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Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan – July 2017

I'd been to this city before, but always by railpass and therefore the Tohoku Shinkansen. My friend (Hi Keiko!) is from Aizu and, whilst going to visit her family, insisted that we travel via the Aizu Tetsudou instead of taking the quick path. We weren't disappointed!

The Path

I've plotted the paths vaguely on the map below. Option 1 is in blue and it's the standard 'fast route' via the Shinkansen and Aizu Liner. This is all JR and is totally do-able for 'free' using the JR Pass. As I'd mentioned, we'd done this many times in the past and it was time to check out the old route through the mountains and on the private railways.

The whole trip was done in two stages. First was from Asakusa to Aizu-Tajima via the Tobu Railway on the Limited Express Revaty. Second was from Aizu-Tajima through to Aizuwakamatsu on the Aizu Railway.

Asakusa to Aizu-Tajima

The Revaty is an exciting train. I have no idea where they got the name from (I lie, Wiki says: a name derived from the English words "Variety" and "Liberty"), but it looks neat and is quite new!

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The platforms at Asakusa are curved and they get quite narrow towards the front of the train. We were also 'right on time' and had to do a bit of safe-speed-running to get to the car of the train of which we were assigned. The journey was comfortable and quick... with most passengers alighting along the way rather than at the very end. It actually turned out that the three of us, plus two (drunk) comrades, were the only passengers to go the whole way. The other two were quite entertaining, telling us about their trips to Australia and that they were just on the train as they were very interested in the new Revaty.

We passed through Tobu Nikko and saw the SL Taiju at a platform, accepting passengers on its trial runs. I'd not even thought that we'd intercept this train and wasn't ready to take photos... the timing was off anyway.

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There was a layover at Shin-Fujiwara to allow transfer to a local train and we were afforded time to take some photos.

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The scenery was already becoming picturesque... most of the time we were hanging out the left-hand-side windows as the sheer drop-offs down to the Kinugawa were stunning!

Aizu-Tajima Transfer

This was the end of the line for the Revaty. Here we transfered to a DMU of the Aizu Railway.

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The Aizu Tetsudou runs cute little 1-or-2-car DMU sets all the way up to Aizu-Wakamatsu. It also runs a joyful train known as the Torokko Train which has open windows and heaters, but we just missed that connection.

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The trip from there to Aizu felt very nostalgic and the hum of the diesel just adding more charm. The whole setup was one-man, so the driver had to receive payments at each station and confirm that everyone was utilising the service correctly.

SL Ban'etsu Monogatari

We arrived into Aizu-Wakamatsu on time, but this happened to be waaaaay too early for the SL. It was originally meant to be nice and tight, with the SL arriving a few minutes after we did... but, thanks to a country-way-of-life, the SL was running behind and arrived at a leisurely pace quite a while behind schedule.

I was only itching to take photos and therefore wasn't as disturbed as the passengers waiting on the Aizu Liner. This service will stall until the SL arrives to allow for a proper connection for transferring passengers. Again, no complaints here: The FruiTea Fukushima Joyful train was attached to the Liner, but didn't seem to be doing too much business.

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The interior was quite beautiful and the staff were immaculately dressed.

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After admiring this for a bit... the SL dawdled in...

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As stunning as ever... Always looking 100x better in the flesh. Black is a really difficult colour to photograph. Thanks to a family member picking us up from the station, we had wheels and traveled a little way north to get a shot of the steamer in action.

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A northbound DMU came through first.

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And then the SL itself... not going overly fast!

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From there, we went to a few recycle shops... and just happened to pass the station once more when I saw a random champagne-coloured EMU...

Train Suite Shikishima

This was a fluke... whilst waiting for the SL to turn up, the Shikishima rocked up to Aizu Station. We found out later that it seemed to have run into trouble just north at Kitakata, supposedly having pantograph issues? Either way, the passengers were de-trained and then re-joined the service after a quick fix in the Aizu yards...

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Don't quote me on this though... it could all be here-say. Either way I got to see the consist!

Kitakata to Atsushio - Nitchu Line

There's very little information on this, but there used to be a line from Kitakata further north to Atsushio. Supposedly this was built 1938 and the goal was to either transfer materials to build the Hinaka Dam or build a passenger line all the way through to Imaichi. There's a little bit more information here.

