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This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Daibutsu Railway.

    The Daibutsu Railway has been nicknamed 'The Lost Daibutsu Railway'. With a short lifetime and little documentation, much remains a mystery. However, today, more than a century later, tunnels, abutments and other remnants still stand and provide us with clues of how the ephemeral railway looked.

   In April 1898, the Kansai Railway Co. opened an 8km branch connecting the town of Kamo to a station beside the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Todai-ji Temple, in Nara Park (aptly named Daibutsu Station). The area flourished as a popular sightseeing spot. Then, a year later, in May 1899, the line was extended a further 2km to Nara Station.

   In August 1907, a new and level route going from Kamo to Nara, via Kizu, opened. Troubled by steep slopes , the Daibutsu Railway services halted and, in November of that year, the line was closed after just 9-years in service.

   The new line, which was incorporated into the already existing 'Kansai Main Line', is nicknamed the 'Yamatoji Line', and still operates to this day, more than 100-years after opening.
                                                                                                                                                                An artists impression of  'The Inazuma SL' (Cardinal Train) as it passes over one of several abutments between Kamo and Nara Stations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The thoughtful people down at the J.R. Promotions Department, have created this map of the course that, supposedly, follows the route the Daibutsu Railway took.

    I have hiked/cycled parts of this course over the years, and am familiar with some of the sites. So, all decked-out with what I need for this trip - cameras, food, drink, appropriate clothing e.t.c. - I shall head-out from Kamo Station to walk to Nara in search of the Daibutsu Railway. 
J.R. Kamo Station.
   I decided to commence my journey at Kamo Station so as to follow the numerical instructions on the map. The original station was opened in November 1897 as the terminus of the Daibutsu Line. When the line closed in 1907 it became the termini of the Yamatoji and Kansai Lines.
Lamp House.
   A few meters down from the station is the first relic of the old railway. This is a Lamp House, constructed of brick with a gable roof, and has been standing here since the foundations of the station were laid. Today, from what I saw, the building serves no purpose, but to remind us of a bygone era.

C 57 Steam Locomotive.
    My next stop was this static display. Nicknamed 'Kifujin' (The Dame), this steam locomotive was built in 1937 and once ran on the 'Kansai Main Line'. In the above image, an A 221 Electric Multiple Unit has just left Kamo bound for Osaka. Steam locomotives have a special place in my heart. There is something about these beasts that impress me.
   It wasn't long before I was bidding farewell to the town of Kamo, and entering the lush green rice-fields that make Japan so picturesque at this time of year. This is my kinda' environment and I am in my element whenever I enter, either on foot or on two-wheels, areas such as this.
   Not far from where I am standing,  camouflaged by the out-of-control vines in the distance, is the first of six abutment relics.
Kanonji Abutments.
   The Kanonji Abutment was constructed of graphite ashlar and features two foundation stones on top. From the Kamo Station, to this point, the Kansai and Daibutsu Lines ran parallel, a distance of 2km and, from this point they part company.
   If you are here at the right moment, like I was, you should be able to experience the A 221 E.M.U. passing by. Looking in the distance, under the bridge, is where I took the previous photo. 
                                                                                                                 My next abutment is just over a kilometer away but, before I reach it, I have to traverse through bush that suddenly becomes more dense as I progress through it. But that is not my only concern. I am suddenly engulfed by swarms of insects that take great delight in exploring every nook-and-cranny of my body. The infestation doesn't last for long, thank god. Midway through I happen-across this small Shinto Shrine. Always a source of pleasure for me - one experiences these in some of the most isolated of places, along with Buddhist icons - and an opportunity to stop and offer a prayer (on this occasion I didn't thanks to my insect friends).
Kaseyama Abutments.
   Emerging from the bush I soon rejoin a sealed lane and the Kaseyama Abutments. Again, constructed of graphite, the blocks appear dark and dirty. This is caused by the moisture being emitted from the waterway that runs through the tunnel. At night the stones glisten elegantly. If you take note of the notice-board in the right of the image,every point-of-interest stop along the way has a board giving details of the site in Japanese, English and Korean. Plus a map of your location and course. I give the organizers 10-out-of-10 for this.

