Monday, November 29, 2010

Train Culture

It may not be at the fore of the Lonely Planet guide to Japan but each year many train buffs come to Japan to experience the country’s state of the art trains and rail network.

Japan is home to some of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world. High-tech trains such as the shinkansen (bullet train) and the new high-speed Keisei Narita Airport Skyliner have always been at the forefront of Japan’s railway industry. There are at least sixteen major train operating companies in Japan. Tokyo itself contains dozens of different train lines operated by at least nine different companies. The Tokyo rail network can at times seem overwhelming but it is however a tourist attraction in its own right.

Train spotters from within and outside Japan can frequently be seen on Tokyo’s train platforms. These are very serious individuals indeed. They pack an impressive array of camera equipment and will travel the lengths of the country to get shots of a rare or special edition train. During peak hours and seasons, rail companies make special provisions and guidelines for train spotters as they can be so numerous and enthusiastic that they may obstruct proceedings. A huge range of collectible goods are also lapped up by train enthusiasts.

You don't have to be a train spotter to appreciate Japan’s trains. A mixture of high technology and quirky themes has kept the industry thriving.

This December train spotters and tourists alike have a new train to marvel over. It’s not a new high-speed maglev train, nor is it particularly modern. The Seibu Electric Railway company have decided to run a “maid train service.” Realizing the popularity of maid culture in places like Akihabara, Seibu are cashing in by staffing fully costumed maids on their express service between Chichibu in Saitama and Ikebukuro in Tokyo. The maids will be selected from some of Akihabara’s most popular maid cafes. A single trip will be 3600 yen for adults, and 3000 yen for children. If you’re interested in trains and anime culture, why not take a ride and experience both!

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