— Outlook over the Japan’s railway development history
♣ Significance of JR Railway Museum in Omiya
This is my visit report on JR Railway Museum in Omiya, Saitama Prefecture. A while ago I got a chance to visit there with my friend. The museum is well known for the outstanding collection of historic locomotives and trains and invites many railway fans. Most are actually operated ones from the early stage to the present, including many type of Shinkanse trains. They are looked like panorama view of “Development railroad history of Japan.” The museum is also functioned as a place where shows up railway technology and its impact to the social infrastructure brought by development of the railways. The museum was established in October 2007 by the relocation of the “Transportation Museum” in Kanda, Tokyo, after the major renovation and the expansion of scale.
In the exhibition, many precious trains, such as Japan’s first run steam locomotives, the “Goryosha” (Imperial Coach) used by emperors, various Shinkansen vehicles, and many others.
The exhibit of the museum can be described as the grand scale historic heritage and treasury assets of Japan’s railway development. The exhibition provides several independent corners like history zone, simulator zone, georama zone and others. We can enjoy every exhibition as if standing in the mysterious railway wonder land.
♣ Exhibition of the museum
The history zone is the main part in the museum and it makes up of six independent sections following development stages. For example, the dawn period of the railway development, the expansion of railway network in Meiji, the birth of the express train and commuting transport, the introduction of mass transport and electrification in post-war rapid growth, the development of the limited express train network and the birth of the Shinkansen, etc. The exhibited locomotives and trains are given the exact information about the their characteristics and data to be able to identify the historical background .development patterns of railway network. It is also quite impressive that we can directly observe the Imperial Coaches of the successive emperors and examine the artistic their interior and exterior. by our own eyes. Anyway, many of the exhibits are designated as national cultural treasury because of their high cultural values. A detailed railway chronology with historical documents, numbers of train models, lively dioramas are also attractive and will invite us into the history of railway world.
♣ “Dawn era of Railways” seen from the exhibition
The Japan’s railway history is believed to start in 1872 with the operation between Shinbashi (Tokyo) and Yokohama. This Japan’s first railway project was actually big political agenda for Meiji government. And the “Opening Ceremony” formed a kind of symbolic showcase of modernization of Japan. So it was reported that tens of thousand of people gathered at site to want to see this big event and frightened by the rushing steam locomotive on the iron rail. In the report, people really acknowledged the fact that a new industrial era started at long last. Afterward, the date of the ceremony was long memorized for Japanese as a “Railway Day of Japan” on October 14th. The train of “150-type” of steam locomotive being used for the ceremonial run is now able to observe at the Railway Museum at the memorial exhibition corner.
After this first railway operation, Japan took vigorous measures for expansion of the railway networks across the country, such as Keihanshin (1976), Kyoto-Otsu (1884), and Hokkaido (Horouchi Railway) (1880). They had finally targeted to link all railway networks throughout Japan including Tokaido (Pacific East Coast of Japan), Tohoku (Northern Japan), Hokkaido routes, and other lines. The museum displays all the historic trains operated these lines one by one, like one by one, such as the above-mentioned first “150-type”, the “Zenrin Go” locomotive” used for the railway in Keihanshin area (Osaka’s surrounding region), the “Benkei Go” locomotive applied to the development of Hokkaido region and other passenger coaches. They are also tried to show the many models of pioneering trains and locomotive styles in the exhibition as the evidences how the railway was actually operated.
♣ Preparation stage of Japan’s Railway seen from the Chronological Zone
The “Chronological Zone” displays abundant precious historical materials in associating with the development process of preparing Japanese railway from the Edo to the early Meiji period. The “railway system” was first introduced to Japan in 1854 when Admiral Perry of the United States visited the Japan’s coastal port/ At that time he presented a sample model of steam locomotive as a gift to the Edo Shogunate. It is reported that as they conducted the experimental driving of steam engine, the Edo government officials were given serious impact from them and had fearful surprise. The actual model which Perry had brought in was burned down in a fire incident later, but a reproduction model is able to see in the Railway Museum as one of the historical exhibits. Prior to this event, the steam locomotive had been known in the intellectual circles by Dutch document brought from Dejima, Nagasaki in the Edo period. Actually, at the end of the Tokugawa period, the Saga Han in Kyushu had assembled steam locomotive models based on this document. A replica of this model is also available at the Museum (The original model is designated as a railway treasure and preserved at the Saga Prefecture Museum).
