A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

Steam Punks

Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum; Kyoto

Last year a new aquarium opened in Kyoto, the biggest non-costal aquarium in Japan I believe (though most of Japan is costal so that's not saying too much). Anyway, I decided to wait until the initial wave of interest (and associated crowds) had died down before going to check it out.

However, I mis-judged it and on the day Haru and I went the place was still heaving with visitors, and we decided not to bother. So we found ourselves in Kyoto's Umekoji park with no real plan, and no real idea what else there was around there.

Well, as it turns out there are two other interesing things in Umekoji park apart from the aquarium. Firstly, there's a Japanese style garden sperated off from the large public park. So we paid and went in for a look around, and while it's not too big it is nice with blend of older and more modern Japanese styles.

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While we were wandering around the park though we heard the distinct sound of steam trains nearby. Sure enough, Umekoji park is also home to Kyoto's steam locomotive museum - which I didn't even know existed.

The main reason for putting the museum here is that the building was actually the original Nijo train station. The station building itself is the oldest wooden station building in Japan, and was in service from 1904 to 1997.

The rest of the buildings are mostly arrayed around the engine turn table behind the station building.

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These are mainly the train sheds that house the museums collection of 17 locomotives, 6 of which still run and can be taken out onto a short stretch of private line behind the park (which is why we could hear steam trains from the park).

Now, I not a train geek as such, but as I made clear last time (while waxing lyrical about Jules Verne) I do like the the steam-punk genre, and aesthetics of steam trains appeals to me. I can't help but envision H.G.Well time machine style devices when confronted with so many pistions, gears and brass gauges.

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Of course we took the chance to ride the train as well, though unless you've never been on a steam train before I wouldn't say it's essential. The track is very short and not very scenic, the UK still has a few really nice steam lines running (such as the one Nik and rode in Wales) and this just couldn't compare.

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To be honest just watching the trains is probably more of a thrill, that thick plume of smoke coiling up and the shrill of the whistle is just so evocative of a time that has passed. For both of us it was also interesting watching the engineers clearing out the old coals from the furnace and refilling the water tank, before returning the train to the shed.

One lingering inpression I was left with was one of how much more physical the world used to be, corporeal, real, hands on as opposed to virtual and touch screen as it is now. There's a solidity to those engines. A reality to the relationship between them, their drivers and engineers that's hard to convey. A sense of connectedness that I often only feel when I'm looking at bygone ways and processes.

When I was living in Slovakia one of the main clients of the language school I worked in was a local steel mill. I visted the mill many times to teach classes, but I never got even a shadow of the feeling I got when I once saw a real blacksmith work a single piece of red hot steel with tongues and a hammer. I don't know what, if anything, that means. It's just a feeling that something has been lost - but I'm not sure it ever even existed in my lifetime.

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Well, I'll leave this on that note and a few extra photos in sepia for that old world feel.

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Next time, I'll be writing up our walking trip in the beautiful Kiso valley.

Posted by DKJM74 22:08 Comments (0)

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