Updated: Mar. 21, 2022
The train station is a major gateway to the local area, and it may give first-time visitors their first impressions of the place. It’s like the genkan (foyer) of your house where you might keep a vase of flowers or a painting to impress visitors or generate anticipation to see the rest of the house. And so it’s worth making train stations attractive and integrated in the community. Although I don’t judge a place by its train station, I do take note of how nice or localized the train station is.
In Shiga, train stations have been around since 1880 when the prefecture’s first railway opened between Otsu (Hama-Otsu) and Kyoto as part of a national project to connect Kobe (Hyogo) and Tsuruga (Fukui) by rail. Making Kyoto accessible by train was a national priority, so neighboring Shiga saw railways being laid earlier than in most other prefectures.
In 1896, Ohmi Railway was founded by former Hikone samurai and Hino merchants in eastern Shiga, and Ohmi Railway trains first started running in June 1898 between Hikone and Echigawa Stations. (Soon extended to Kibukawa and later to Maibara.) Most of Shiga’s train station buildings we see today have been reconstructed at least two or three times. Only a handful are about a century old, but they are fast disappearing as modern buildings replace them.
Ohmi Railways has a few of Shiga’s oldest train station buildings. JR (Japan Railways) has already rebuilt many of the oldest and rickety train station buildings, especially along the JR Hokuriku Line from Nagahama to Omi-Shiotsu. Most train stations on this line were rebuilt anew by 2006 when it converted to 1500 V DC power. This enabled DC-powered trains from Kyoto, etc., to run all the way to Tsuruga instead of terminating at Nagahama. The new train station buildings turned out quite nice and a few of them are in my Top 20 list below.
Whenever I visit a place for the first time by train, I always take pictures of the train station. Pictures of old train station buildings which no longer exist have since become quite valuable. After seeing most of Shiga’s train stations (totaling about 120), I’ve picked and ranked Shiga’s Top 20 train stations below
My selections and ranking are based on the building being culturally, historically, and/or aesthetically significant. The architectural design and aesthetic appeal and how well the local flavor, character, and community have been incorporated to make it local and unique. I first posted this Top 20 list in May 2014. Since then, there have been major changes in train stations, so now in March 2022, I have updated this list and included many more photos.
The rebuilt Azuchi Station is now on the list, while the demolished Hikone-guchi Station building (only the platform remains in use) has been taken off the list. Otsu Station was quite boring until it was renovated and reopened on Oct. 1, 2016. Otsu Station is now included in my Top 20 list as an Honorable Mention.
Some other things to note about train stations:
- No smoking in all train stations and in all trains. Only the shinkansen has small rooms for smokers.
- Since many Shiga train stations are in rural areas with low passenger traffic, they might be unmanned and not have ticket machines. You should use a tap card (ICOCA, SUICA, etc.) instead.
- On Ohmi Railways, if you are geting off at an unmanned train station, exit the train at the front and pay the train driver when you get off.
- Smaller and rural train stations might not be wheelchair accesssible nor have accessible toilets. So if you’re in a wheelchair or have a lot of luggage and the train station lacks elevators, etc., you should instead get off at the nearest major train station and take a taxi from there.
- On JR lines in Shiga, the following stations are not wheelchair accesssible as of this writing: Horai, Shiga, Hira, Omi-Maiko, Kita-Komatsu, Omi-Nakasho, Makino, Nagahara, Omi-Shiotsu, Kawake, Torahime, Tamura, Sakata, Samegai, Omi-Nagaoka, Kashiwabara, and Ishibe.
- On Ohmi Railways, about half of all stations are not wheelchair accesssible. Many are unmanned (no one to help you board/exit the train with a ramp). Most stations are on the ground level and do not require long up/down stairs.
- For more information about Shiga’s train lines and stations, see Shiga Prefecture Transportation.
Enjoy Shiga’s Top 20 train stations as I see it. (Click on the thumbnail photo to enlarge, and click on the station name for a map of its location.)
At No. 1 is Nagahama Station. The station building, rebuilt from the ground up in Oct. 2006, is modeled after the station’s first and original building from 1882. They did a great job combining the old and the new. To fully appreciate the new station building, you have to see the original 19th-century station building preserved a short distance away at Nagahama Railroad Square, a train station museum with a few retired trains. The resemblance is impressive.