You can follow the alignment from Kitakata Station through the town. To the north-west of the town they've planted Cherry Blossoms along the path and have even stuffed and mounted a C11 SL with a little Diesel behind it.

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Driving to Atsushio was beautiful. The road nearly follows the old alignment and in most places you can see the embankment where the old line used to run. At the end, Atsushio Station has been beautifully preserved and even has more stuffed and mounted rolling stock.

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The station is beautifully preserved and there's quite a bit of memorabilia displayed in the offices. Make sure you walk all the way around and donate if you have spare change! You can even ring the station bell and make an announcement!

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Turns out the police know how to catch up to the locals when required. We were at the station for official business (nothing untoward) and this was sighted in the car park.

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So pretty. I wonder if the owner: 1. is a police officer? 2. heads up the mountain much?

Aizu Tetsudou

Whilst there was spare time, I dawdled down to the nearby Aizu Tetsudou station from the house and checked out the local services.

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That afternoon it was a single-car DMU bringing students home from school. They were pretty shocked to find a gaijin taking photos of their mode of transport. I just smiled and waved; they did too.

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Minami Wakamatsu Station is a single-platform structure on a single-line area of the Aizu Tetsudou, just south of the main AizuWakamatsu Station.

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Ashinomakionsen Station

A few stations south is Ashinomakionsen Station. I'd seen via google maps prior to the trip that there was a siding here with a passenger car that seemed to be used as a classroom or cafe. We happened to be driving south to Ōuchi-juku, and so I asked to stop through.

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The carriage was ... well ... in a state of disrepair. The contents seemed to be aimed at school-kids, but it doesn't seem like it has been used in a while!

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Turns out that there's two station cats here as well, but they were locked up in their cages as it was wet outside... supposedly they're not allowed to get dirty! The rain also caused the railway to stop running on that day! I was so hoping for a running shot further down the line... but there were no trains in either direction thanks to a fear of land-slides.

Tonohetsuri Station

This station was another single platform on a single-line area, tucked away in the middle of the forest. It was on a beautiful sweeping curve and would've been great for a photo! ... if only the trains were running.

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And that was that for railway-oriented things in Aizu... I won't hesitate to go back again!

19Dec/160

Narita, Tokyo – November 2016

Thanks to Jetstar, I've been frequenting Narita International Airport lately as there is a great Melbourne to Tokyo direct flight on the Dreamliner 787. Sure, it's Jetstar, so you know what you're getting, but the red-eye timing is great on the way there and it's also not too early in the morning on the way back. Unfortunately, it seems that Qantas has seen how lucrative this leg is and will take it back early in the new year?

Getting to and from Narita Airport quickly means taking either take the JR East N'EX or Keisei Skyliner. On the way, other small towns flick by in the windows... these Limited Express trains don't bother stopping when it's not convenient.

Thanks again to Jetstar, we suffered a huge delay when returning to Melbourne. Well, actually, it wasn't Jetstar's fault. Melbourne Airport received a bad batch of aviation fuel and any plane loaded with it had to dump its tanks. Other planes waiting for fuel had nowhere to go and no fuel to receive.

Due to this, our operating aircraft was delayed. I received an email at midnight (before a midday flight the next day) telling me that my 12:50 would leave at 14:45. That's awesome when you're in Tokyo, as there's no end of stuff to do. Unfortunately, the email did not mention what time check-in was. Since the plane was suffering a 2+ hour delay, could I go to the check-in 2+ hours later? This was non-refundable-cargo-hold-style Jetstar and so I wasn't going to take that risk. I made it to the check-in desk at 10am for my 14:45 flight and the attendant happily checked in my obese bag! (Famicom + Games, MSX + Games, Model Trains, Pla-Rail, etc)

Now, thanks to Jetstar being an LCC, I was in Terminal 3 in Narita Airport with not much to do. I really like the terminal; the 'running track' is great to get people into the orderly fashion of Japan straight away and the food court is nice. But ... once through security (and they even warn you with signs stating so) there is nothing do to but sit in massage chairs.

It was 1030, the flight wasn't boarding until 1420. That was ... nearly 4 hours! Let's check out the closest town.

Narita

Yes, there is actually a town called Narita. It's located just south-west of the airport and isn't huge. The limited express trains of both companies (they have individual stations) often don't stop here. Therefore I jumped on the next Keisei local train (I no longer had a JR Pass and I wanted to test the competition) and travelled one stop.

