Australia whilst switching jobs... avoiding all those funny clauses in IT contracts.

It turns out the advertisement is still online, 12 years later! Note that the TV/Video doesn't exist anymore... it was analogue terrestrial and, well, I don't think I ever turned it on for longer than 5 minutes... although... Japanese TV Commercials are pretty hilarious. Especially when you have no idea what's going on and just catch the odd (weirdly placed) English adjective. There also is no PC... but there is amazing wifi... Fiber to the wall is the bessssst.

The Location

The apartment is located 10-minutes-walk south of Shin-Osaka Station. I've also proven that it's located a 5-minute-run south! Every now and then, one might wake up late, or take too long getting ready, to realise that their Shinkansen wont wait... And so... One doth run. You also have the Nishinakajima area just south of the apartment, with it's Hankyu Station, Subway Station and host of amenities. There's even a Sega world with original arcade games!

Right near the apartment is a Lawson and a Famimart. Under the railway bridge to the west is a Coco Ichiban Curry House, Daily Yamazaki, Post Office ATM, Yayoiken, MOS Burger, etc... The list goes on! There's a real post office just north-east of the apartment and the staff are very friendly and helped me send some large boxes this time around.

The View

The apartment, unfortunately, faces to the east. Fortunately, the main stairwell (actually, and the fire-escape spiral stairwell) have great views of the main line between Shin-Osaka and Osaka Station.

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Of note, to the right are two repeater signals that you'll want to keep an eye on. Three vertical lights indicates a green signal ahead, diagonal is caution and horizontal is stop.

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They're both at stop above. This can be very handy when trying to work out if a northbound train is operating.

The video above was taken over the course of a fortnight... all services seen are described below.

What can you expect to see?

There's around 8 freight services per day, and on any day at least 75% of those will run. Some might just be loco provisioning whereas others are full services down to Ajikawaguchi. You'll also get all of the north-east Tokaido Line express passenger services. Sometimes there's also random freight movements with DD51s. Of course, the Twlight Mizukaze also passes through on some of its journeys.

So, where to start? Let's get up at 0455 in the morning! First you'll get a southbound freight train... and then the M250 Super Rail Cargo. Note that it doesn't run on Sunday morning.

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Of course, trains this early are only really visible during the summer months when the sun rises very early; thanks to Japan not using daylight savings. The next sweet spot for freight is between 11:15 and 11:55am. Three are due in this period. Sometimes they're just light engines, other times provisioning.

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Some of the shots above were also taken around 4pm, where you'll get two more freights in a half-hour window. Below, we have the odd movements, which I happened to fluke. Note that the Shin-Osaka Webcam comes in really handy here! It gives you visibility north of Shin-Osaka Station which'll give you enough time to put pants on, run outside and get your happy snaps!

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Above is a DD51 towing two Kansai Main Line DMUs southound. I assume these were going via Osaka, anti-clockwise via the Osaka Loop Line (they'd have to reverse to go clockwise), through Tennoji and then east to their depot?

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Meanwhile that HD300 got towed back and forth quite a few times!

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Plus the other express passenger services...

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And then, of course, the main event!

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Trackside - Green Pedestrian Bridge

In the shots above, you can see a green pedestrian bridge running parallel to the tracks. This is a pretty good point in the afternoon when the sun is on the right angle. Of course, the weather doesn't always have to agree... either way, I checked it out when the Mizukaze was due.

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Right before it came through, I had a trifecta of expresses!

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It's a really mean-sounding train... all-diesel so it can run along the entire 'west' coast of Japan.

The Bridges Over The Yodogawa

If you follow the main road (turn right at Family Mart) that runs parallel on the eastern side of the railway, you'll end up on the northern bank of the Yodogawa. This area happens to be a 10 minute walk, just south of the apartment, and provides a nice view of the railway lines. Before getting there though, you have to cross the Hankyu lines. There's then a pedestrian bridge over the road that also gives you a nice bit of elevation.

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From here, you then just get to stare at the JR lines...

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Of course, I was here for a good reason...

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I'll wrap up the apartment post here and post a few more articles soon about other places to visit in the area!