Nagahama Station is airy, attractive, and functional. A great improvement over the old and boring train station built in 1955. The waiting room also houses the tourist information desk. Waiting rooms on the train platforms are also convenient (air-conditioned), but somewhat small. If you go down the exit escalator on the east side (Ekimachi Terrace), you see a beautiful stained glass mural of Hikiyama Festival child kabuki actors. However, since the pedestrian overpass has been built, fewer people go down the escalator.
Once upon a time, the new Nagahama Station stood all by itself. That’s when it looked best. Now it is dwarfed by a monstrous wedding hall standing on the site of the old train station. Although the wedding hall has a similar design as the station building, it almost totally cancels out the station building. It’s a real shame.
Not only that, a big, new Heiwado supermarket (Mondecool) has also been built on the left side the station. Another building to make the train station look small. But we cannot complain about that because it’s a welcome addition after the original Heiwado was demolished to make way for Ekimachi Terrace. Ekimachi Terrace is not very busy. Most customers go to Mondecool instead. It wasn’t really necessary to build a pedestrian bridge from the station to Ekimachi Terrace.
A high-rise condo has also sprouted. It’s black while all the other buildings are beige or yellow. The area is looking to be over-developed. I hope we won’t see anymore hulking buildings. The area now needs more greenery.
One of Japan’s uniquely localized train stations. JR Koka Station opened its new station building in Nov. 2005. It resembles a farmer’s kura storehouse on the outside. But the inside has a number of visual surprises with ingenious, interactive ninja wall and ceiling paintings.
Koka is famous for Koka/Koga ninja, and the station plays this up with ninja motifs and playful 3D ninja paintings. Thanks to some very clever optical illusions called “trick art,” you can join in the virtual ninja world by posing inside the painting. (Get your camera ready.) Pinch the ninja blanket on the ceiling, sit on a bench with ninjas, etc.
The seven ninja wall paintings were painted by Hattori Masashi (服部 正志), a noted artist. There’s also an old ninja statue in front of the station. They should rename the station, “Ninja Station.” That would attract more attention and tourists (it would also cost a good bit of money). Koka’s authentic Ninja House and Ninja Village amusement park are popular attractions. More photos of Koka Station here.
The station building’s first floor has display cases of medicines produced by Koka drug companies. The abundant herbs in the area gave rise to many druggists in Koka. The ninja were also expert with drugs and chemicals.
The name “Koka” is often mispronounced as “Koga” (as in Koga ninja) by Japanese and foreigners alike. The proper pronunciation is “Koka.” FYI, there’s another ninja train station at Ueno-shi Station in Iga, Mie, famous for Iga ninja.
Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji Temple (World Heritage Site and National Treasure) are accessible via cable railway from Cable Sakamoto Station in Sakamoto at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Shiga. At the top, you get off at Cable Enryakuji Station.
This is the original building that has been used since the cable railway opened between Sakamoto and Mt. Hiei in 1927. It was Japan’s longest cable car route (2,025 meters) at the time. The first floor is the station, while the 2nd floor used to be a VIP room. The 2nd floor is now an exhibition room open to the public. It also has a nice lookout deck with a fine view of Otsu and the lake. The small but imposing building is a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property (登録有形文化財).
Cable Sakamoto Station is on the foot of Mt. Hiei as the bottom terminal station of the cable railway going up to Cable Enryakuji Station atop Mt. Hiei. In Shiga, this is where you board the cable railway. (In Kyoto, there is another cable railway on the other side of Mt. Hiei.) Along with Cable Enryakuji Station, Cable Sakamoto Station is also a National Tangible Cultural Property.
The building is original, dating back to 1927 when the cable railway first opened. The station is a wooden, Western-style, two-story building. The first floor has a ticket office, waiting room with retro wooden benches, and the entrance to the roofed cable platform. The second floor is an office. The ride up to Cable Enryakuji Station takes only about 8 minutes. Closest train station is Sakamoto Hiezanguchi on the Keihan Line. Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine is also nearby.
Toriimoto Station is another example of a prewar Western-style train station building. It has been here since the station first opened in 1931. It has a red mansard roof, perhaps unique in Shiga. In 2013, the building was designated as a National Tangible Cultural Property. Shiga’s only train station so designated, although both cable car stations for Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei are also National Tangible Cultural Properties.
