Railway Museums in Japan

Railway Museums in Japan 鉄道博物館

As befits a nation where its railways have played such an important role in its history and present day culture, Japan has a number of impressive railway museums.

From the opening of Japan's first railway between Shinbashi (in Tokyo) and Yokohama in 1872, to the start of the first Shinkansen (bullet trains) in the 1960's, the railways have powered Japan's industrial expansion from the Meiji Period to the present day, moving workers and goods speedily and punctually across the country.

See below for a list of railway museums in Japan.

The first Shinkansen, the 0 Series at the Promenade, Kyoto Railway Museum.
The first Shinkansen, the 0 Series at the Promenade, Kyoto Railway Museum
Main Hall of Kyoto Railway Museum.
Main Hall of Kyoto Railway Museum

Kyoto Railway Museum

Now the largest railway museum in Japan, Kyoto Railway Museum in Kyoto, not far from Kyoto Station, is a much expanded version of the old Umekoji Steam Train Museum with the addition of exhibits from the former Osaka Museum of Modern Transport.

The new Kyoto Railway Museum is located at the west end of Umekoji Park, about a 10 minute walk from the Kyoto Aquarium. After passing through the entrance building where you get your tickets from a vending machine, you walk through the covered Promenade where the first of the total of more than 50  trains are on display, a collection that spans the complete history of Japanese railways from steam up to the Shinkansen.

Shinkansen front car at Ome Railway Park
Shinkansen front car at Ome Railway Park

Ome Railway Museum

Ome Railway Park is, for the most part, an open air railway museum featuring eight original steam locomotives, two electric train cars and the front car of a 1960's Shinkansen train. Most of the driver cabins of the steam locomotives can be entered.

The oldest of the steam locomotives on exhibit was built in England in 1871 and served on the very first Japanese train line from Shinbashi (Tokyo) to Yokohama, which opened in 1872.

Just as interesting is the Shinkansen front car. There, you can sit down in the actual driver seat of a 1969 Shinkansen. 260 km/h is indicated as the top speed.

The railway park, operated by JR East Japan, is about a 15 minute walk from JR Ome Station in the city of Ome in western Tokyo.

Omiya Railway Museum, Saitama Prefecture, Kanto, Japan.
Omiya Railway Museum, Saitama Prefecture

Omiya Railway Museum

The Omiya Railway Museum is successor to the Transport Museum that used to be near Akihabara Station, and opened in 2007 for the 20th anniversary of the privatized JR East company. It is one of Japan's most popular museums attracting record numbers of visitors, especially families with young children and railway enthusiasts.

The three-story, 28,200 square meter Railway Museum has a "History Zone" on the first floor with a number of historic carriages and engines, including old Imperial carriages (goryosha), Meiji-era steam trains, a reconstruction of Shimbashi Station when it first opened in the 19th century, early series shinkansen, freight trains and historic electric and diesel locomotives.

To the left of the main entrance is the world's only steam locomotive simulator (extra 500 yen charge; reservations required). The pressure gauges and operating levers are all faithfully reproduced as is the swaying of the train and the landscape as it rolls by.

Saijo Railway History Park
One of the first Shinkansen and a DF50 diesel engine in Saijo Railway History Park

Railway History Park in Saijo

The Saijo Railway History Park is a small but interesting train museum located right next to Iyo-Saijo Station on the Yosan Line near the north coast of Ehime on Shikoku. Saijo Railway History Park has a Type 0 Shinkansen, the first Bullet Train, and it's claimed that this is the actual one that ran the debut journey from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka on October 1st, 1964.

There is also an unusual train, the experimental Free Gauge Train, GCT01-201. With adjustable wheel bases that can switch between the shinkansen lines' 1435mm track and the regular 1067mm track, the idea was that passengers would not need to change trains. It was tested in Kyushu and also here on Shikoku, but was not put into production.

There are a further three locomotives, a C57 Class Steam Engine, built in 1938 and retired in 1975, a KiH65 diesel express train built around 1970 and retired in 2008, and a DE10 diesel primarily used for shunting, a couple of which are still in service. There are displays of Shikoku railway history, a replica of an early 20th century station platform, a large, working model railway, and a collection of historical model trains.

SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, Aichi, Japan.
SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, Nagoya

SCMAGLEV and Railway Park

The SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in the Nagoya Port area of Nagoya, central Japan, is dedicated to Japanese trains and opened in March 2011. The SCMAGLEV and Railway Park is one of the most popular museums in Nagoya, especially for families with kids.

The SCMAGLEV and Railway Park displays the sleek new Maglev Shinkansen in addition to previous Shinkansen series including the 300, 500 and 700, a Doctor Yellow and many other Japanese trains.

The SCMAGLEV and Railway Park includes lots of fun gadgets including iPad-type information screens, as well as bullet train simulators, normal train simulators and the largest model railway set in Japan.

Tobu Museum, Higashi-Mukojima, Tokyo.
Tobu Museum, Tokyo

Tobu Museum of Transport & Culture

The Tobu Museum of Transport & Culture in Mukojima in north eastern Tokyo is a fun experience for parents with train-mad children. The Tobu Museum opened in 1989 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the company. The Tobu Museum is located right at Higashi-Mukoshima Station.

The over 460km of the Tobu network stretches through parts of Tokyo and out to Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture and Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Tobu was the largest investor in the Tokyo Skytree and is the second longest non-JR rail network after Kintetsu Railways in Kansai and Chubu. Asakusa Station is the Tobu Line's main terminus station.

The Tobu Museum features 12 historic Tobu trains and buses including the company's first steam locomotive, electric train and electric locomotive.

The steam locomotive was one of the 12 B1 class 4-4-0 trains purchased from Beyer Peacock from their factory in Manchester in the UK in 1899. The first electric train dates from 1924 when the Tobu Line from Asakusa Station was electrified. Tobu's first electric locomotive was also purchased from the UK in 1928 and was made by English Electric.

EF63 Driving Experience, Usui Toge Railway Museum.
EF63 Driving Experience, Usui Pass Railway Culture Village.

Usui Pass Railway Culture Village

The Usui Toge Tetsudo Bunka Mura (Usui Pass Railway Culture Village) is an outdoor railway museum in Gunma Prefecture, near the resort town of Karuizawa in adjacent Nagano Prefecture.

Usui Toge (toh-geh) means "Usui Pass," and the Usui Toge Tetsudo Bunka Mura is dedicated to the memory of the historic Usui Toge Railway, which was the steepest train line in Japan with a gradient of 1 in 66.7, passing through very mountainous terrain.

The Usui Toge Railway Culture Village preserves artifacts, including engines, from the Usui Toge Railway, and offers a variety of railway-related experiences, including rides and even the chance to drive an old locomotive.

Other Railway, Tram & Subway Museums in Japan

Other railway museums in Japan include the Hokkaido Railway Museum in Sapporo and the Otaru Railway Museum in Otaru, on the site of the first railway in Hokkaido between Otaru Port and Sapporo. Sapporo also has the Sapporo City Transport Museum with tram and subway exhibits.

The Hara Model Railway Museum in Yokohama, close to Yokohama Station, has a collection of around 6,000 model trains. Also in Yokohama, the Yokohama Tram Museum exhibits seven historic Yokohama street cars along with other material relating to the former tram network in the city.

The Kyushu Railway History Museum in Mojiko has an extensive set of exhibits including model railways, dioramas and simulators as well as equipment and photos documenting the history of rail in Kyushu.

The Tokyo Subway Museum features a number of historic Tokyo subway carriages, video displays, poster exhibitions, model train layouts and hands-on simulation games. 

The Hiroshima City Transport Museum has an eclectic collection of exhibits related to all forms of transport with over 2,000 models of cars, planes, ships and trains from around the world in glass cases. There are also interactive simulation games such as driving the Astram and videos.

The Nagoya City Tram & Subway Museum near Akaike Station on the Tsurumai Line of the Nagoya subway has a number of original trams and subway carriages, simulators, model railways, photographs and other related exhibits.

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