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6Sep/190

Katsura, Kyoto – May 2019

I made a pitstop in Katsura on my way back to ShinOsaka from the Eizan Dentetsu in north Kyoto. I'd seen from Google Maps that there was a Hankyu depot here and I wanted to check it out. I was also using Hankyu to return from Kyoto, transferring off Keihan at Gion-Shijo.

Katsura Station

This is the junction where the Kyoto and Arashiyama lines join. From the station, a short walk north will get you right next to the Katsura depot. I wandered around on-foot, to see what I could from the street.

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Straight up, no disappointments! The 4053 maintenance train was sitting right at the end of the yard, just begging to be photographed.

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The yard is perpetually busy, with trains being constantly shuffled in and out.

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I then followed the elevated Arashiyama Line to the magical land that time forgot.

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Well, to the magical land that equipment, of which time has forgotten, gets deposited!

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There were some beautiful old macintosh desktops in this branch, as well as a lot of interesting musical equipment!

Hankyu Kyo-Train

Most station platforms on the Hankyu Kyoto Line have stickers on them advertising the Hankyu Kyo-Train. I had totally forgotten about it and failed to plan it into my journey. It runs at specific times on weekends only! I did have one chance to see it though. I had just been to the Hard-Off above and was dawdling back to Katsura Station. It occurred to me that the Kyo-Train would be making its final run from Kawaramachi to Umeda as I was wandering to Katsura... and... if I ran (in the rain) I could get line-side to see it.

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Total fluke! The livery isn't too different to a standard 6000-class, but the interior is meant to be beautiful. Hankyu are always fitting a consist out like this, so I'll make sure I catch the next one, next time I'm in Japan.

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3Sep/190

Eizan Dentetsu, Kyoto – June 2019

After three weeks of gallivanting around Japan, my rail pass had run out. But thanks to some intricate planning, I'd already been to the southernmost point, westernmost point, northernmost point and easternmost point of the JR network. It was therefore time to check out places much closer to the apartment in Shin-Osaka. The following location just happens to be one of my favouries and, yes, I've been here quite a few times before.

Getting to the Eizan Railway

From Shin-Osaka, you've got a few methods to get to the north-east of Kyoto. One way could be to take any JR service to Kyoto and then transfer to either a bus or the subway. Another is to take the Midosuji Subway from Shin-Osaka or Nishinakajima-Minamigata south to Yodoyabashi Station and then Keihan straight through to Demachiyanagi Station. Finally, you can do the same with Hankyu, hopping on at Minamikata Station, transferring to a Kyoto-bound service at Ibaraki and then transferring once more to the Keihan Railway at Kawaramachi Station. This final option lets you walk across the famous bridge over the Kamo River at Gion-Shijo!

I ended up going a totally different way. I'd already checked out Demachiyanagi, and would end up there at the end of the day, so I chose to ride the subway from JR Kyoto all the way to the northern terminus at Kokusaikaikan Station and then walk over to Hachiman-Mae Station.

Hachiman-Mae Station

This is the first station on the Kurama Line after the Hieizan line splits to the east. As the name mentions, it's in front of the Hachiman Shrine, up the hill, to the north-east. I haven't ventured up to that one yet, but the photos look amazing. Meanwhile, here's Hachiman-Mae Station...

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This time the goal was to see the new maple-green Kirara, so the waiting game begun. Thanks to the frequency of the line, even on a Sunday, it didn't take long to see a service.

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The maple-orange Kirara then came northbound!

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The design of these vehicles is amazing and many awards have been won. I still haven't actually travelled at night, when the forests are lit during Autumn, because supposedly that's when the design really lends its hand to showing the passengers the beauty of the area. From the inside, you really get the idea of the view... the forest totally engulfs you.

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Whilst heading up the hill, the maple-green consist passed southbound. I must admit, I miss the maple-red. The green is quite intense... and yes, it perfectly matches maple leaves, so it's still in the grand scheme of the colouring, but...

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This was actually great timing. I'd chosen a location just south of Ninose Station and now I could approximate when this livery would pass.

Ninose Station

Yup, yup, yup... been here before... check over here for some beautiful photos in the snow. It's a station nestled in a valley with a small town right next to it. There's some beautiful galleries and cafes to enjoy, but there's also a fantastic viewpoint where the railway passes high over a river and roadway just south of the station.