The compact interior reeks of the good old days. If its walls could talk, I can only imagine what stories they could tell. It looks kind of lonely with nothing else nearby, but beloved by local residents since it was originally built upon request by the local government and residents. Most of the construction cost was therefore borne by the local community. There’s no train station staff so it’s really empty and quiet when there are no trains. Toriimoto was the sixty-third shukuba post town on the Nakasendo Road. It has a nice section of traditional shukuba buildings
Before major renovations were completed in May 2020, Hino Station was another old station that took you back to the prewar years. It had a nice vintage look and feel inside and out. The station building was the original one built in 1916. However, outside the station building, there were just too many modern objects that clutter the vintage facade: A waiting taxi (and often a bus), phone booth, and vending machine (always the worst offender).
However, after a century of use, the station building was rickety and badly in need of repairs. Ohmi Railways thought about demolishing it. However, local residents wanted to preserve the building and started crowd funding. It was a successful campaign to foot a substantial part of the cost, and Hino Station buildings were completely renovated and even reinforced against earthquakes.
Hino Station’s main building completed renovations on Oct. 1, 2017 with a dark brown exterior. The building’s external shape looks the same, but it looks new inside and out with new walls and paint. One major improvement is the new cafe and community space named “Nanairo.” It is a community-run cafe where vendors can rent the cafe space and kitchen to serve customers. The tourist information desk is also inside Nanairo.
When the cafe is staffed, it becomes a nice a community space where people can dine or meetup. Local clubs use it for meetings or lectures. The cafe staff gives the train station a soul and human touch. Although it doesn’t have full-time train station staff, Hino Station has both the warmth of wood and the local community thanks to Nanairo.
The small adjacent building which used to be the tourist information office has been converted into a small railway museum displaying Hino Station relics. Hino Station can also be reached by bus from Omi-Hachiman Station. Also see my detailed blog post about Hino Station’s renovations here.
Shiga’s oldest train station buildings are on the Ohmi Railways, and Shin-Yokaichi Station is one of them. It’s a Western-style, two-story wooden building built in 1913. The ground floor looks very old, the benches look historic. Enter a time warp here. The building obviously needs repairs in multiple places, but it is still usable. Very fragile looking though.
The second floor is closed to the public due to old age. It originally housed the Konan Railway company’s head office (湖南鉄道). Konan Railway originally operated the railway between Yokaichi and Omi-Hachiman before it merged with another company that later merged with Ohmi Railways. Tourists don’t normally get off at this station since most attractions are at the next stop, Yokaichi Station. Mainly for local residents.
Another one of my all-time favorite train stations. Rebuilt in 2003, the Notogawa Station building is shaped like a giant waterwheel, the symbol of Notogawa town before it merged with Higashi-Omi in 2006. Notogawa has this giant waterwheel at a local park. The waterwheel design is on both the east and west sides of the train station. It’s so distinctive and very impressive. I loudly applaud the people who planned and designed the building. (Another photo is on the top of this page.)
The building’s waterwheel structure houses an escalator on one half and stairs on the other half. The west side of the station has other waterwheel-themed objects, not to mention a local shopping center also bearing waterwheel designs.
Although there are train stations in Japan with a real waterwheel next to it, it seems Notogawa Station is the only one that is shaped like a waterwheel. Higashi-Omi has many Ohmi Railway stations, but only one JR train station at Notogawa.
Shigaraki Station’s small, modern station building is nothing special, but it’s embellished with tanuki (raccoon dog) statues, most everywhere, including a giant, costumed tanuki right outside to greet visitors. Excellent example of how to make a plain train station into a special one: Decorate it local-style.
The tanuki is a famous symbol of Shigaraki/Shiga and a common sight in Japan with shops and restaurants displaying a tanuki outside the entrance. It has various symbolic meanings. The tanuki at the train station is just a small sample of what you’ll see when you walk around Shigaraki.
Riding on Shigaraki Kogen Railway always reminds me of that terrible tragedy on May 14, 1991 when a Shigaraki Kogen Railway train collided head-on with a JR train near Shigarakigushi Station. The trains were packed with people attending the World Ceramic Festival being held at the newly opened Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. Sadly, 42 people died and 628 were injured. Many of the victims were young students and it is one of Japan’s worst train accidents.
The train station has a small display case exhibiting pieces from the wrecked train. There is also a prayer monument along the rail tracks where the accident occurred, near Shigarakigushi Station. A memorial service is held there annually on May 14 attended by railway officials and relatives of the victims.
