Ichibata Electric Railway, Shimane Prefecture: New Ichibata Line Trains 一畑電車
The Ichibata Electric Railway is a small private railway in the eastern part of Shimane Prefecture. The railway opened in 1914 with a line connecting Izumo city with Unshuhirata. Next year the line was extended to Ichibata.
In 1927 the line was electrified and extended as far as Shinjiko Onsen in Matsue, the prefectural capital of Shimane. A few years later an 8.3km branch line was built connecting Kawato Station to Izumotaishamae Station. The railway is the primary method used for visitors to Izumo Taisha, a major tourist attraction in Shimane.
The main 33.9km-long Kita Matsue Line of Ichibata Electric Railway connects Dentetsu Izumo-shi Station just outside JR Izumo Station to Matsue Shinji-ko Onsen, with part of the route running alongside the shores of Lake Shinji.
This year (2014) two new trains have been brought into service. The first is known as the Shimanekko-go and is a two car 2100 Series train with new livery inside and out. Shimanekko is the Shimane prefectural mascot, formed by combining the two words Shimane and nekko, Japanese for cat.
The mascot is a yellow cat with a stylized shrine roof for a hat, signifying Izumo Taisha. As far as kawaii mascots go, Shimanekko seems to be popular, having survived a recent culling of hundreds of less popular mascots from the huge population that Japan has spawned.
An inanimate Shimanekko sits on one of the seats inside the train for a continuous sequence of photo opportunities for the passengers.
Izumo Taisha is famous as a shrine for enmusubi, which can be translated as "success in love," and while I have no official statistics on the gender of visitors, every time I have visited Izumo Taisha there has been a preponderance of female visitors, so that is possibly why the Shimanekko-go is painted pink on the outside and with pink seating and a pink floor inside.
The other new train is a two car 5000 Series train. This has no new paint job on the exterior, but a completely new remodel on the interior. Half-height partitions have been erected to make semi-private compartments, 2 seat on one side and 4 on the other, and each compartment has a table that folds out. It's all been done in wood, sourced from Shimane Prefecture, if the plaque on the front of the train is true.
As well as Izumo Taisha, a number of tourist attractions can easily be reached by using the Ichibata Electric Railway including Ichibata Yakushi Temple, Matsue Vogel Park and Matsue English Garden.
The final new addition is actually a static train. Alongside Izumotaishamae Station is an old Dehani 50 train, which first saw service in 1929 on the newly electrified line. It is open to visitors.
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