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We arrived and had to wait for the southbound EMU to pass... after this, the precinct was beautifully vacant. There was the odd cicada, but the overwhelming sound was that of the water rushing south down the mountain.

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As I was waiting a random bunch of joggers were heading downhill. Did they take the train to the top first?

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From the station there are two relatively steep staircases at either end of the platform. Due to the dampness of the forest, they can be quite slippery, so do be careful.

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As you're descending, the view is fantastic.

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Actually, that logging is a bit of an eyesore... but I'm sure it'll grow back quickly. A short stroll down the road will get you to the rail bridge just south of the station.

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Finding a good angle was actually quite a challenge. I had my 18-200 "all-rounder" on, but the widest angle wasn't really wide enough... or maybe it's due to the slope of the road... or maybe I just always seem to take photos on an angle... just look at all my posts!

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The first EMU passed. It was easy to hear coming as there are quite a few curves prior to the bridge. There's also a signal which some of the following services stopped at. This one also hit its horn and seemingly came to a sharp stop, but it was out of view when it did so. Note that this is the EMU that we saw heading south from Hachiman-Mae Station above. We know that maple-green was following it southbound, so it should be next!

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There are only two stations to north past Ninose, so the maple-orange EMU I came on was the next service to pass southbound. After this had shot past, I checked out the area. Thanks to google, I knew I had around 20mins until the next pass, so I dawdled around and gandered at the gallery and tearooms just on the other side of the bridge. Much much too fancy for me, so I quickly retreated back into the shadows... no one wants to be out of position when a train is about to approach!

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Lots of overgrown old infrastructure mixed with beautiful houses. Everything is also so green!

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I seem to have been mistaken. I promised the maple-green service as the next northbound, but it turns out that there's more than one beige two-car EMU operating! Hah. Ok, it must be the next one?

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Nope, the next service was a monkey. No wonder the trains have been stopping and hitting their horns!

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Ah, OK, the green isn't such a bad match when it's buried in forest scenery. The driver had to pull right up to wait for the monkey to get out of the way. I wanted to catch this service southbound and had now seen all the liveries, so I proceeded back to the station. There is honestly something interesting to look at wherever you turn your head.

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After a bit of dawdling, maple-green arrived to take me back to Demachiyanagi.

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There was one more EMU to see on this line and I'd flukely timed it perfectly to meet it at the terminus.

Demachiyanagi Station

I'd seen drawings and then photos of this EMU, but had no idea what it really looked like. I was a little worried. Most reviewers had reported it to resemble the magic mirror from snow white, or just some other kind of ghastly portal to another universe. I think I have to agree with them... but then again, in reality it's a stunning design!

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It was timed to head up to Hiei right as I arrived, so I didn't get to check it out further.

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From here it was a quick trip to Katsura for the usual delights...

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30Aug/190

Kushiro and Nemuro – May 2019

The initial plan was to return home from Asahikawa through to Shin-Osaka on the Saturday, but it had occurred to me that I should really tackle the trip to Nemuro. I was in Hokkaido and really had no idea when I'd be back. I had really only planned to do a daytrip to Oigawa the next day, and I'd been there before, so I cancelled that plan and booked a hotel in Kushiro. I also changed my Hayabusa Reservations to the next day as the entire service is reserved and one must make sure they have a seat!

So after a nice massage the night before in Asahikawa, plans were made to head down to Sapporo and then turn left. A Super Express Lilac would take me on this first leg.

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As with most JR express services, the transfer timings are fantastic and a Super Ozora service was waiting for me at Sapporo, ready to leave 10 minutes later. Jussst enough time to stock up on snacks!

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The eastbound scenery was very different. Quite dry inland and along the coast.

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The line twists and turns along the way to Kushiro. At around 80% of the way, I saw a really familiar sign on a billboard next to the highway. It turns out that Shiranuka is the home of Tantakatan!

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Kushiro Station

Again with this educated timetabling of transfers. JR Hokkaido has a joyful train called the Kushiro Shitsugen Norroko-go that takes passengers from Kushiro, up the Senmo Main Line, to Toro Station. And yeah, back to that timing... the train was sitting on the platform waiting to depart!

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With just enough time to set up, I found a safe place for the camera and started recording...

