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One of the most essential and favored methods of transportation in Japan are trains, which is why it is not a surprise to see an entire museum dedicated to it! The Kyoto Rail Museum is one of Japan's best rail museums, not to mention the biggest in Japan.
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Before its expansion, the Kyoto Railway Museum was initially called Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum. Umekoji Museum was established by Japan National Railways (JNR) in 1972 as a celebration for its 100 years. The museum exhibits and preserves the history and culture of railway transport in Japan. When JNR was divided by region, the museum became a property of the West Japan Railway Company (JR West). The museum was given a 7-billion yen fund for its renovation. On its opening day in April 2016, 50 different kinds of trains such as steam locomotives, shinkansen, electric, and diesel locomotives were showcased.
※ West Japan Railway Company, "About Us" ※ West Japan Railway Company, "News Release"
The recently renovated museum has a vast area of 30,000 sqm, and it exhibits 53 trains such as steam locomotives, diesel locomotives, electric multiple unit (EMU) trains and shinkansen (bullet trains). Visiting the museum is quite interesting as it features the following:
The Main Hall, where some notable trains on display like the first limited express EMU train in the world. The 500-series (Guinness World Record holder Shinkansen) and Japan National Railways' first diesel railcar and others are housed where visitors can view, touch, and even experience how trains work.
The Sky Terrace on the 3rd floor offers a panoramic view of the Kyoto Tower, Tofukuji Temple, and the Higashiyama mountains. The Tõkaidõ and Shinkansen Lines and San'in Line connected to the Kyoto Station can also be seen from the terrace.
If you are interested in steam engines, stroll at the Roundhouse that was built in 1914. These are regularly cleaned and oiled by museum keepers to maintain them in good condition.
The 100m Promenade that was built to look like an actual train platform is also showcased at the museum. It displays trains like the biggest steam locomotive in Japan that was used to commute passengers, and the first train used by the Japanese for long-distance trips after the war.
※ Kyoto Railway Museum, "Museum highlights"
Fun is not complete without meeting the two mascots of the museum, namely Umetetsu and S-maru. Umetetsu is the museum's official mascot, and it was selected from 129 entries submitted by Kyoto art students. The mascot was modeled from a swallow, and it symbolizes harmony between humankind and nature. On the other hand, S-maru resembles a steam locomotive train and serves as the museum's official deputy mascot.
There are a total of 23 steam locomotives at the museum and 8 of which are in working condition. The museum has a collection of the first SL trains produced as early as 1914 that were used by Japanese for transportation as well as transport of their cargo. Visitors can experience riding passenger cars pulled by these historical steam engines for a fee. It is a 1 km round- trip drive that lasts 10 minutes. Each ticket costs 300 yen for adults, university and high school students; and 100 yen for junior high, elementary, and preschool children.
The very first Shinkansen (bullet train) that operated in Japan in 1964 was in service for about 14 years. Now it is preserved at the museum, together with the fastest 300 kph speed Shinkansen that was manufactured in 1996. Japan prides itself in having zero Shinkansen related fatalities since its operation in 1964. You might have even ridden one to get to Kyoto! Cool to take a look, right?
The museum does not only display but also teaches visitors about trains and lets them experience some action. Some features visitors will enjoy are:
The Railway Diorama gives visitors a picture of how the railway system operates. It can accommodate up to 250 audiences per show. It is a model of a complete railway system where a train operator controls model trains running through the tracts.
Operating Simulator where some visitors can get a chance to drive the simulator while wearing a train driver's uniform through the lottery method. Just show your entrance ticket at the Driving Simulator desk located on the second floor of the main hall and you will be given a lottery ticket. The winning tickets will be posted on their website and your scheduled time to experience the simulator ride will be displayed at the Ride the Train Desk on the second floor. The time is indicated on the ticket and cannot be changed. Do note also that you can only enter the lottery once for every entrance ticket. You may also try on a uniform worn by train conductors while doing gestures like assisting a passenger on his luggage or making some announcements just like what a real train conductor does.
Rail bicycles that were used by the maintenance team to check any problems on the railway tracks are on display on the first floor of the main hall and visitors have the chance to ride one. You can apply to do so from 10:00 until 16:30, and individuals less than 120cm tall are not allowed.
Getting hungry? No problem because there are a variety of food options to choose from the different restaurants on the second floor of the main hall that offers visitors a good view of Kyoto and trains passing by. It caters food that will satisfy both children and adult palates. For visitors who brought their own food, dining cars are available on the ground floor.
The museum also addresses various visitor's needs like setting up nursing rooms providing hot water and diaper changing tables, free use of pushchairs and wheelchairs, coin-operated lockers, and multi-purpose lavatories to make certain that visitors can tour the museum with ease.
The Museum is OPEN from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (No admission after 5:00 p.m.) daily, EXCEPT on Wednesdays (open on holidays), and the end of the year (12/30 to 01/01).
Kyoto Railway Museum is located at Kankijicho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto. When traveling on foot, it takes 2 minutes from the Umekoji- Kyoto Nishi station and 20 minutes from the central gate of JR Kyoto Station. When traveling by bus, you can take either a city bus or Keihan Kyoto Bus.
The admission fee for adults (18 years and above) is 1,200 yen; university and high school students are 1,000 yen; junior high and elementary school students are 500 yen; and 200 yen for children 3 years and above.
The museum's shop offers merchandise that is exclusively distributed by the museum. Perfect for taking home a memento of your visit, especially for the train enthusiast! And if you don’t have time to explore the whole museum, you can enter the shop without a ticket.
When traveling to Japan, a visit to the Kyoto Railway Museum is a must! Especially if you are from a country where trains are not the primary medium of transportation, it is a chance to learn and experience more about them. It is an interactive museum that children and adults, train enthusiasts or not, can explore while learning something and will certainly treasure. It would be really quite an experience to be able to touch these trains that were first established as the railway transport in Japan and appreciate how the railway system developed over the years. And you can even experience the history on the way out, as the exit is the former Nijo Station House built in 1904, a tangible cultural asset of Kyoto - a full experience until the end.
※ Kyoto Railway Museum ※ East Japan Railway Culture Foundation, "Overview of Kyoto Railway Museum," p.59
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