Anyway, the newly born Meiji government had begun to take active movement to develop railways systems by adopting Western technology. They had already recognized its potential power which had shown by Perry’s models in the Edo period. The development of railway was begun with strong technology support foreign engineers, particularly from U.K. expert. In this process, UK foreign expert “Edmond Morrell” and other engineers were invited to perform railroad construction works as a first step. But on the process many Japanese workers and engineers were mobilized and learned much about the railways. As a result, Japanese had gradually master the technology and gradually taken over the foreign function, particularly “Masaru Inoue,” who had studied mining science in Europe played a leading role in the construction of railways in Japan.
This history is documented as a “Railroad Archaic Document” stored in the Museum. The valuable document includes official records describing the budget, construction, and organization of Japanese railways from 1870 to 1893.
♣ Railway network spread throughout Japan
The government has vigorously advanced railway construction across Japan. With this Japan’s railway networks were expanded to various local places, and the total length lines were reaching 8,000 km by 1910s. Beside these public networks, private railway system has contributed a lot for expanding their routes in this period too. In the meantime, later in 1906, major railway lines decided to be nationalized by the “Railway Nationalization Law”, and the entire country became integrated under the single national railway network. On the other hand, technologically electric locomotives have emerged as engine’s power sources in addition to the steam engines, and new type of electric trains have emerged in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, and as a whole electrification of railway system was also advanced in other area too. At the same time, the domestic production of locomotives were gradually increased changing from the foreign locomotives that have been heavily relied on before.
The museum displays the various unique locomotives, trains, and railway facilities at the time with elaborate commentary. The major exhibits are the “9850-style” steam locomotive (1913) which imported from Germany with big tract power in the steep slope, the “ED40-type” electric locomotive (1921) that applied the “Abt system” (Gear traction), and popular commuter trains “Nade 6110 type train” (1914) in Tokyo, and the first domestic locomotive “Kiha 41300 type railcar” (1934), and others.
♣ The birth of express trains and the beginning of commuting transportation
As expanding various railway network in Japan, the Limited Express” with high-speed train has started in the Japan’s main trunk lines. For example, the “Special Express Train” called “Fuji” and “Sakura” appeared as early as 1923, and they were operated between Shimonoseki (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Tokyo. And later in 1930, the limited express “Tsubame” also started in the route between Tokyo to Kobe (Near Osaka). The travel time between Tokyo and Osaka was shorten by less than eight hours. In addition, in the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka many commuter trains began to operate responding to the strong demand for urban transport due to the increased population around the 1930s.
In the museum, a reproduction scene of Tokyo Station’s platform on around 1934 is exhibited where the limited express “Fuji” was waiting for departure, and also a rush hour situation at Ochanomizu Station are displayed. As vehicle exhibition, the “Miha 39” type passenger car of “Fuji” (1930), the “tender type” steam locomotive “C57 type” (produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, 1937), and the passenger car “Oha”, which was born as the first passenger train used steel of JNR, the “31-style” passenger coach and the “Kumoha 40-style” train (1936) for commuting in Osaka are on display along with showing their internal structures.
♣ Railway network in the age of mass transport and electrification
Railway construction was temporarily stagnant due to the war and its aftermath of around 1940s. However, railways rehabilitation was started to move and showed significant progress at least around 1950s in response to the huge demand from strengthening infrastructures of traffic and transport which were greatly expected to promote the post-war urgent reconstruction movement and high economic growth requirement. In the process, government advanced the electrification from steam locomotive engines along with the expansion and replacement of railway networks. One of the measures were advancement of Tokaido Line and its electrification. which had been relied on steam engine. They were aggressively promoted the development of rapid express trains, like seen in the development of limited express train “Asakaze” which started operating between Tokyo and Hakata by the complete electrification in 1956. In addition, the emergence of the a business limited express train “ Kodama ” connecting Tokyo and Osaka in 6.5 hours and the limited express“ Toki ”running between Ueno and Niigata, signaled the beginning of high-speed and mass transportation era.
On the other hand, for commuter trains, a new system has been introduced and the commuters from the suburbs has increased rapidly. “Kumoha style train” is a typical example of these lines. And Japan saw a great advancement of freight transport network using railways which were reflecting huge demand of transportation of industrial goods and materials demand from recovering and growing businesses in Japan.