Snacks were then bought and I boarded my Nosappu DMU (named after Cape Nosappu) to Nemuro.

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The Nemuro Main Line (also known as the Hanasaki Line [花咲線]) runs along the coast from Kushiro to Nemuro and the countryside is quite different from that of the trip north to Wakkanai.

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If you see any deer in the photos above, then it's because we nearly hit them. The poor driver was on the horn most of the time trying to get them off the right-of-way!

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Along the line, some of the stations had Lupin III characters! A quick google points out that: In 2012, the Hokkaido Railway Company unveiled Lupin III-themed trains on their Hanasaki Line between Kushiro and Nemuro station, in honor of Monkey Punch, who is a native of Hokkaido. Cool! But hence the fading, that was 7 years ago.

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Before long we were approaching Nemuro Station. We'd actually pass through Higashi-Nemuro Station, at-speed, but I saw the "you have reached the eastern-most point of the JR network" sign. DONE!

Nemuro Station

So, plan ahead with this! There aren't too many facilities at the station (not even a convenience store!) and the best option you have is a tourist information center. This has a little shop/stall inside it, but it was closed! So, if you're doing this trip and, like me, returning on the same service... pack for both directions... and don't drink all of your high-balls on the way there!

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And, well, yeah... 12 minutes later I departed on the local back to Kushiro. Since this wasn't the Nosappu Express, we actually stopped at the eastern-most point of the JR network!

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I stepped out of the train, stood on the platform and then jumped back on the service. The next one was hours away and the platform was as minimal as the southern-most station at Nishi-Oyama. From here, it was the same trip in reverse... stopping at a lot more stations...

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Things to look for? Deer! But the driver will help you there. The Lupin characters are everywhere... Stuffed-and-mounted Guard Vans are also all along the rails, acting as shelters.

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Taking photos from inside a vehicle can be problematic... so check if you can open the windows. If you see latches, as below... make sure you use both hands!

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Higashi-Nemuro

I got off at Higashi-Nemuro on the way back. I'd checked the maps and realised I could take a taxi to a hard-off. Unfortunately, the station was very quiet and there were no taxis waiting. Instead, I hiked the 30 minute journey and found a PC Densha de Go Controller!

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On the way back, I caught a taxi to Nemuro Station. The driver actually ended up driving past an institution that had an SL stuffed-and-mounted in the yard! I failed to ask him to stop in time and went back to check it out...

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There was then just enough time to get back to the level crossing next to Kushiro Station to catch the Kushiro Shitsugen Norroko-go returning.

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Interestingly, the DE10 was still on the rear. It seems the car at the front is actually a DMU? It's open-air, but has a driving cab in the rear! Makes perfect sense if you're going to a station where you don't want to have to bother with running around.

Kushiro

This is town is actually famous for its port! I hadn't realised that the town was so heavily based on shipping. From the railway, you only really see the land and the town... it's not until you walk far enough south that you get to see the port. For some reason though, I can't find any photos of my little trek down to the bridge and port.

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I stayed in the Hotel Crown Hills Kushiro, located across the road from station. It had quite a view.. of the Super Hotel across the road... which would've had a better view! Fortunately, there isn't much to see on the Nemuro Main Line after Kushrio Station. Note that there are freight trains that run into Kushiro, but the freight depot is much further to the west.

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From here, I had dinner in the station. There's a beautifully rustic restaurant in the building itself and the chicken curry was delicious. Supposedly you're meant to eat Sushi or Crabs here though! I never do travel for food. An early and uneventful night was spent in the hotel and the first service was taken westbound in the morning.

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I'd booked a seat, but the windows were quite terrible. The double-glazing had condensed and there was no chance of taking photos from the seats. Fortunately there's observation areas at the ends of the cars.

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Note that you can no longer get to the front window in these trains. Back in the day, you could look out the front as the drivers cab is elevated. I can't remember the exact event, but they now no longer allow passengers to cram themselves into the front vestibule for a drivers' view. It's really quite sad as that's how I captured Super Hokuto en-route to Sapporo and Super Hakucho approaching Kikonai in the snow.

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And that was really it... there was a transfer at Minami-Chitose (actually, I went to the outlet mall as I had an hour) to the following EMU...