So far, 15 minute walk to the station from Terminal 3, 2 minute ticket purchase, 5 minute wait and then 10 minute transit. We're here! McDonald's is out the front of the Keisei Narita Station. I had my last binge on delicious Japanese-style western food.

A quick walk north-east along the Keisei route saw a vista of a sweeping curve, but the elevation to take a shot from the road was too low. I intruded on a building's fire-escape and was quickly asked to move on.

It seems that, although it's a small town, I'm not the first Gaijin here and other intruders have done the same thing. If so, I'm not surprised; it would've been perfect to have the Skyliner bolting in with the sun where it was.

JR Narita Station

Oh well, time to check out JR. Wandering along any road north-west from Keisei will get you to the JR Narita Station. It's a lot larger and has a nice yard to the south. The N'EX trains come through frequently, but I was never in the right place at the right time.

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There's a viewing deck on the far side, near the bicycle parking. After this, I circumnavigated the yard to the south-west. At the time, this seemed like a great idea. I was wrong though... it's a LONG walk and it was already hot with the sun in your face most of the way. The road also doesn't provide any vantage point to the railway below. Once you get to the south-eastern side of the tracks, you're then too elevated to get a good shot without catenary. It was still nice to check out the sleepy town though!

Keisei Narita Station

After dawdling further around, you'll start intercepting level crossings for Keisei. This doesn't happen with JR, as their tracks are all grade-separated. From the south-west, where the companies rails cross (oh crap... if I'd looked at a map then I would've gone down to check out this over/under!) you can walk up the main road between both companies. You get a good view of Keisei to the right and the odd view of JR between buildings.

Further down the road, on the right, you'll hit some level crossings.

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And then... if you hang for longer than 20-or-so minutes, you're bound to see the one we're all waiting for.

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Now that I look back; waiting down at the area where JR passes over Keisei, regardless of the incorrect morning light, would've been a great opportunity. Oh well.. gives me something to go back for!

From here, it was a quick local trip back to the airport for a second and then third lunch.

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Is it just me or does Keisei have an Amtrak feel to their livery?

16Dec/160

Tokyo, Japan – November 2016

After a lovely t-shirt-and-shorts-weather 25 degrees in Miyazaki, it was colder in Osaka. A few days later we arrived in Tokyo to a pleasant day, somewhat similar to Osaka weather.

After failing to correctly find a good location in the Urawa area last time, I had decided this time it was time to venture onto the Musashino Line and check out the freight as they branch down from the north.

Nishi-Urawa Station

This station is located to the west of Musashi-Urawa station and forms the left leg of the triangle with the Tohoku Line. Because of this, any freight that wants to head west uses this line to bypass the city. I arrived there on a really nice pre-winter afternoon and the setting sun provided a very surreal glow on all trains approaching from the east.

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You can tell you're in the right place when there's already a row of fans blocking your first shot :)

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I saw one express passenger train, but it wasn't until now that I realised it was a school excursion! The kanji is 修学旅行.

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Next up was an EMU transfer. Totally fluked it.

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Back to Minamisenju

I'd stayed in hostels here before, but this time I chose AirBNB. The apartment was in Arakawa-ku and had an amazing view of the Joban line, right after the freight line joined from the Sumidagawa Yard.

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There was a constant barrage of passenger trains, including express trains.

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And then the odd freight train!

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Having a beer on the balcony provided a perfect end to a fun day. The weather was getting eerily cool though.

First Tokyo November Snow in 54 Years?

WTF... it was freezing. What was happening... the sunset was amazing the evening before... where'd the heat go?

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Hahaha... that is ACTUALLY snow. And the flakes are huge. It's even settled around the neighbourhood already!

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Venturing out into it saw that the trains were actually struggling. Quite a few delays and a few track faults? I always laugh when Melbourne fails in the heat but never expected Japan to be caught unawares.

Back to Nishi-Urawa, the long way...

As that I was staying right next to Minamisenju Station, and knowing that freight traversed the Musashino Line, a direct path was cut to the closest Musashino Station. This happened to be Shin-Koshigaya Station on the Tobu SkyTree Line. Initially a local train was taken, but a transfer to an express occurred halfway down the line when the delays meant that the local would take a lot longer than expected.

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The snow was simply beautiful and not getting any lighter. It was actually making it pretty hard to focus on the trains over the large flakes!

