Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Trainspotting isn’t a hobby unique to Japan, but railfans here seem to elevate the practice to another level. People will make special trips and plan entire vacations around opportunities to ride specific lines, specific train types, witness the christening of a new line, station or train, and sometimes the bittersweet closing of an old line or final run of a historic train being decommissioned. It helps that rail is so ubiquitous in Japan, making an expedition as simple as taking a few steps out the door. But there’s something else going on, a deep-seated affinity for steel wheels on rails that I’ve not seen manifested with the same fervor and obsession anywhere else I’ve traveled. Since I’m interested in perception of transit, its role in communities and its impact on culture, I’m as curious about the trainspotters as I am about the trains themselves.

While trainspotting in Tokyo can happen just about anywhere, one place to go if you prefer your trains in large doses is Shimogoindenbashi (下御隠殿橋), a small bridge outside the north gate of Nippori Station (日暮里駅) in Arakawa Ward. The convergence point of 13 tracks offers a view of some 2,500 passing trains each day, including local lines and Shinkansen, and is informally referred to as the “train museum” (トレインミュージアム).

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

In Japanese, ‘railroad’ is tetsudō (鉄道), lit. ‘iron road’. Tetsu-chan (鉄ちゃん) is a somewhat derisory term for particularly enthusiastic train nuts; ‘railies’ or ‘foamers’ might be good English analogs. More polite ways to refer to railfans would be nori-tetsu (乗り鉄) for people who like to ride trains, and tori-tetsu (撮り鉄) for people who like to take photos of them.

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

As adults, we can poke fun at others and ourselves for obsessions like these, but there’s no denying the pure curiosity and unbridled joy of a child jamming his nose into a fence in order to get a better look as carriages of all shapes and colors glide by.

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Know your trains. This billboard helps identify most of the lines and train types that pass through.

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

This is the Tōhoku Shinkansen using an E5 series and E3 series train coupled together. Usually, the purpose of this setup is to allow the train to split off to different destinations at some point along the run.

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

The E5 series trainset is the newest Shinkansen model in operation, though its successor, the E6, is due to enter service in March 2013.

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Inbound and outbound Jōban Line

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Keisei Skyliner, inbound from Narita Airport

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tōhoku Line, Tōhoku Shinkansen and Utsunomiya Line

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Keisei Main Line, outbound to Narita Airport

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Jōetsu Shinkansen, 200 series, inbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Utsunomiya Line, inbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Keisei Main Line, inbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Tōhoku Shinkansen, E2 series, inbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Keisei Skyliner, outbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Keihin-Tōhoku Line, Shinkansen and Utsunomiya Line

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Tōhoku Shinkansen, E2 series, outbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Yamanote Line and Keihin-Tōhoku Line

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Tōhoku Shinkansen, E2 series, outbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Jōetsu Shinkansen, 200 series, inbound

Nippori Station "Train Museum"

Guys, guys, I’m not a tetsu-chan, I swear. Ok, maybe a tori-tetsu. Don’t tell anybody.

This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.

Additional volumes: Volume 2