Kyoto Railway Museum
The Temple to Japanese Train Culture
Kyoto Railway Museum is located in Umekoji Park, about twenty minutes’ walk to the west of Kyoto JR station. It recounts the history of Japanese railways innovations with an interactive and edutainment approach. Inaugurated on April 29, 2016, it is the more recent and largest train museum in Japan.
Kyoto Railway Museum was built to modernize and extend the former Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum that opened in 1972. It offers a complete immersion in an immense 30,000 m² exhibition hall, distributed on three levels.
A comprehensive exhibition on Japanese trains
The visit starts from a giant station's platform, where 53 historical locomotives and carriages are displayed, from the old steam locomotives to the first long-distance trains, including post-war luxurious sleeping cars, and the first "0 series Shinkansen" whose operating started in 1964, the year of the first summer Olympics in Tokyo. Many of these exhibits where recovered from the former Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka that closed in April 2014.
The platform leads to the main hall. At the ground floor are displayed numerous railway mechanisms, such as railroad switches, level crossing or train driver’s cabins, that any visitor can touch and try on at will. The aim is to learn while having fun to better understand the operating of the trains and the innovative history of the motors. In addition, there are about a dozen of beautiful old machines, such as the first "230 series" steam locomotive mass produced from 1903. The attraction here is an underneath path to have a look on the trains’ internal mechanisms like a true railway worker.
A fun and interactive train experience
The first floor’s gallery offers a view on the trains’ tops in the main exhibition hall, as well as two interesting attractions:
- A giant diorama (30 meters length and 10 meters wide), displaying several 1/80th scale models arranged from the oldest to the newest. It is even possible to pilot some train models.
- A train driving simulator: facing a screen, the would-be pilot learns how to drive, start and stop in any weather condition. The perfect occasion for younger visitors to discover their calling.
The museum also features in its outdoor space a railway roundhouse housing past century steam locomotives parked around a turntable. Nearby, a vintage train travels for a fee on a ten minutes’ tour that ends at the souvenir shop sheltered in the former Nijo station. By the way, Nijo station, built in 1904, was the oldest Japanese wooden station still in operation until 1996, before it was moved to its current location in 1997.
Kyoto Railway Museum also hosts temporary collections. For example, between February and March in 2018, the "500 series Shinkansen" (the newest model since 1996) was transformed in a "500 TYPE EVA series" by covering it with the colors of Evangelion saga: violet, black, green and grey (see our pictures below). The exhibition displayed various items in relation to the anime, including a human-size model of the "Evangelion Unit-00."
As comfortable as a Japanese train
At lunch time, the museum’s restaurant offers a choice of railway-themed menus. More than the food, what is remarkable is the panoramic view on the railways, To-ji temple and Kyoto Tower in the background. It is also possible to enjoy a packed lunched typical of train stations (eki-ben) in a Blue Train 20 series’ dining car.
Moreover, the museum’s entrance ticket is valid for the full day and allows re-entry at will. For lunch, the best quality / price / quietness ratio is certainly at the restaurant Kyoyasai, located in Umekoji Park. The menu provides fresh food from Kyoto to pick up among a choice and create one’s own meal. It is fitted with a terrace on stilts, very enjoyable when the weather is fine and with a view on the surrounding park.
Mainly aimed at railways amateurs and children, this renewal of the Railway Museum also successfully attracts a larger audience, thanks to the variety of trains displayed. In addition, each attraction benefits from explanations in English. The laid-back atmosphere of the place, welcoming for families and locals, gives a realistic overview of the Japanese’s relationship with their much-adored railways.