Kajigatani Tunnel.
      To access  the next site requires some navigational skills. But the task is made easy thanks to great signage. But, in saying that, you still have to have a keen eye, thanks to our friend, the overgrown vines.                                                                                                                 

   With no copestones, or other decorative features, the Kajigatani Tunnel is simpler than the other structures. The front bricks are in English Bond, and the arch are in Stretchers Bond. The tunnel was used as a passageway and an aqueduct.

                                                                        Akabashi literally translates to  'The Red Bridge' - Aka = Red,    Bashi = Bridge. Again, this structure is constructed with English Bond,  embellished with capstones and paved with granite. Granite quoins have been stacked on alternating sides so as to reinforce the structure.

   The time has just turned 12pm, and I have already been on the track 2-hours in sweltering heat and am looking for a place, in the shade, where I can stop for a break.
                                                                               And, just like 'that', my prayers have been answered. And with a toilet too. I never thought an ice-coffee and current buns could be so appreciated. It had been just over 5-hours since I last took-in fluid and food.
   Sitting at my bench I look-around at my surroundings and admire the view. In just over a kilometer from where I am, my surroundings will change dramatically as I am about to be engulfed in the residential surroundings of Nara City.
The Vestige of Isekigawa Bridge.
   Before this became an ordinary road and vehicular intersection, the Daibutsu Line ran through here (I emerged down the road in the center of the image) and, because of the height difference, the railway had to construct an embankment, bridge abutments and iron bridge.
Map Location.
   No evidence of the bridge, or it's abutments, are here to remind us of that era so long ago destroyed. I was able to track-down the above images of the construction of the Isakigawa Bridge.
   The narrow lanes and dirt tracks of the past 3-hours have now been replaced by the asphalt sealed footpaths, pedestrian crossings and controlled intersections. What a shock. If it hadn't been for my map, I would have missed the next site.
Matsutanigawa Tunnel.
   Descending a flight of steps, I arrive at someones vegetable garden and spy a concrete path heading in the direction of another noticeboard. The granite voussoir, in the arch of this tunnel, are stacked on alternating sides, a building technique known as - 'Sangizumi'. The dark bricks were made with high heat and, along with bricks made of alternating shades, are a distinctive feature of the Matsutanigawa Tunnel.
Sikagawa Tunnel.
 The Sikagawa Tunnel, and the last of the abutments and, unfortunately, inaccessible to the public - I think it being on private land may be the reason why. The tunnel still retains it's original features. It is a narrow tunnel and was constructed for agricultural purposes, so a stream could pass under to allow irrigation of the fields on the other side of the tracks.
The Vestige of Kurogamiyama Tunnel.

   You wouldn't believe it, looking at this image, that, until 1966, there was a tunnel here. This was the site of the only tunnel on the Daibutsu Railway. Today it's route-44. Difficult to imagine what this scene looked like back when the service was still in operation. 