Opened in March 2000, Echigawa Station’s modern building is a well-designed and well thought-out building. There’s a community space with a gallery and tourist information desk with staff. The station exterior resembles a traditional building in the old post town of Echigawa-juku nearby on the Nakasendo Road.
Echigawa Station was one of the first Ohmi Railway stations to open when the company’s first railway segment opened in June 1898 between Hikone and Echigawa. This Main Line was later extended to Kibukawa in 1900.
Rebuilt in March 2002, Aburahi Station has a striking exterior design and a warm, welcoming interior made of wood. The exterior reminds me of the top of a samurai helmet, but the building was actually designed to be a ninja house. But that can’t be right since a real ninja house looked like any other house, lol. (Ninja didn’t advertise that they were ninja.)
It’s Shiga’s southernmost train station next to the prefectural border with Mie Prefecture. When my train to go home (after seeing the Aburahi Matsuri) arrived at the station, I almost felt sad to leave such a comfortable train station.
Love the inside of Gokasho Station. The warmth of wood envelopes you completely, almost like a large sauna (without the heat and steam). When I visited, it still had a woody fragrance. Nice traditional-style building inside and out. It was designed to match the Omi-shonin merchant homes in Gokasho.
The building was built in 2000 and it still looked new. Adjacent to the train station building is a matching building housing the retirees’ employment office where you can rent bicycles. Note that the kanji character for “ka” in Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅) is different from the one used in the place name “Gokasho” (五個荘).
In Oct. 2006, the JR Hokuriku Line switched to direct-current electrification between Nagahama Station and Tsuruga Station (Fukui). This enabled faster and modern Shin-kaisoku (Special Rapid) trains from Kyoto to reach train stations north of Nagahama Station directly (Torahime, Kawake, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Omi-Shiotsu Stations).
Before the switch, passengers had to transfer trains at Nagahama Station to go further north. Anticipating a substantial increase in visitors, train station buildings were rebuilt at Nagahama, Torahime, Takatsuki, and Kinomoto Stations. However, by March 2008, the passenger increase was only 0.5 percent, far below what they had hoped for. Except for Torahime Station, all the rebuilt stations are now wheelchair accessible.
Built slightly north of the old station (still standing) and opened in Oct. 2006, the new Kinomoto Station building has a modern, traditional look. Spacious and airy and well designed for function and aesthetics. A lot bigger than the old station building. The train station sign is also wooden like on the old train station. (“Kinomoto” means “origin of wood.”)
Next to the exit on the ground floor is a large space selling local products and a tourist information counter. The old and much smaller Kinomoto Station building has been retained as a small exhibition space.
Kinomoto Station is where you get off to take a bus to breathtaking and historic Mt. Shizugatake. There’s also a giant Jizo statue and old post town nearby. Visiting Kinomoto is highly recommended. Note that Kinomoto Station in Japanese (木ノ本駅) uses a different kanji from the one used for the place name Kinomoto (木之本).
Unique building with a high tower in the center reminiscent of ancient Shinto shrines which were elevated to be closer to the gods. It also might be a play on the name “Takamiya” which literally means “high shrine.” The station building was rebuilt in March 2002. Inside the station building is a Community Center consisting of a community hall and gallery.
The station is near the old Takamiya-juku, the sixty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations or shukuba post towns of the Nakasendo Road. Near the station is a large torii leading to Taga Taisha Shrine in neighboring Taga. (If you want to visit Taga Taisha, get off at Taga Taisha-mae Station instead.)
Torahime Station rebuilt its building in March 2006. Very nice woody building inside and out. There’s even a commercial space for a restaurant. (When the new station first opened, there was a bakery.) There’s a ramp for wheelchairs to enter the station, but no elevator on the platforms.
Great to visit Torahime when cherry blossoms are in bloom. Really beautiful at nearby Mt. Toragozen (虎御前).
16. JR Azuchi Station (安土駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line
Azuchi Station was rebuilt in Nov. 2017 as a large, modern building above ground. One of the great things about rebuilt train stations is that most of them become wheelchair accessible with elevators, escalators, and accessible toilets. (Called “barrier-free” in Japanese.) The old Azuchi Station was not wheelchair accessible.
