Friday, 28 September 2007

Kyoto and Himeji

Kyoto Steam Locomotive Museum

My last day in Kyoto. Early breakfast, out at 7.50am, walk to nearest subway station and go downtown to Kyoto station. This time, I look at the modern atrium of the station building which caused quite a stir in this conservative city. First task was to make 'Shinkansen' reservations for a trip to Himeji today (Friday) and Hiroshima (Saturday).

Then I took myself off to the JR suburban platforms to find a train to nearby Tambaguchi. Smoking is now only allowed in 'designated' areas and it appears that the end of the suburban platform is one of them. So there's a crowd of people congregating on the platform until just before departure, when they all threw themselves on the train. It's only a few minutes to the first station and I start walking towards Umekoji Park where the Steam Locomotive Museum is located. To get there, I pass the Central Wholesale Market which is huge and very active. Lots of battery electric trucks are buzzing around - modern versions of the old Lister truck - together with gas-powered fork lifts.

I get to the museum just before opening time, so I'm one of the first to be admitted. The old roundhouse has been turned into a museum and they've quite an assortment of large locomotives on display. One end of the shed is roped off. I think that's where they're actually doing work on locomotives and it looks like the original 'factory' end where maintenance would be done. The rest of the 'stalls' you can walk round and there's examples of all the standard Japanese types, as far as I can see. Although this is my first trip to Japan, I've seen a number of the types before because most of Thailand's locomotives were supplied from Japan. Outside, there's a demonstration line about 500m long. There's already a D51 'Mikado' in steam and hooked up to a couple of Emmett-looking semi-open coaches although the first trip is advertised for 11.0am. I can also see a 4-coupled shunter 'brewing up' in the roundhouse. First, I dash round the exhibits making photographs for later study. Despite the 3 foot 6 inch gauge, some of these locomotives are big.

Although some of the earlier locomotives on show have got backhead injectors, later ones have water pumps. You'd think from looking that the injectors were British, but they bear an unfamiliar maker's mark. I imagine they date from the period when Japan was quite good at copying things but hadn't discovered it was good at designing as well. It was very hot today, so I can easily imagine that injectors, with their tendency to 'knock off' when warm, were a real pain.

I was surprised to find one 3-cylinder type, with two sets of outside motion and the inner valve worked by a conjugated motion. Now I wonder where they got that idea from?

There were some large parties of excitable primary school children on site so the train started running on the demonstration line early, presumably to accommodate them all. I took a ride on the 11.0am service. The engine was a bit overkill for the load of two coaches! A little later, they brought the little 0-4-0 onto the electric turntable, span it round about three times, presumably for effect, then it dashed about and parked next to the D51 on the demonstration train. I left the museum and walked a different way back to the station, through a different part of the market, which was noticeably quieter this time - wholesale markets tend to start early and finish early. I took a local back to Kyoto and wandered round the environs of the station before joining the 'Shinkansen' West to Himeji.

Himeji is a bustling, modern city (like most places in Japan) but it has a very famous Japanese-style castle. The castle is only about 1km from the station and once you're inside the castle grounds, the centuries seem to fall away and you could be living in the time of the Shogun. It's a spectacular place and I'm sorry my pictures don't do the place justice. I'm afraid there's a lot of climbing, so I was fairly done-in by the end, but it was well worthwhile. I walked back to the station and dozed on my way back to Kyoto. Subway and walk to get to the hotel, shower and then an evening meal.

Tomorrow, I move to Hiroshima area which is as far West as I go. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to get to the internet, so don't be surprised if I go quiet. On Monday I travel back to Tokyo, then I have to get up early Tuesday to fly home.

My pictures of Kyoto
Pictures of Japan's modern railways
Pictures of Kyoto Steam Locomotive Museum
Pictures of Himeji Castle