Railway Museums and Shrines
The Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum first opened in 1972 in the old locomotive round house in Kyoto. The old locomotive depot was filled with many examples of Japanese steam locomotives from the past. The museum was great to visit and I went there a couple of times whilst I was living in Japan and again in 1997.
In 2016 the museum was extended, heavily modernised and then re-opened as the Kyoto Railway Museum. In addition to the original steam collection it now contains more recent exhibits from the former Modern Transport Museum in Osaka. It is now the largest railway museum in Japan by size and by number of trains displayed.
In September 2017, we travelled to Kyoto and I was able to visit the new museum myself.
Our trip to Japan was on Asiana Airlines and we flew from Seoul to Fukuoka. After some time in Fukuoka we visited Kyoto before returning to Yamaguchi and then Fukuoka again.
After arriving in Kyoto we first went out to Arashiyama to have a look around. We travelled to Saga station on the Sanin line.
We had a coffee in the “19th Century Hall” adjacent to the station. The hall is full of old Steam Locomotives and that makes it probably one of my favourite “coffee shops” in Japan.
We walked down to the river passing the level crossing for the little electric tram that links western Kyoto with the town.
We walked along the banks of the Katsura River and eventually came to the Tenryuji temple.
The hobby of “Shuin” temple / shrine stamp collecting seems to be very big in Japan at the moment.
The idea is that you buy a special notebook with blank pages and then take it with you to the temples and shrines you visit.
The staff at the temple or shrine then either make or write a stamp in the book. The whole thing costs about 300 yen. It is a good source of income for the temple, and it has become so popular that people often queue up for it.
Just before our trip to Kyoto a friend had given us a blank notebook as a gift. We decided to have a go ourselves
We got our first ever stamp at Tenryuji.
Tenryuji was fantastic and we spent more than 2 hours walking around and relaxing in and around the building and its tranquil garden.
We walked back to Saga station the long way around, through the bamboo grove and across the main Sanin railway tracks.
In Kyoto you tend to see a lot more people walking around in traditional Japanese clothing than in other Japanese towns and cities.
The Sanin Line used to follow the banks of the Katsura river as it went west, but now it bypasses the river completely by using tunnels. The old line, which is exceedingly scenic, has been kept and is now used by a tourist train “the torokko train”. We watched the old train a couple of times as it went backwards and forwards.
We headed back into central Kyoto in the late afternoon.
In the evening we went on a little pub crawl in the Pontocho district. The area is full of narrow streets with hundreds of eating and drinking establishments.
We stayed in a hotel right in the centre of the station. To my delight the room looked out over the Shinkansen platforms.
The next day we set off in the opposite direction towards Saga-Ken. We caught the Tokaido Line to Otsu. We wandered up through the quiet back streets from Otsu station to the shore of Lake Biwa and then relaxed on the quayside for a while enjoying the view.
We walked back towards another station, Kama Otsu, on the private Keihan railway. We sat opposite the station for a while whilst enjoying traditional Japanese confectionery from a famous old shop. The trains at this point actually travel down the street. It is unusual to see full-sized trains (as opposed to trams / street cars) sharing the road with motor vehicles.
We caught the little train to its terminus at Hieizan Sakamoto and then walked to the nearby terminus of the funicular railway.
We used the funicular railway, the longest of its kind in Japan, to climb Mount Hiei and then we spent several hours walking around the wooded top. We visited Enryakuji and several more of the many temples located up there. By the time we came back down our stamp book was rather full!
That evening we returned again to Pontocho for some more delightful Japanese pub food.
On the third day I headed to the Kyoto Railway Museum and spent the morning examining their historic collection.
Display relating to the opening of the Tokaido Shinkansen 1964
The exhibits tell the story of railways in Japan and also cover a number of the more obscure aspects with displays on things like toilets on trains, ticket machines, songs about trains and food on trains.
The locomotive and rolling stock collection is very impressive. As well as all the original steam locomotives in their round house, the museum now includes part of the first production Shinkansen train and several limited express models from the 1950s 60s and 70s.
We left Kyoto in the late afternoon and returned to Yamaguchi, Fukuoka and ultimately Seoul and London.
On the way we also enjoyed a couple of relaxing nights at Shikanoshima just north of Fukuoka in the bay.