The north side has an octagonal structure modeled after Azuchi Castle’s upper tower. It also has a giant mural of Azuchi Castle on the outside. In front of it is an old statue of Oda Nobunaga who built Azuchi Castle in the 16th century. Tourist information office is also inside the station building on the north side. Rental bicycles are available in front of the station on the north side behind the Nobunaga statue.
On the south side of the station (an underpass connects both sides) is Azuchi Castle Museum. It looks like it’s part of the train station, but it’s a separate bulding. The museum is worth a visit to see the scale model of Azuchi Castle and other things.
There is also a sumo monument. (There used to be a sumo ring too, but it was demolished.) It explains that Nobunaga held sumo tournaments here in Azuchi (Jorakuji) in the late 1570s as a form of entertainment even though it was originally a religious ritual and martial art. He is therefore credited with making sumo a spectator sport which it is today.
The biggest nearby attraction is Azuchi Castle ruins. No structures remaining, but lots of stonework. Rent a bicycle and ride there. Also visit the museums nearby.
Nice traditional-looking structure rebuilt in Sept. 1995 to look like an inn. The wooden sign says “Kaido Ajikama Inn” (海道・あぢかまの宿). It was the name of a real lodge that existed in here in Shiotsu, a former lodging town along the Hokkoku Kaido Road (北国街道) going from Maibara/Nagahama to Fukui and the Hokuriku Region.
The station is also unique for the arch-shaped corridor to the train platforms. It reminds me of an underground military bunker. Omi-Shiotsu Station is where you transfer trains between the JR Hokuriku Line and JR Kosei Line. Remember this station if plan to travel around northern Lake Biwa by train. Nothing much to see nearby, just a rural area.
The loghouse is a common building design, but Nagahara has a good reason to use it. Before railroads were built, this area was a port town teeming with wooden maruko-bune boats plying across Lake Biwa between Otsu and this area of northern Lake Biwa. The trademark of maruko-bune was a semi-round log (maruko) along the sides of the boat. Nearby is the Maruko-bune Museum displaying a maruko-bune.
The station building was rebuilt in April 2000. The inside was kind of dark and musty when I visited, but I liked the exterior. By now, the wooden exterior might look faded or weathered compared to these photos taken only a few years after the building was built.
Rebuilt in the late 1990s, Toyosato Station’s building looks like an Omi merchant’s home or storehouse. A testament to the many Omi merchants who once lived in the area, including Itoh Chube’e, founder of Itochu, one of Japan’s leading trading companies. His home is open to the public.
If you see an umbrella or umbrella design in the station, it comes from the Goshu Ondo song and bon dance co-founded at Senjuji Temple (千樹寺) in Toyosato. Goshu Ondo is a famous dance/song in originating in Shiga, and Toyosato claims it originated here.
These days, Toyosato’s main attraction is the old, Vories-designed Toyosato Elementary School made famous by the popular K-ON! anime/manga series in 2009-2010. The school is now a mecca for anime fans. The train station is in a quiet neighborhood with stone statues of a tortoise and hare showing you the way to the elementary school.
Kusatsu is noted for Kusatsu-juku, the fifty-second shukuba lodging town on the Tokaido Road and the sixty-eighth station on the Nakasendo Road. Both roads intersect at Kusatsu while connecting Tokyo (Edo) with Kyoto and traversing Shiga (Omi Province). Kusatsu-juku’s main attraction is Kusatsu Honjin, one of Japan’s best preserved Honjin used as VIP lodging in the shukuba lodging towns along the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads.
Kusatsu Station’s slanted roof lines are modeled after the Kusatsu Honjin’s roof. On the east side of the station, a traditional-looking gate and road marker on the pedestrian deck add a nice touch.
The best thing I like about Kusatsu Station is the small tourist information booth right outside the turnstile. As soon as you give your ticket to go out, it’s right there. When staffed during the better part of the day, they are very helpful with directions to places. Local-area tourist pamphlets are also available at all times.
One of my pet peeves is that many JR train stations have tourist pamphlets in plain sight, but for a different destination. They don’t stock tourist pamphlets for the place I just arrived at. Why not have tourist pamphlets for that place? I just spent a good amount of money to get there, and now they want me to go somewhere else??
They should also care about inbound people, not just outbound. When a tourist gets off the train, the first thing he/she may want is a map of the place of arrival. Or you have to search for the map signboard. But Kusatsu Station is the rare exception where the tourist info booth and local brochures are right there.