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And then it was a seamless trip of transfers back to Shin-Osaka! I had left Kushiro at 6am in Hokkaido (on the hottest day on record! 39 degrees?) and arrived in Shin-Osaka at 10:30pm.

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29Aug/190

Nayoro and Wakkanai – May 2019

The previous day I'd travelled from Sendai to Asahikawa in order to check out some afternoon freight. This also put me in a great position to catch the first northbound service from Asahikawa to Nayoro. The eventual goal was to get to Wakkanai and tick off most northbound station, but there were also delights to see prior to this achievement! The day started with the usual array of beautiful Hokkaido EMUs, before I even got to the station!

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My train north was to be a stopper... I wanted to get to Nayoro early, so I chose the first northbound local. Turns out this was to be serviced by a joint KIHA effort.

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I chose a seat close to the front of the service as I've always loved the ability to view where we're going.

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The scenery was nothing short of spectacular.. that previous mention of agriculture shining through. I could not believe how green the country was.

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Before-long we had arrived at Nayoro.

Nayoro

This sleepy town used to be alive with railway activity. The remnants of the station yard show that there used to be a lot of steam activity. Back when locomotives needed more-frequent servicing, refuelling and shuffling, this area would have been a major depot. Unfortunately, nowadays the DMUs can zoom past this area and not give a damn as, well, their tanks are still a-plenty. The DMUs that I travelled on had done their dash and were to terminate here. In fact, they were to split and the older KIHA departed for the yard... the younger sibling ended up on Platform 3 to perform a later service.

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But, that wasn't what I was here for... a quick walk to the south-east of the station would provide me with my first real contact with a 9600 class steamer! Unfortunately... stuffed-and-mounted. But, as with the rest of this trip, I had to walk there first.

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At last, a caboose appeared...

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And then ... nothing but stuffed-and-mounted steam trains... in terribly glary morning light.

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The 9600-class is such a fantastic-looking locomotive... one of those styles that uses every centimetre of available space. It was amazing getting up close to one... I wish there was still a running example! I hereby request that Oigawa restore the static exhibit sitting at Senzu Station (49616 is there in one of the photos)!

Anyway, that was enough to make the locals wonder what the hell a gaijin was doing wandering around their neighbourhood and local parkland. It was still early... somewhere near 9am and lots of people were heading to work. I hereby apologise! But it must be a common occurrence? I suppose the next bit wasn't though.. I dawdled from the SL display, past the back of the DMU/freight sheds, around to the curve on the northern side of the station. The southbound express was due next and I fluked a fantastic location!

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Half of the set that brought me to Nayoro was still on P3, but then I turned around and checked out the view... that would set the scene for the approaching express...

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Ah yeah... Thank you sun, thank you grass, thank you ...

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You just can't ask for better variables... Hokkaido!

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I kept dawdling my way around, back to the station. Stocking up with goods at Convenience Stores for the further trip north.

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A DMU came through southbound, whilst I was waiting for my express to Wakkanai.

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And then we were off!

Wakkanai - The end of JR

The trip further north was beautiful. Right towards the end the line bends towards the western coast of Hokkaido and there's a huge volcano, similar to Sakurajima down in Kagoshima. But before that, it's countryside, cows and more countryside.

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A few minutes past the volcano and we were pulling to a halt in Wakkanai Station. At this point I'd now completed 3 of the 4 points of extremity of the JR network. I got out and checked out the station precinct. Due to the timing of return services, and my plans to get back to Asahikawa to see more freight, I had already decided to take the same train back... so I had around 15 minutes to find food and have a look around.

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The five station supports above have signs on them indicating how far Wakkanai Station is from other stations in the JR network. The first one above is actually Nishi-Oyama Station, which I travelled to a few weeks prior... 3068.4km away! Asahikawa was 259.4km away and Sapporo 396.2km. I assume they used the rail-length and not as-the-crow-flies.

After doing Wakkanai very little justice (I'll come back, I promise!), I was back on the southbound express, bound for Asahikawa once more. Here's some scenery...

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Asahikawa Station

The express arrived back in Asahikawa just as the freight was passing through. This happened to be the same timeslot as the afternoon before.

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I returned to the hotel to freshen up... and to catch as many DMUs as I could on the viaduct.

