Journal
Saitama Railway Museum

History of Japanese Railways

After a beautiful morning among the cute Hina dolls of Iwatsuki, we were on our way to the Saitama Railway Museum. While Mani had a wonderful time with the dolls I was very much looking forward to my date with the historical trains.

I have had a deep crush for trains that goes all the way back to my childhood days. It was memorable, those rides to visit my grandma in the countryside during my summer vacations. 

The Saitama Railway Museum(鉄道博物館) is the largest museum of railways in Japan. The museum exhibits real trains ranging from age-old steam locomotives to cutting edge Shinkansen trains. The huge exhibit, almost the size of a football field, takes one on a ride through the history of the Japanese railway system.

From Iwatsuki Station, we took a local train to Omiya.

From Omiya, the New Shuttle Rail took us to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan Station. The Railway Museum is just a minutes walk away from the station.

The Saitama Railway Museum was built as the centerpiece of the JR East 20th Anniversary Memorial Project by the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation, a non-profit affiliate of the East Japan Railway Company.

The Railway Museum (鉄道博物館) opened amidst much fanfare on the 14th of October, 2007. It features about 30 railway cars excluding various miniature railway models. This historical museum tells the industrial history of the development of the railway system with displays of actual models of trains from each period

The museum has a number of restaurants and shops selling railway souvenirs. Below is a list of some of the ancient beauties in the order of their manufacture.

Locomotive No.1

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1871[/su_icon]

The first railway in Japan, owned and operated by the Japanese government was opened in 1872 with the technical leadership of British engineers. The Locomotive No.1  was imported from Vulcan Foundry, UK, for the Tokyo-Yokohama Railway. Just prior to the fall of the Shogunate, the Tokugawa regime had issued a grant to the American diplomat Anton L. C. Portman to construct a line from Yokohama to Edo (present Tokyo). Since Japan lacked railway technology, British engineers were hired by the Japanese. On September 12, 1872, the first railway, between Shinbashi and Yokohama opened with nine round trips daily. Back then it used to take 53 minutes by train from Shinbashi to Yokohama (29 km) stopping at Shinagawa, Kawasaki, Tsurumi and Kanagawa stations. At that time the engine drivers were all British. The first Japanese engine drivers were appointed in 1877.


Kaitakushi Passenger Carriage

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1880[/su_icon]

The Kotoku 5010 is one of the oldest surviving passenger carriages in Japan. The artistic classic passenger carriage appears to be directly adapted from some western classic movie. The carriage was imported from USA in 1880 for deployment on the Hokkaido Kaitakushi line. Being equipped with an air brake system, the Kutoku 5010 was a state of the art passenger carriage during its time. The saloon car was designated a VIP car and used mostly by American Kaitakushi officials.


7101 Benkei Steam Locomotive

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1880[/su_icon]

The Benkei Steam Locomotive was established by the American-run Hokkaido Kaitakushi, and appeared very much like its American counterparts of that time.  The 7101 Benkei, named after a 12th-century warrior monk, was the first steam locomotive to operate in Hokkaido and played a major role in the islands development. The lightweight engine was built by H K Porter in 1880. It was designated a Railway Monument in 1958 and is currently coupled to a Horonai Railway coach at the Saitama Rail Museum.


Hanifu 1 Passenger Carriage

The Hanifu 1 No.De 968 was a streetcar type of railway. It was inaugurated in 1903 in Tokyo running between Shinbashi and Shinagawa. It was the first Electric Railway manufactured indigenously by a private company called the Tokyo-Densha-Tetsudo Co. However, these small cars could not catch up with the increasing number of passenger transportation volume and were gradually scrapped from 1927 to 1955. In 2007, the Matsumoto Railway Co donated the below coach to JR-East for display at this museum.

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1904[/su_icon]


9856 Mallet Steam Locomotive

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1913[/su_icon]

The Mallet-Type engines employed an extra pair of cylinders compared to other stem locomotives in the same category. The extra set allowed the engine to make tight curves in spite of its long body. This locomotive was used to cross Gotemba on the Tokaido Main Line.


C515 Steam Locomotive

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1920[/su_icon]

The C51 No.5 was one of Japan’s first high-speed steam locomotives. It was manufactured in 1919 at the Ministry of Railways Hamamatsu workshop, equipped with faster 1750 mm drive wheels. It was initially deployed to Kobe area and later transferred to Himeji, Takasaki and Umekoji depot. After World War II, the engine was stationed at the Nara depot ferrying passengers around Kansai until it was retired in 1962.


ED17 Electric Locomotive

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1923[/su_icon]

The ED17 No.1 was one of the first electrified locomotives in Japan.  After Word War I, Japan had only a handful of electrified sections and this engine was imported from the United Kingdom in preparation for the electrification of the Tokaido Main Line.


Oha 31 Passenger Carriage

The Oha 31 No. 26 was one of the first steel mass-produced typical passenger car series in pre-WW2. Until 1926, most Japanese passenger cars used to be made out of wood. As a direct impact of the 1926 Sanyo line derailment that resulted in many deaths, the railways pushed forward into the era of steel designs. In 1927, the first steel passenger car replaced the wooden Class Oha-44400. OHa-31s slowly lost their prominence during the early years after the WW2 and were retired by 1966.

