LCGB Japan Tour August 2023

This tour was the second LCGB exclusive tour to Japan. The previous tour was in August 2004 and it had the same objective to cover as many of the steam operations possible that were in operation and  also to track down many of the plinthed locomotives. Travel around Japan used the Japanrail pass which was ahead of published large hike in the price later in the year.

1st August. Most of the group were scheduled to arrive on this date. In the case of your scribe he arrived on time, but Lufthansa took another 3 days for his luggage to catch up courtesy of a ridiculously tight connection at Munich. Others fared worse as BA cancelled the London flight and for one participant his incoming connecting flight from Manchester as well.

Most of the group having checked in at the Mercure Hotel in central Tokyo, our base for the next few nights,  assembled at a local Japanese restaurant close to plinthed 2-6-4T C11 292 at Shimbashi. A fine evening with generous helpings of local style food and beer.

2nd August. After a slightly frustrating time sorting out Japanrail passes and train reservations at Tokyo station for the whole tour, the rest of the day was spent in the greater Tokyo area.  First call was to view plinth 403 Nasmyth Wilson 2-4-2T at Shin Toyosu, C11 292 again at Shimbashi in daylight and  110 at Sakuragicho. Freight activity was noted at Negishi with oil tanker trains from the nearby refinery The day concluded with a visit to the Yokohama Tram Museum in Negishi, with several former trams from the system on display.

3rd August.  Our first steam  run today on the relatively recently introduced SL Taiju on the route Tobu Nikko - Shimo Imachi - Kinugawa Onsen - Shimo Imachi.  Curiously when the train arrived at Tobu Nikko we were told the first leg of the  train was fully booked. However there were only a few passengers on board. The train was top and tailed with steam 2-6-4T C11 207 and diesel DE10 1099. The steam loco had been transferred from the now defunct SL Hakodate on Hokkaidō Island that the club travelled on in 2004. On route one participant dropped off at Tobu World Square to see 0-6-2T No. 4 (BLW 15321/1897) once at home in Hawaii

4th August. A run through the Tokyo suburbs to the excellent Omiya Railway Museum. Plenty to see here both steam and modern traction. Continuing we tracked down 2-8-2s  D51 187 outside Omiya Works and  D51 231 at the Science Museum. An additional visit to the much smaller Tobu Railway Museum at Higashi Mukojima followed , highlights being B1  4-4-0s No. 5 built by  Beyer Peacock 1898 within and sister locomotive No. 6 nearby. An evening meal was shared at a  local hard to find restaurant with Tokyo based members of the Japanese Railway Society.

5th August. We travelled out to Takasaki to travel on the SL Gunma Minakami for a return trip to Minakami behind 2-8-2 D51 498. We travelled partially on this operation on our 2004 tour but only managed a shorter section due to our late arrival. A leisurely layover enabled lunch to be taken a small excellent family run local restaurant after having watched the locomotive use the turntable. Sister locomotive D51 745 was plinthed close to the turntable.

6th August. Our final full day in Tokyo area saw us travel to Kumagaya for a ride on SL Paleo Express / Chichibu Tesudo to Mitsumineguchi and back. Locomotive was 2-6-2 C58 363. A viewing area at the terminus was available to watch the locomotive being turned for the return.

7th August. A fast Shinkansen run to Osaka where we stayed for two nights. Most of the group explored the Hankai Tram which has older cars running on the system which has two routes serving 3 terminals. After the tram visit some members went out to Kishibe to view freight activity seeing JR Freight electric loco types EF66, EF210.

8th August. Highlight today was a visit to the Kyoto Railway Museum which had 2-6-0 8630 in steam running a short shuttle. Plenty of exhibits here, both steam and modern traction. Part of the display is a traditional roundhouse with locomotives  in the shed in each of the roads off the turntable. After the museum visit some members went back to Kishibe for another freight interlude seeing this time some EF65 and EF510 types.

9th August. Onward to Hiroshima with a short break at Tenjingawa where we watched hybrid locomotive HD300 20 shunting. We then travelled on the city tram to the main depot at where we were guided around the running yard. Highlight was one of the earlier trams that survived the 6th August 1945 atomic bomb attack and is still in occasional service to this day. We were informed that some of the system was restored to use within a couple of weeks of the bomb despite extensive damage elsewhere. Rest of the day was free to explore the rest of the tram system and city including the Peace Memorial. Others took advantage of a few of the craft beer pubs that are now prevalent in the larger cities.

10th August Continuing onward to visit the Kyushu Railway Museum at Mojiko  where steam locomotives 2-8-0 59634 and 4-6-2 C59 1 were found together with some other more modern exhibits. Our arrival here was delayed as the JR Kyushu railway had suspended services for a few hours after a severe overnight storm and the tracks and signalling needed to be checked. Overnight was at Fukuoka and we are now on the island of Kyushu.

11th August. We travelled to Hakata and then took the Shinkansen shuttle to Hakata Minami to view the Shinkansen depot. This was a bit of a photographic challenge as our train obstructed the view. Next railway journey was to Kumamoto by Shinkansen for an overnight stay. A visit to the city museum found 2-8-0 69665 in the grounds. Most of the group spent the rest of the day exploring the tram system with its 3 terminals and  also the Kumamoto Dentetsu Railway in the northern suburbs of the city with  a somewhat mixed collection of second hand rolling stock.

12th August. A day on the SL Hitoyoshi with a one-way run from Kumamoto to Tosu topped with  2-6-0 58654 leading and tailed with diesel DE10 1638 at the rear.. This was a “must do” as the boiler ticket of the steam locomotive was about to expire and there were no plans to repair it or substitute it with another one. The previous operation at Kumamoto, the SL Aso Boy had been discontinued,  and the station completely unrecognisable as it has been rebuilt to accommodate the extension of the Shinkansen services to the city. A long run took us to Nagoya for our overnight stop.

13th August.  journey started with a short Shinkansen run to Hamamatsu , local train to Kanaya and then on the Oigawa railway to Shin Kanaya . It was a Thomas day and the railway was swarming with families and their youngsters travelling behind Thomas , actually 2-6-4T C11 190, a much bigger locomotive than what masquerades as Thomas in the UK. We were more fortunate as our quieter train, the SL Oigawa,  which was hauled by 2-6-4T C10 8, which did not feature on our previous tour. Unfortunately due to unrepaired landslides we could only travel as far as Leyama. Again during  a long layover we  found another excellent family run restaurant. We photted “Thomas” arrive and depart top/tailed with electric E101. Also of note was ex Southern National Bristol Lodekka 230 19-55 posing as Bertie the bus. Travel back to Tokyo was where the tour ended for most. Some stayed on for an extra week so hopefully a report of their findings can appear in a future Bulletin Overseas News.

Footnote – The Japanese use the generic term SL (= Steam locomotive) to describe their steam operations.

Weather – The temperatures were extremely warm throughout the whole tour , but fortuitously the group avoided the worst of the storms that skirting around the region at the time

I would like to thank Stephen Turner, proprietor of TS Japan Rail for his help in planning and running the tour, Lea Baldelli at Eighty Days for her help with the travel arrangements. Also Brian Garvin for his help in tracking down the various plinthed and preserved locomotives.

Adrian Palmer

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