   From here I make my way down route-44, past the Nara Television studios, the Nara Youth Hostel, many other shops and eateries, to an indistinct intersection, and my next stop . . . .
The Commemorative Park of the Daibutsu Railway.
   . . . .  the site of the Daibutsu Station. Thanks to the collaboration between the Nara Municipal Office and Local Residents, in 1992 this park was created to commemorate what was once a great era in travel. And sadly missed.
   Thanks to the efforts, and talented computer skills, someone has kindly created this image of what the Daibutsu Station looked like. Doesn't the Inazuma SL look resplendent? It brings a tear to my eye. 
The Sahogawa River Bridge.
                                                                                Directly in front of the park is the Sahogawa Bridge, and the entrance to an area of Nara known as 'Funahashi'. This section of the line wasn't opened until a year after the first section was commissioned - May 1899.
    As I cross the bridge I look upstream of the Saho River, and espy these three deer grazing on the lush green grass on the banks of the river. The deer, which are domesticated, are a popular feature of Nara, especially in the area engulfing the Park. Which is why I am surprised to see them so far from home.
    As I make my way down Funahashi I pass this well restored and preserved establishment. It is becoming common here in Japan, especially in the famous old cities like Nara and Kyoto, to restore these houses so as to save them from demolition to be replaced by modern structures. At this point I am getting a gut-feeling that my journey is about to reach it's climax. And, after another couple of intersections . . . .
J.R. Nara Station.
. . . . I arrive at my goal, or the end-of-the-line (excuse the pun) - the J.R. Nara Station. Over the past 4.5-hours, I have walked 12-kilometers and have seen and experienced some great scenery. It's a sad moment but full of memories of an era long passed. For me, it reminded me of my childhood and growing-up in a rural town and witnessing the  steam locomotives as they passed-through where I lived. And of travelling on them and the sound they made, and the power. I so wish railways like this weren't closed but were kept open for all to experience and appreciate.

                                                 So, until next time, Sayonara. 

Course details and images -

Video - 

Trains, Trains and more Trains.

   In my post, "My Pet Peeves - Litter", I shared with you one of my (many) obsessions. This post is about another of my obsessions - Trains.
   This interest (a more appropriate description) commenced back when I was a child, and where I was raised. Dunsandel is a small rural town situated on State Highway-1, midway between Christchurch and Ashburton Cities, as well as on the South-Island Main Trunk Rail-Line. For most of my childhood my father worked as an Assistant Station-Master at the Dunsandel Railway-Station (unfortunately the station isn't there anymore) and, being the main loading-point for the rural area, was kept very-busy, especially 
Tr-18 Shunting-Train.
with the loading of  livestock. It was trains, like in the image on the left, that would call-into the "yard", connect any loaded wagons, before heading-off to the main freight-yards in Christchurch. As the son of  one of the station staff, I was privileged to be able to ride in the cabin of one of these as it shunted up-and-down the yard. But the highlight for me was to stand on the platform as the Christchurch-to-Dunedin passenger express rolled-through. These things were enormous giants and, as they roared-past, they would be clocking in excess of 70m.p.h. 
Steam Locomotive. 
It was one thing to experience this,but another to be riding on one. Railways staff were given generous discounts on the rail network, and I was fortunate to have travelled on the North-Island Main Trunk Line that ran between Wellington and Auckland Cities, one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world (of course I would say that).
   Lets come forward to 1993, and the network of Rail Enthusiasts Clubs spread throughout Great Britain. And let me tell you, there are many. My first experience was at the Bluebell Railway in the south-east of England.
C-Class No 592
Steam Locomotive.
I shall be eternally-grateful to my Auntie & Uncle for bringing me here. After 25-years, since my last ride on a steam locomotive, it was great to ride on something so beautiful, old and well maintained. The 10-mile trip through the very-scenic English countryside was also a delight. This was, unfortunately, my only opportunity to experience this in England. But it was the Narrow Gauge Railways of Wales that was to grab my attention (and time & money). The wee-beauties were incredible, not just for the way they had been faithfully restored & maintained, but for the magnificent scenery they took one through. Take for instance, The Snowdonia. Could you imagine yourself taking a train-ride to the summit of one of the tallest mountains in Britain (Map)? Well, that's where "Enid", or one of the many other trains will take you. If you think you haven't the stomach for this, you can always hike up to the summit.                                                                                           
Earl of Merioneth
The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways was also a delight to experience. Commencing at the village of Portmadog this short 13.5-mile trip takes you through the misty hills, so typical of Wales, to the hill-side village of Blaenau Ffestiniog (try pronouncing that). From here I was able to take the regular B.R.Train to Conwy.
Vale of Rheidol.
I can't leave Wales without telling you about the Vale of Rheidol Railway. Commencing at the seaside town of Aberystwyth this 12-mile trip takes you up the Rheidol Valley to Devils Bridge. Because of the open-carriage one was able to become very-close to nature - sight & sound. This journey is a nature lovers delight.
The Jacobite.
   Onto Scotland and where better to start, than Fort William. You should recognize this bridge from the "Harry Potter" movies. Once a week, the local steam enthusiasts use the B.R. Rail-Line through the port town of Mallaig, with the freight-wagon converted into a museum (with views such as in the attached image,I wasn't too concerned with the museum), with continual commentary during the course of the journey. With a hot-coffee and scone, I was in heaven.
   Lets now come forward to the present, and Japan. Japan does have it's rail-museums and steam-excursion lines, but not on the same scale as in Britain. Today's Rail Transportation in Japan is very important to the countries infrastructure, and it's history dates-back to the 1870's when the first line was opened between Tokyo and Yokohama. The best way to describe the rail network here is to compare it with the Vascular System of the Human Body. There are not many places you can't get to where there isn't a rail line to take you there on. And, if there isn't a rail-service, there is sure to be a bus-service. By my reckoning, there are twelve types of Railway Lines in Japan. I will cover a few of the ones I have traveled-on, beginning with the Shinkansen (commonly known as the "Bullet-Train).
Yours Truly
Shin-Osaka Station.
N700 Series.