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1927[/su_icon]


Maite 39 Passenger Carriage

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1930[/su_icon]

The Maite 39  No.11 was Japan’s first observation car. It was imported from the US by the Kyushu Tetsudo Co for use exclusively by distinguished guests. The MaITe-39 shown below was manufactured at the Oi workshops during 1930. It used to be coupled to the tail of the limited express “Fuji” and was active between Tokyo and Shimonoseki on the Tokaido, Sanyo line. In those days, few people used Fuji’s observation car, as the upper class was quite less in numbers. Some time in 1941, the observation car was removed from duty due to bombings. After the war the MaITe39 went into ruin because of its poor state of preservation. In 1999, it was restored at the shops of Oi and a few years later the “Momoyama” style interior decoration was also restored as authentically as possible before putting it up for exhibit here at the Saitama Museum


KiHa 41300 Railcar

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1933[/su_icon]

The KiHa 41300 No.41307 was one of Japan’s first domestically mass-produced internal-combustion railcar. It was manufactured at the Kawasaki-Sharyo Co. and was completed on the 30th of January, 1934, as a gasoline-engine car. After its inception, the KiHa was active mainly on the Koumi line, in the Nagano area. During December, 1948, it was remodeled as a natural-gas engine at the Nagano workshop, and was renamed, the Class KiHa-41200 No.41207. KiHa-41000s were deployed to many local lines, but their passenger carrying capacity was inadequate. During November 1952, it was re-fitted with a diesel engine, and renamed, the Class KiHa-41300 No.41307. Around the 1980’s, it was retired and exhibited at the Sakura Transportation Park in Tsukuba city, Ibaraki prefecture. In 2007, she was restored to the original condition of the KiHa-41307 and was moved to the Saitama Museum.


Kumoha 40 Electric Railcar

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1936[/su_icon]

The Museum exhibited Class KuMoHa-40 No.074, which was produced during 1936. It was developed primarily for Tokyo’s urban neighborhood where the population saw rapid growth during 1910-1920. Accordingly, with the increasing number of passenger transportation volume, there was a need for more train service. But the Tokyo urban lines could not accommodate the 20 meter long body cars, as the platform or block lengths were not long enough. Therefore, in the Tokyo area, 17 meter short body cars were used in new models up to 1933. The Tokyo area’s track improvement construction was finished during 1933, and Series-40 classes were deployed to the Tokyo area from the next year 1934. The seven classes had a total of 425 Series-40 cars that were produced by 1940, and they were to become the standard model of urban commuter electric cars during the pre-WW2 period. Of these, seventeen Class KuMoHa-40 were still active at the following places during 1976. However, the last Series-40 were retired during March 1987.


EF55 Electric Locomotive

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1936[/su_icon]

The Class EF55 is a 2Co+Co1 wheel arrangement electric locomotive type consisting of three locomotives built in 1936 by Hitachi, Kawasaki, and Tōyō Electric in Japan. They were nicknamed “Moomin”. They were originally intended to haul limited express trains on the Tōkaidō Line. The locomotives were placed in storage from 1958, and then officially withdrawn in 1964.


Nahanefu 22 Sleeping Car

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1964[/su_icon]

In 1959, JNR announced its long term plan to withdraw all steam locomotives from regular operations. The Nahanefu 22 No.1 was the first modern permanently coupled type passenger car series for night limited express.  When all of the Tokaido main line was electrified during November 1956, there was a need for long-distance trains between Tokyo and Kyushu. The Series-20 passenger car unit was completed in 1958 designed with a diesel generator equipped ONE-POWER-SUPPLY car. All the train’s electrical consumption like air-conditioning, heating equipment and illumination were provided from this power supply car. The brown colored traditional passenger car color was changed to a cool blue color with a white line. This color went on to become the standard color for all night trains in Japan, and they were called “Blue Trains”. Because of their luxurious interiors, they were also called “Running Hotels”. The Nahanefu Series-20 gradually started to become obsolete from the late 1970s and the last running “Akebono (dawn)” train between Ueno to Aomori via Akita was finally retired in 1980.


Series 21 No. 21-2 Shinkansen

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1964[/su_icon]

Built in April 1964, this was the first Shinkansen fleet delivered for use on Hikari and Kodama services on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen route. The first shinkansen, linking Tokyo and Osaka, had its maiden run on Oct 1, 1964, just nine days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. The train was decommissioned in 1978. For some time it was on display outside Tokyo Transport Museum before being moved here at the Saitama Railway Museum.


ED75 No.775 Electric Locomotive

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]Manufactured: 1975[/su_icon]

The ED75 No.775 is a Bo-Bo wheel arrangement AC electric locomotive that operated on passenger as well as freight services in Japan since 1963. The first two prototypes, ED75 1 and 2, were delivered in 1963, built by Hitachi and Mitsubishi respectively. From 1971 to 1976, 91 Class ED75-700 locomotives continued to be built by Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba, for use on the Ou Main Line and Uetsu Main Line.


It was fun checking out these locomotives and carriages from yesteryear. The gradual evolution in the railways is also a reflection of the Japanese society, as to how they have improved upon everything in their daily lives and helped create such a beautiful country. From having to employ foreign drivers to run their own trains in the 1800’s they have come a long way.

During my stay I have travelled thousands of kilometers in a day without the least bit of hindrance. In terms of safety, punctuality and cutting-edge technology none in the world even comes close. I had a great time reliving my childhood fantasy surrounded by these historical pieces of human ingenuity.

It was late afternoon but the day was not over for us yet. We were very near to Chiba, so we headed down to picturesque Chiba Castle for the evening.

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