In the museum, “Nahane 10 type” passenger coach “Asakaze”train,” Kuha 181 type” limited express train “Toki”,” Kumoha 101 type” commuter train used on the Yamanote line are displayed. As a situation display, the scene of the limited express train “Toki” which is just departing from Niigata Station and the scene of Ueno station’s platform where a limited express train arriving, are lively reproduced in the exhibition. The computer-controlled “MARS” that has developed for the controlling train running operation and ticketing system is also on display. All these exhibits are good evidences how train system have been technologically advanced in this period.
♣ The birth of the Shinkansen and the new era of Japanese railway systems
The development of Government controlled “Japan Railway”(JNR) was significant that activated successful operation of express train network in the 1950s. they launched an operation a new “Bullet Express Train” on the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Osaka, where traffic demand is particularly massive. Then “Tokaido Shinkansen” was born in time just for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This super train has achieved a maximum driving speed of 210 km/h and marked a revolutionary drive record of 3 hours and 20 minutes connecting Tokyo and Osaka of over 600 km distance. The vehicle used for the Shinkansen was a train called “Series 0”, which technology was cultivated in “Kodama“ in the 1950s. It was an great evidence of the excellence of the Japanese engineering technology that was pursuing high speed and stability of railway systems. Shinkansen was nicknamed as the “Bullet Train” and was highly evaluated worldwide.
The “Shinkansen” has continued to be evolving fast since, and new vehicles have been introduced successively and driving across the Japanese archipelago, including the Tohoku Shinkansen (1982), Joetsu Shinkansen (1982), Hokuriku Shinkansen (1997), and Kyushu Shinkansen (2004). In the 2000s, construction of the “Linear Shinkansen” linking Tokyo and Nagoya (scheduled for completion in 2027) also began. It can say that Japanese railways, which began with the introduction of Western technology in the 1860s, have now grown to attain the leading position in the world with railway technology as a result of 100 years development efforts.
In the Railway Museum, many Shinkansen cars commemorating this new era are honorably displayed in detail, along with their appearance, mechanism, interior and functions. First of all, there we can find the leading trains of “Series 0” of “Hikari” used at the time of opening Shinkansen line, the “Tohoku Shinkansen 222-type” train applied anti-snowfall measures, and the “Tokyo Station Shinkansen platform” as a reproduction scene, the repairing and inspection scene of Shinkansen cars at the “Sendai Factory”
In the new museum building that was newly opened in 2018, the mock-up “E5 series” Shinkansen trains (Gran class vehicles) with maximum operating speed of 320 km per hour, and the unique shape of Yamagata Shinkansen “400 series” trains are also exhibited
♣ Exhibition of “Go Ryosha”, a valuable important cultural property
One of the highlights of the Railway Museum would be the elegantly decorated royal coaches named ”Goryo-sha”, which were specially made for the successive Emperors. There are seven actual royal vehicles in the museum. First, the No.1 Royal Coach of the Emperor which used for travel from Kyoto and Kobe in 1877, to the second, No.2 Emperor Coach in 1891, and the following number of Royal coaches until the “No.12 Emperor’s Coach” in 1924. These Royal cars have the gorgeous inner decoration adorned with supreme arts and crafts and looked like a “Moving Artistic Nuseum” that represents the craftsmanship in Meijji period and reliable technology. Although we can see only a part of the interior of the vehicle, the museum catalog has posted the detailed appearance and pictures, so we will be able to feel the artistic scene of that period
After visiting the museum …
The most popular industrial museums in Japan is said to be the railway museum. Among them, the “Railway Museum” in Omiya is regarded as the largest and the most popular museum in Japan. The contents are really fertile such as historical steam locomotives and train coaches, real appearance of Shinkansen, exhibits of mechanical structure showing railway technology, detail commentary on railway development history, special exhibitions like “Go Ryosha” and others. It is also attractive that we can actually experience the train’s running operation.
In the 150 years since the introduction of Western technology and the beginning of railways in Japan, among them it has dramatically developed to the huge transport infrastructures that are supporting evolution of Japan’s society, economy as well as industries. Now it looks going to the next stage like development of super linear railway that are expected to open in the late 2020s, and it seems looking forward to a further new style of railway systems. Under such circumstances, this visit of Museum was very impressive. In recent years, the many railway related museums have been opening, like “Railway Museum” in Kyoto, and the “Linear Railway Museum” in Nagoya, etc. By looking for good opportunities, I really want to visit these museums before long.
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- 「物語日本鉄道史」（三崎重雄・渋沢誠次） 博文館