My first Shinkansen experience happened in 2004 when we traveled to Kyushu. I was fortunate to have been invited to the Guards office to view the bank of monitors displaying the trains operation. To see the needle move from 0-to-280kmph in just a few seconds was awesome. I have traveled on the Shinkansen many-times since then and, if you want to get from a-to-b in a hurry, this is the best way to do it but, if you want to see some great Japanese scenery, this isn't the best way - most of the lines go-through tunnels and are lined by barrier-fences.
J.R.Rail Express and Local Trains
Kyoto Station.
In the image on the left are two of Japan Rail's Main/Suburban Line trains - the Super-Express (on the left) and the Rapid/Local (on the right). The Super-Express you pay extra to ride on (over-and-above the normal fare) but it only stops at a few stations. There is a catering service provided (one is best to take their own food/drink as you pay a lot more). The Rapid, which you pay the regular fare, stops at more stations than it's bigger-brother. The Local means just that.
Yours Truly
Kamo Station.

 My favorite trains are the country lines, like the Kansai Main Line, and their fleet of  KiHa 120 Diesel Trains. These are a community train, where everyone-knows-everyone, and travel-through some great back-country scenery. There are many programs on television about these lines that involve the people who work/travel on these trains, the villages and stations and, let's not forget, the scenery.
KiHa 120 Diesel Train.

In the coming weeks, during the winter months, when (I hope) there is plenty of snow on the ground, I plan to  travel this line (again) taking photos of the scenery for a blog I will attach to this post.
Funicular Cable-Car
of the
Eizan Railways.

The Funicular Cable-Car are quite common throughout Japan and, like the "Snowdonia" in Wales, are an experience to travel on. The shape of the vehicle is similar to that of the grade of the hill you are about to ascend/descend and, once inside, accessing your seat is similar to that of a Douglas DC-3 airplane - you have to climb your way to your seat.
   Before I sign-off, let me tell you about the Umekoji Steam Museum (website) and Umekoji Steam Museum (Wikipedia) in Kyoto City. I stumbled-across this facility quite-by-accident in 2003 as I was passing it while travelling on the J.R.Kyoto Line
C612 Steam Locomotive
Umekoji Steam Museum, Kyoto.
The sight of 20 Locomotives, all parked in an arch, with three in full steam, raised my excitement-level to the point of jumping-off the train. But, if we weren't travelling in excess of 100kmph at the time, I would have. I returned the following day.
Steam Locomotive with Carriages.
The complex is well laid-out - you enter via a museum, which includes a replica of  George Stephensons "Rocket" - which features a Roundhouse, with a walkway connecting several of the static displays plus Locomotives that are steamed-up, a Turntable plus a short track used for exhibition trips (needless-to-say I went for a ride).
Yours Truly