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I then returned to the station as the sun was setting. The day before I'd been at Shin-Asahikawa, so I was pleasantly surprised that the lighting was just as fantastic here.

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The freight came through like clockwork and I feel sorry for the driver's retinas!

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From here it was back to the hotel for dinner and a massage. There's a great bathhouse and masseuse on level 2!

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28Aug/191

Asahikawa, Hokkaido – May 2019

This was quite the tour! I'd been to Sapporo a few times in the past, and usually by sleeper train (I really miss the original Twilight Express), but this time I'd be travelling at much higher speeds. Thanks to the opening of Shinkansen services through the Seikan Tunnel, not only can you get to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto at lightning speed, you even get free wifi when you're under the ocean!

The trip started from Sendai. I'd spent the day before travelling from Osaka to Nara to Ogaki, eventually ending up in Capsule Hotel Topos Sendai Station West. This hotel is fantastic and I recommend anyone to stay here. Clean, tidy and there are even 'premium' capsules that provide extra room, security and comfort. After a good night's sleep, I was presented with the following steed at Sendai Station. I could have chosen a different path and started the day from Tokyo, but instead, I'd chosen to travel half-way up Tohoku to Sendai. The first northbound service starts from Sendai and gets you to Sapporo (and then Asahikawa) much quicker than a service starting further south.

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Actually, I fib. That one was going in the other direction... this one was mine:

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You'll notice the coupled consists above. The front half goes all the way through to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, whereas the back half only goes to Shin-Aomori. Note that the whole train is reserved... so make sure you get your tickets early! But then again, as I found out later in the trip, changing reservations can be quite simple!

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If you've got some cash to spend, then take Gran-Class above! Green, below, is just as comfy... but so is pleb-class, which I took. I do enjoy the on-platform smoking facilities.

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It was a very quick trip... thanks to free wifi and therefore free netflix!

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station

This station is the location of the current terminus of the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The extension through to Sapporo is under construction and is expected to be completed by 2031. It actually used to be the location of Oshima-Ōno Station (渡島大野駅), but this was demolished/renamed/upgraded when the Shinkansen line was built through. Now the station serves as a transfer point to the Zairaisen. There are perfectly-timed express services, lined up with most Shinkansen arrival/depatures, ready to go in both directions. There are also freight trains! This is the main line from Sapporo through to Tokyo, so they're also quite frequent. I wish I had been paying attention to my freight train timetable, and not netflix, as I wasn't in the right spot when one flew straight past me!

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The view of the scenery from the station was already quite fantastic. You could tell you were on a different island from the 'main land'.

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Transferring to the normal gauge express trains was easy enough... they've colour-and-flower/fruit coded the doors! You also get the Japanese translation... there'll be a test later.

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Before-long, the southbound and northbound expresses were in the station.

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Actually, I was too busy watching the southbound express come down from the mountain.. when I turned around my train was nearly ready to depart!

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From here it was a quick trip through to Sapporo, where a quick transfer to the Kamui took place. This service is run by an EMU as the line between Sapporo and Asahikawa is electrified. Here it is arriving into Sapporo.

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The trip from Sapporo to Asahikawa is inland and the scenery was fanastic. There really is a lot of land up in Hokkaido and 99% of it seems to be used for agriculture.

Asahikawa

Asahikawa Station has seemingly recently been elevated and the architecture is beautiful. Lots of wooden infrastructure and great views of the mountain ranges in all directions.

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There's also a lot of references to the animals of the famous Asahiyama Zoo.

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I ventured straight to my lodgings as it had been quite a long day of travel. I'd chose Hotel WBF Grande Asahikawa - ホテルWBF, right next to the station as I'd assumed, if I requested a station on the rear-side of the hotel, it'd have a great railway view.

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When I booked, I asked (via booking.com) to have a railway view and they informed me the single I'd booked needed to be changed to a deluxe twin for this to occur. It seems that the railway-facing rooms are all twin rooms! The booking had been done a few months prior to travel and so, at check-in when they asked where my travel partner was, I was stumped. Why were they asking this? Oh yeah! I'd booked a twin room because I wanted the railway view, and so they assumed two people were staying. I'd forgotten the reasoning at this point and they nearly down-graded me back to a single room, until one of the staff saw the "loves trains" note on the booking and let it proceed. Hah. Anyway... the room was fantastic and the view?...

