by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
As soon as you enter Japan, you will notice one form of transport reigns over all: the train. Japan has the busiest train lines in the world, with over 22.24 billion passengers using it every year and growing. Japan has a long history with trains and have had amazing technological advancements with their systems, that is where today’s attraction comes in. Today we have a guide to one of the most fascinating museums in Japan, The Railway Museum, located just an hour outside Tokyo.
Since their beginnings in the late nineteenth century, railways have been the most important means of mass transport. Since the Meiji century, the government has promoted railways as the most efficient public transport option for Japan, as a country that severely lacks it’s own fossil fuel resources, being so reliant on imports, rail was a way to move the masses with the most minimal fuels imported needed.
The raising of mass railways in Japan was accelerated with private rail companies in the late nineteenth century buying up rural land near large cities, which became the backbone of urban transport between the cities and outlying suburbs then connecting between metropolises.
Railways grew into the twentieth century, when with the invention of the automobile, railways saw a decline in usage and expansion due to the increase in car ownership and road usage, however the expansion of the railway continued as car ownership numbers began to plateau due many major metropolises requiring you to own a car park to purchase a vehicle.
The Railway Museum opened in 2007, built by the East Japan Railway Companies’ non profit arm, the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation. The new facility was built to replace the former transportation museum, and as the centrepiece of the East Japan Rail Companies 20th anniversary. The new museum boasts more than 30 full sized locomotives from Japan's rail history, with many of them open for you to explore and experience.
The museum explains the history of the industrial development of Japan’s railway networks, with models of actual locomotives, carriages and engines used throughout its history. Beyond being a historical museum, the museum prides itself as a educational museum, with it’s focus on helping children learn about how railroads work and the current and future technologies being implemented to make it safer and more efficient.
The largest part of the museum is the history zone, that houses the full sized models on display for the public to learn about it’s history and also experience what it was like to travel by rail in their heyday. The history zone is broken up chronologically into the following zones
Dawn of Railways in Japan
Here on display are locomotives that ran during the Meiji period.
Nationwide Rail Network
Carrying on from the end of the Meiji period here are displays of carriages and locomotives used in passenger and freight transportation.
Start of Limited Express and Commuter Transport
This exhibit shows the golden era of train travel in Japan in the re- world war two era. included are partial reproductions of how Tokyo and Ochanomizu stations looked at the time.
Mass Transportation and Electrification
During World War 2 and after the rail network went through massive technical innovations and saw the beginning of lines being electrified and with that new locomotives coming online, which are on display here
Nationwide Limited Express Network
From the late 50’s electrified railroads were implemented nation wide, which made express and limited express services become the norm. On display here are the trains used for these new faster, services and a partial reproduction of a 1950’s Ueno Station.
Birth of the Shinkansen
Perhaps the most famous trains in Japan, and the birth of super high speed rail. The Shinkansen, or bullet train, launched to solve the transportation capacity problems being had on the Tokaido main line (Connecting Tokyo and Kobe in the south). Here on display is the Tokaido Shinkansen Series 0, the original that started the path of high speed rail.
Freight Transportation by Rail
This exhibition shows the otherside of rail that the passenger rarely sees the profitable and large scale industry of freight rail connecting industry and manufacturing across Japan.
This section of the museum is easily the main part and will take up most of your visit, although it does mention english descriptions, we found that this was extremely limited. Each information placard had a QR code to scan for english information, however 90% of the time we found that it went to a Flickr image of the model you were viewing with a sentence about it.
Beyond the main hall you will find outside a miniature railway track for kids to ride, as well as a shinkansen themed playground. Outside is also a small cafe selling train themed bento boxes and some dining carriages to dine in.
Back inside some other must do experiences are-
Railway Model Diorama
This showroom has one of the largest miniature railway settings you will ever see (one of Japan’s largest HO scale railways) with shows hourly, you will see over 60 model trains running around a miniature japan on multiple lines in harmony. This is something you would likely read and not think to look at, but trust us, check it out, it will take 20 minutes and you will be blown away with its size and how it all works in harmony.
As you enter to the left is a large simulator hall with different simulator for you to test out your railway driving skills to the test with many different engines from Japan's rail history to drive. This is an experience that is in Japanese, however there are helpers to help you get it going. Reservations are required and the D51 steam simulator costs 500Yen.
Just beyond the simulators and past the gift shop is a large outside area, where they have most of the kids experiences with many Miniature train rails, where kids and their parents can ride various miniature models of different trains from Japans history.
These ride require a reservation and a fee of 200 Yen. Reservations can be made at the main entrance information desk.
You can also ride the free Mini-Shuttle out here, this can get large queues so is a good spot to start before the 45 minute plus lines form.
The big question, should you visit the rail museum? Japlanning would recommend a visit if you have a love for railways, or have kids that love playing with trains. There are some language barriers especially in the history area, however if you're more interested in looking around the locomotives and seeing the evolution of design of the trains, this isn’t an issue.
Also it should be noted the history of the Japanese rail at this museum ends at the birth of the Shinkansen, if you are looking to see more of the modern innovations and specifically the Shinkansen the SCMaglev and Railway park in Nagoya is worth a visit (A Japlanning review will be coming in May 2015)
Basically if you or your kids are train enthusiasts this is a must do! However if you just looking for a museum to experience there are plenty in Tokyo that are closer and accommodate english speakers more fully. The rail museum will take a good 4-6 hours out of your day including the hour train ride you will take to and from Tokyo.
HOW TO GET HERE
Getting to the Railway Museum is quick from Tokyo, located in Saitama City just an hour train ride outside Tokyo.
By Train -
From Shinjuku Station
Take the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (Via Utsunomiya Line) from Shinjuku station (platform 4) to Omiya Station then transfer to the New shuttle line to Tetsudo Hakubutsukan Station.
From Tokyo Station
Take the Keihin Tohoku Line (platform 3) to Omiya Station then transfer to the New shuttle line to Tetsudo Hakubutsukan Station.
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen towards Shinjo and disembark at Omiya Station then transfer to the New shuttle line to Tetsudo Hakubutsukan Station.
(If you have a rail pass, a great one to use to get on a Shinkansen and is fastest. Do not go this route if you are paying with cash.)
From Ikebukuro Station
Take the JR Saikyo Line Local (platform 4) to Omiya Station then transfer to the New shuttle line to Tetsudo Hakubutsukan Station.
The Railway museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm with last admissions being ticketed at 5:30pm. The museum is closed every Tuesday and during the New Year holiday period.
Adult - 1,000¥
High School Aged Children - 500¥
Children 3 Years and above - 200¥
3-47 Onari-cho, Omiya-ku Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, 330-0852
- Phone: 048-651-0088
- Website - www.railway-museum.jp/en