Kusatsu Station used to be Shiga’s busiest train station with the highest daily average of boarding passengers. However, it is now only the second busiest, dethroned by neighboring Minami-Kusatsu Station.
21. (Honorable Mention) JR Otsu Station (大津駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line
For many years, Otsu Station was a dismal place. The relatively large station building was underused and attracted few people. The local government wanted to revitalize the area. Finally, there was a plan, and the entire station building was completely overhauled. Everything inside the two-story station building was removed and replaced with new restaurants, coffee shop, a capsule hotel, and tourist information office. It reopened anew in Oct. 2016.
If you know what the old station building looked like before the renovations, you can’t help but be totally impressed. Excellent example of “build it and they shall come.” The train station is now a place where people can easily meetup and gather or just hangout. The building has no traditional or striking architecture, but it has transformed into a local gathering place. The recent opening of the new Heiwado Friend Mart supermarket inside an adjacent condominium has also resuscitated the Otsu Station area.
The station’s first floor has a 7-11, Starbucks, local restaurants, and Otsu tourist information office. The restaurants use local foods such as Omi beef and locally-grown soba wheat. So that’s good, but the second floor is also where it’s at. Almost the entire second floor is now one big room with diverse spaces for people’s dining pleasure.
Besides conventional dining areas, there’s even a table tennis table room with floor cushions and a view of passing trains. Great for restless kids. There’s also a nice outdoor terrace where you can dine (BBQ) or drink under the sun or stars (closed during summer fireworks though). The 2nd floor is called “The Calendar” and includes the Calendar Capsule Hotel for budget accommodations.
Another great thing about The Calendar is that there are tables for everyone, whether you are a large or small group, a family, a couple, or even just one person, there is a table where you can sit comfortably. Longtime residents can say it was worth the wait. However, Otsu has other shopping arcades which need new life as well. The job is not finished yet. Read more about the renovated Otsu Station here.
22. (Bonus) Imazu Port, Lake Biwa
Imazu Port is not a train station, but it now deserves a mention. Completely rebuilt, it opened on March 22, 2020 as a single-story wooden building designed to repel snow. No restaurant like in the old, two-story port building. The building has an indoor waiting room and ticket office. The wood is from Shiga. Notice the Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song) song monument.
Train Station Afterthoughts
Glad you now know about Shiga’s unique train stations. Mixing in the local flavor in anything always boosts public appeal and visitors’ impressions. The train station itself can be a tourist attraction and public showcase.
Shiga still has many boring train stations though. Even major stations like Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and Maibara are very functional, but nothing special. Even though Maibara Station is Shiga’s sole shinkansen station renovated in 2009, it is bland. Well-known painter and Maibara native Hiro Yamagata was supposed to paint the walls inside the station, but it didn’t pan out due to budgetary reasons. They instead have local artists decorating a few walls, which is fine. They include beautiful woodcarvings of local scenery on the wall. The new Maibara City Hall opened in May 2021 in front of the station, so more people will be using the station.
Train stations on the JR Kosei Line along western Shiga are mostly faceless and featureless gray concrete built on or below elevated train tracks. They all look the same. Takashima Station, though, has a giant statue of Gulliver right outside. And Ogoto Onsen Station recently got a nice touch with a free hot-spring foot bath nearby.
Being a land of railways, Japan has a huge base of train fans. We often see them on train station platforms and in rural areas taking pictures of passing trains. Like Mt. Fuji, the shinkansen is the perennial favorite among fans. On clear winter days when there’s snow on Mt. Ibuki, we can see them photographing the shinkansen or Tokaido Line speeding in front of Ibuki.
And when the steam locomotive (SL) for tourists sometimes ran from Maibara to Kinomoto, lots of train fans/photographers lined the tracks and stations. Sadly, the SL train was discontinued after autumn 2019 because the old passenger train cars could not be adequately ventilated for COVID-19.
Many things feed the train fans: Train museums (one in Nagahama), train magazines, train photographers and their photo exhibitions and books, train blogs and social media groups, model/toy trains, commemorative train tickets, and attractive train stations.
If there’s one thing that has improved in Japan, it’s rail transportation. Trains have gotten faster, cutting travel times significantly. Train/subway lines have also increased or been extended in urban areas. Trains are also more comfortable with non-smoking cars, Western-style toilets (replacing squat toilets), and wheelchair accessible toilets. They even have toilet paper.