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That'll do nicely. Bags dumped, it was time to get back to the station and check out the neighbourhood. Of course, that's a total fib... the goal was to get back into the station in time to see the next freight service come through. Prior to it arriving, there were enough other trains to keep me entertained.

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And then... like clockwork...

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The freight continued around the viaduct up to the freight yard. I wanted to catch the return service, so I made my on foot to follow it.

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Getting here is easy enough, follow the viaduct around the bend and take as-many-photographs-as-possible to distract one'self over the length of the bloody walk! Yes, it was quite the adventure... but there's always a silver lining.

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I had time before the freighter... so... the silver lining...

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And then a quick run to Shin-Asahikawa Station. Quite a beautiful area at sunset!

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DMUs everywhere... the wires must'nt last much further past the station.

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And then... right on time!

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I caught the train back to the center of town this time.

Asahikawa Station At Night

From here it was back to Asahikawa Station for some nighttime photography.

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The evening southbound freighter was right on time, and it was too dark to try a photo with motion, so I opted to try and hold my camera steady instead.

While waiting for trains, you get a great view of the signals on the northern side. If they're all red then chances are good that something is coming.

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But that was a wrap... I needed to be up really early the next day for the journey north to Wakkanai.

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20Aug/190

Yokkaichi and Yoro Railway – May 2019

The main goal was to get to Wakkanai, but before that I wanted to trek through Kansai and check out some smaller operations. The first stage was a voyage across Kansai over to Yokkaichi to check out the super-narrow-gauge lines. I'd been to these areas before, but the freight operations always managed to elude me. Actually, last time I also even totally failed to ride the Yoro railway! This time around I was going to fix those errors.

Kizu Station - Pan O Seeguru - パン オ セーグル

I was off to an early start on the Osaka Higashi Line, transferring at Kyuhoji for a Yamatoji Rapid to Nara. At Nara, if you go one stop further north, you'll end up at Kizu Station. Just a short walk south of the station, you'll find Pan O Seeguru or, in French: Pain Aux Seigle. The name translates to 'Rye Bread'. So I assume that's what they produce? Hah, either way, I arrived way to early and it was still shut! I had plans to get much further east, so a few photos from the outside had to suffice!

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But yeah, they've managed to acquire the front end cab of an EF66 and install it inside the shop. You can see the building is new... I assume they built the building around the cab!

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Check their website above for an much cooler interior shot!

Yokkaichi Station

I had initial plans to take the original Kansai Line over the mountain through Tsuge to Yokkaichi, but I'd get to the Nagoya side a little too late for the scheduled freight operations. Instead, it was quicker to bolt up to Kyoto, across to Nagoya via the Shinkansen and then down to Yokkaichi via the Mie Rapid on a beautifully-sounding KIHA 75. All a bit round-a-bout, but still fun... and totally acceptable thanks to the rail pass! I'd also already ridden the Kansai Main Line.

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There's a yard on the eastern side of the station where they store/shunt petroleum tankers. A DE10 was hanging around, powered-up but not being operated.

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Before-long, the southbound freight I was hoping to see passed through...

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There were a few other locomotives stored in the yard. Recently a DF50 has been moved from Hokkaido to the Yokkaichi to work on the oil/petroleum trains.

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Yokkaichi Station also has a third-sector railway attached. I didn't actually know this and so was surprised to see a different-liveried DMU hanging down the very end. Turns out it's the ISE Railway and it runs from Yokkaichi Station through to Tsu Station. If you check the maps, you'll note that JR takes an inland route via Kameyama, Ise is a little straighter, south through Suzuka and Kintetsu, although not connecting to JR Yokkaichi Station, runs right along the port... probably a better place to see the freight from! Next time!

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I'd seen the freight and so took the next service north for a stop-over at Tomida Station.

Tomida Station

This station never disappoints. It's another freight yard, but this time providing a connection to a private operator: The Sangi Railway. Note that it's freight-only here, if you want to ride the Sangi Railway then you need to transfer; but more on that shortly.

