Saitama Railway Museum in Omiya, less than one hour from central Tokyo, is one of the hundred landscapes of the country. Curiously enough, the big museum is thus considered as one of the representative sight of contemporary Japan. But that’s logical, knowing the Japanese enthusiasm for its convenient railway network. And the Saitama Museum is the largest of its kind in Japan, with impressive exhibits famous among kids and “train otakus“. But not only.
We were not expecting it at first. A train museum in the middle of gorgeous landscapes, ancient shrines and beautiful castles. But the Saitama Railway Museum deserves its rank in the 100 Heisei landscapes, offering a sight in daily Japan. The Japan of a huge and convenient railway network with many collectibles.
Visiting the museum allows to catch a glimpse of a less known Japan as well. The one of the kids passionate about Shinkansen and of the Tecchan, the Japanese train otakus (of which Rocketnews describes 36 different types!).
Among the 36 wagons and engines of the beautiful museum (but with not enough English explanations yet), the train history begins with the “Locomotive n°1”, the first ever used in Japan in the early years of Meiji Period. And many other historical trains are displayed.
Most of the wagons and engines are open to visitors, except the six former imperial carriages. The museum is minutely railway-related, even in the details. One can enter with the Suica card – just like in any train station in Japan.
From the second floor, the view over the trains is impressive. A long historical timeline is displayed there – along running model trains and many train-related historical materials. English explanations are also to be found there. For every details about the trains of the museum, see the official website.
At noon and 3pm everyday, kids dressed in mechanics have the chance to use the train whistle of the former steam locomotive, while the train is rotating on the museum turntable.
Other areas of the museum offer several train simulators (in free access after waiting in a long line, except the 500 yens steam loco one that has to be booked in advance), kids spaces, a tiny trains network to practice and many lounge spaces with a view over the neighboring traffic (the JR Takasaki Line, and Tohoku, Joetsu and Hokuriku Shinkansens).
Even if the content is really interesting, the Omiya museum might not be the best choice for first time travelers in Japan (except for train lovers). But during a second trip or for expats, the visit allows to discover another side of the Japanese society. And for us, it was a new landscapes described!
How to get there?
The Railway museum (open everyday except tuesday, from 10am to 6pm, 1000 yens and half-price for kids) is located next to Tetsudo-Hakubutsukan station, a 3 mn ride from Omiya station (with New Shuttle, 190 yens). Omiya is then very easy to reach from Tokyo’s main station (less than 500 yens).