The Railway Museum in Saitama prefecture, is a real mecca for railway buffs. It is pure railway heaven. The displays take you from the earliest days of rail in Japan through to the modern period. You can see more than 30 trains, from the Locomotive No. 1, a British-built train, that was used on the Shinbashi-Yokohama line in 1872 and is now a designated important cultural property through to the modern Shinkanasen (bullet train), plus everything in-between. There are even several carriages that were used by the Imperial Family. It is a fantastic place!
When you enter the museum, after buying your tickets, turn right and you’ll be in the "History Zone". This is the biggest and most important area as it is here where you’ll find the major displays. The trains are immaculately displayed and you can climb aboard many of them.
I think everyone’s favourite though is the A Class C57 No. 135 steam locomotive. It comes alive twice a day, at 12 pm and 3 pm. The crew, in authentic period outfits blow the whistle at regular intervals as the train moves around on its turntable. It is a great crowd pleaser, especially with the kids. Just make sure to keep your ears covered!
There is a lot more to the Railway Museum such as the large HO-scale railway diorama. It is pretty cool with its lights changing colour according to the time of day. There are also train simulators and outside is a miniature railway line that will take you over miniature tracks stopping at equally miniature stations found in Tokyo. For costs and reservations, please enquire at the reception desk.
You can learn so much here. If you are mechanically minded you can walk under some of the smaller trains and see what made them work. And there are numerous scale models placed throughout the exhibits, built with great care and attention to detail.
The museum is completely kitted out for kids. They even have a library, a Lego play area and interactive zone where you can learn more about trains. Everything is there!
And when you need to relax after exploring the museum, head to the viewing deck, which is on the third floor. There you can watch the Shinkansens race by. Yes, those trains are just outside! They come by very regularly, about once every five or ten minutes. Luckily, due to noise regulations, they travel slightly slower than usual here so you should be able to get some photos.
Eating is no problem either. You can either eat at one of the restaurants inside the building or you can buy an "ekiben" (a packed lunch sold at train stations - extremely popular in Japan). Usually you can also eat outside the main building in some trains, but unfortunately that area is closed for renovations until 2018.
The museum is very big, almost 800 meters long so seeing all the trains, displays and everything else will take a lot of time, so plan accordingly. And even though the explanations are mainly in Japanese, I’m fairly confident in saying there is enough in English to keep everyone satisfied. You can see the museum's website here.
How to get to the Railway Museum
The the Railway Museum is right next to Tetsudohakubutsukan station in Saitama Prefecture, west of Tokyo. To get there use the Keihin-Tohoku line from Ueno or the Saikyo line from Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. Leave Omiya station leave via the south exit. Once out, just walk straight ahead (following the signs) to the New Shuttle (roughly 200 meters - don`t leave the building). From Omiya station it costs 180 yen and it is only a couple of minutes to Tetsudohakubutsukan station. Then it is only a one minute walk to the museum.
The Railway Museum is open from 10am to 6pm, with last admittance at 5:30pm. It is closed every Tuesday and over the New Year vacation period.
General admission for adults is 1000 yen. If you have a Suica train pass, you can use that to purchase your entry tickets at the electric ticket vending machines.
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