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At Shin-Koshigaya Station, lunch was had at Matsuya. Once thawed out, we entered JR Minami-Koshigaya Station and departed for Nishi-Urawa once more.

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Even in the snow, there were still avid fans taking photos.

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This shot was nearly totally blocked by the EMU. My fellow photo taker got a little excited!

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An umbrella would've been a really great idea... keeping snow off the lens was a challenge.

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From there it was off to Akihabara...

Night Time in Minamisenju

Japan is always picturesque at night, so we went for an urban crawl photographing the scenes whilst trying not to freak out the locals.

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That last shot is a bit of cool street art depicting the Arakawa Street Car line that has a terminus just around the corner.

Freight at Mikawashima Station

The next day was back to brisk but sunny weather, so we checked out the area to the west of the apartment.

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The freight line drops away from the Joban Line at Mikawashima Station and there are a few level crossings to be taken advantage of. Unfortunately, the lighting in the morning isn't good for west-bound trains.

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Arakawa Toden Line

This is a small tram line running in the inner-north of Tokyo. It's all single-car EMUs and runs light rail at the east end.

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Most of my photos are in the shade as the line runs between tall buildings most of the time. I recommend checking it out later in the day!

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Last day in Minamisenju

A final shot from the balcony in the late-morning sun provided great lighting!

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The one location I haven't mentioned yet is the Sumidagawa Freight Yard which was just east of where I was staying. I've been here before a few times and have never been disappointed. There's always something being shunted, as well as services departing and arriving. This time they have a new hybrid shunter!

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And that was a wrap.. I'll post two more articles on Tokyo. We stopped through the N3331 Cafe in Ochanomizu and also ventured into Narita town itself as Jetstar delayed our flight!

24Oct/150

Shimoda, Izu Peninsula – August 2015

I'd never been to Japan in summer and therefore never been to the beaches. This area just west of Tokyo is stunning. The only issue at this time was a typhoon off the coast, preventing us from swimming. Fortunately we did get to get our feet wet.

JR East runs the line from Tokyo through to Izu, half way down the peninsula. From Izu, the Izukyu Corporation runs the Izukyu Railway which takes you right down to Shimoda. Fortunately, the JR (Super View) Odoriko services run on the private lines and will take you to the very end.

Odoriko Service

These are great trains, fast and efficient... clean too. If you happen to get a Super View, then the scenery is fantastic. They book out in summer though, so be quick. When booking you'll be able to choose the mountain side or ocean side. The ocean side seems popular, but the mountain side is fantstic also!

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The beer on tap was a nice touch!

Shimoda Station

Once at the station, it's the end of the line and most passengers disappear off to seaside resorts for well-deserved getaways. I hung around for a little to soak in the view.

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The corner before the approach to the station provides a nice view of an evening. As per usual, the Japanese scenery is lush and green. An easy choice to model a railway on!

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I even happened to find an exact model of my car! This is the first functional instance I've seen in Japan. Not bad for ~30 years old.

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Back at the station, the yard had a few interesting things to see. There was an inspection vehicle resting on tracks perpendicular to the actual line. Do they use a crane to get it on?

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Not the best lighting, but most days were spent out at the beach! Still, the yard was quite picturesque with nice sized EMUs waiting for their next gig.

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Marine Odoriko

On the last day, the plan was to ride this home. It's the Odoriko service run by the N'EX consist. Has a special headmark and all. Turns out that I got Hyperdia wrong and we turned up to find the old-school 185 series (not complaining!) to take us back... so much charm. Fortuantely, on the day before I managed to see the Marine Odoriko shunting for its next service.

The photos are of poor quality... I'd not had my camera on me. But you can just make out the 'anchor' headmark on the front.

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And that was a wrap. Great location for a beach holiday!

16Oct/150

Century Southern Hotel, Shinjuku – August 2015

It was to be one night in Tokyo, whilst in transit from Hakone to Izu Peninsula. What's the quickest path? Probably a change at Odawara or Atami? Suuureee... but there's also an express train to Shinjuku from Hakone and an Express to Shimoda from Shinjuku. So, why not do it in luxury?

Hotels in Shinjuku aren't cheap... so you might as well make it count. Turns out that Odakyu has a hand in this hotel and this hotel has some stunning rooms! Check out the view from the Panorama room I stayed in!

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Trains, trains and more trains... Yamanote, Express lines, Chuo line and even Odakyu!