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Straight up, the two beautiful EF300 series locomotives of Sangi Railway were idling in the adjacent yard. They had two cement hoppers in their consist... pretty short for that amount of horsepower!

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They weren't due to depart for another 30 minutes, so I watched my service depart and another arrive...

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And then the freighter left for the branch! How dare they.... at least 25 minutes earlier. I was meant to be on the branch before this!

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I had time until my Kintetsu transfer, so I checked out Tomida Station a little more. It hasn't changed much!

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The odd passenger service shot through, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Kintetsu Tomida Station - Sangi Railway Sangi Line

A short walk west gets you from JR Tomida Station to Kintetsu Tomida Station. Here you'll also find the terminus of Sangi Railway's Sangi Line, which, interestingly, used to be owned by Kintetsu but is now totally private.

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The streets are narrow and cosy and before-long you'll find yourself at the station. You'll actually need to cross the railway to get to the station entrance, which can be a problem if you're blocked by a train...

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But there's also a pedestrian subway, albeit seeing little use.

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Navigating the ticket machines was easy enough. I arrived just in time for a train-load of students to arrive from a Sangi Line EMU who then all bolted as quickly as possible to the Kintetsu trains. Interestingly they were all going in different directions. It was hardly lunch time, so I thought they'd maybe be changing campuses? It was a little too early to be going home.

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After the rush, I had a whole train to myself!

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Another Sangi Line EMU then came in, but it would be departing in a later timeslot, so I chose the blue one.

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The engines of the EMU had a really vintage low growl to them. Winding along the narrow gauge (the Sangi Line is 1067mm, the Hokusei being 762mm) through the countryside was something else... beautiful weather and lush-looking rice fields!

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My destination was Hobo Station, the depot for the line.

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The name actually has no real meaning and is just the name of the town, no persons of ill-repute to speak of. Just lots of brightly-coloured EMUs.

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And the odd retro livery!

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Meanwhile, the Sangi Depot located here is definitely worth travelling to! Straight up, it resembles the Takekawa Yard on the Chichibu Railway, just with brown engines.

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Unfortunately... the services I had on my timetable to run through... didn't. I'll get you next time!

Kuwana Station - Yoro Railway

The final leg of this journey was Hobo to Ogaki via the Yoro Railway line. I'd just missed riding the Yoro Railway 9 years earlier when I was hanging around Minoakasaka, so this time there was no option to fail. Getting to the start of the Yoro Railway was easy enough: Sangi from Hobo back to Kintetsu Tomida and then the next east-bound express through to Kuwana Station.

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Somewhat reminiscent of the Hankyu livery, the Yoro EMU was sitting on it's isolated platform, waiting patiently to take passengers to Ogaki. Seeing as that we still had around 20 minutes until departure, I loitered around taking photos... first up? Kintetsu...

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The express services were happily bolting through! Next up, that darned DD51 returned from Yokkaichi!

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Hang on, what's that... It's a westbound oiler!

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Right-time-right-place... thank you very much. But yeah, maybe a closer platform would've been nicer... To calm my nerves, I went and found an Okonomiyaki Burger. The restaurant is called Don Don and it's in the mall just after the JR station. Omg it was delicious.

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After lunch, we were on our way to Ogaki Station. The line runs up the eastern side of the Mount Yoro and the view is splendid along the entire route.

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Along the way the train also stops into Yoro Station. The building's architecture is from 1919 and there are a whole bunch of [something] hanging from the station platform roof! Quite a treat and a chinese couple happily took insta-selfies with the low-hanging-fruit.

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We waited here to pass a southbound and very orangey-brown liveried EMU.

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From there... it was a quick final few stops before arriving back at Ogaki Station. Waiting to take the next load of passengers south was the brand new 7700-Series!

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Officially, looking at the map, I'd done a loop-the-loop, as I'd crossed under the Shinkansen line that took me to Nagoya earlier in the morning. Ticking items off the todo list really does take time and effort. Anyway, from here it was a quick EMU to Nagoya and then two Shinkansen, finally ending up in Sendai. The Hayabusa was to leave at 0640 the next morning, northbound.

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13Aug/190

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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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

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8Aug/190

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.

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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...

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

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And passing bullets on the above-lines...

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

iMovie really is an easy-to-use app to blend them all together.

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