Can you imagine that until the 1980s, smoking was allowed in most train cars, train stations, and platforms? Older folks may remember seeing cigarette butts all over the train platform and an ash tray in front of all the train seats. Most of the shinkansen train cars also allowed smoking. Only one or two shinkansen cars were non-smoking. It wasn’t until the 1990s when non-smokers’ rights gained traction and most or all train cars and stations started to prohibit smoking. All shinkansen train cars are now non-smoking. Thank goodness. This trend has spread to other public places such as restaurants and even city streets and beaches. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics-Paralympics also pushed this trend. Excellent.
Also, before electronic ticketing, tap cards, and automated turnstiles, there were station staff at turnstiles cutting a notch in everyone’s paper tickets one by one. It got quite messy with all those little cutout paper bits on the ground. And when people got off the train, the station turnstile staff had to memorize the train fares from all those places and catch anyone who didn’t pay enough. By the early 2000s, most of Japan’s train stations installed automated turnstiles. But not at rural train stations. Most Ohmi Railways stations still do it the old-fashioned way.
Over the decades, many train station buildings have been much improved with brighter, cleaner, and more spacious interiors and cushioned seating. Restrooms also tend to have toilet paper and sometimes even soap as an added bonus. Major and rebuilt stations have escalators and elevators and wheelchair accesssible toilets.
Another major improvement and development is the employment of women as train conductors and drivers. Once upon a time, we never ever saw women train conductors and drivers. Now they are quite common.
Have fun noticing our train stations. They’ve come a long way and have lots of history and memories.
Essential Japanese Train Station Vocabulary (by Philbert Ono)
- tetsudo 鉄道 – railway
- eki 駅 – train station (train, subway, or street car)
- ekisha 駅舎 – train station building
- eki konai 駅構内 – inside or within the train station.
- barrier-free バリアフリー – wheelchair accessible
- barrier-free toire バリアフリートイレ – accessible toilet
- te-arai 手洗い – restrooms (toilet)
- surōpu (slope) スロープ – ramp (for wheelchairs, etc.)
- erebeta (elevator) エレベーター – elevator/lift
- esukareta (escalator) エスカレーター – escalator
- kaisatsu 改札 – Turnstile or gate in the train station where you present your ticket or tap card to proceed to the train platform.
- coin locker コインロッカー – Coin-operated lockers for luggage. Only the larger train stations have it.
- kanko annaisho 観光案内所 – tourist information desk
- machiai-shitsu 待合室 – Waiting room in the train station or on the train platform. A room to keep warm in winter or cool in summer while waiting for your train. Most train stations have a small waiting room.
- kippu uriba きっぷうりば – ticket office/vendor
- kenbaiki 券売機 – ticket vending machine
- Midori no Madoguchi みどりの窓口 – Manned ticket counter or office at major train stations to buy reserved seat tickets (and rail passes). Colored in green and usually open from 5:30 am to 10 pm.
- joshaken 乗車券 – regular-fare train ticket
- tokkyuken 特急券 – express-fare train ticket
- jiyu-seki 自由席 – non-reserved seating
- shitei-seki 指定席 – reserved seating, extra charge required.
- renta-saikuru レンタサイクル – Bicycle rentals. Or just say “jintensha karitai.”
- basu noriba バスのりば – bus stop
- taxi noriba タクシーのりば – taxi stand
- ICOCA – IC smart card issued in the Kansai area as a rechargeable tap card to pay the train fare through an automated turnstile equipped with a card reader. Prounounced “Ikoka” which means “Shall we go?”
- ressha 列車 – train
- Futsu 普通 – Local train stopping at every station. Also called Futsu-ressha 普通列車.
- kaku-eki 各駅 – Stops at every station.
- Kaisoku 快速 – Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Futsu. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
- Shin-kaisoku 新快速 – Special Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Kaisoku trains. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
- Tokkyu 特急 – Limited Express long-distance trains stopping only at major train stations. Extra charge required.
- Green-sha グリーン車 – First-class car requiring extra charge.
- shinkansen 新幹線 – Bullet train. Nozomi only stops at the major stations (doesn’t stop at Maibara). Hikari trains stop at a few more stations (sometimes Maibara) and Kodama trains stop at all shinkansen stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
- daiya ダイヤ or jikokuhyo 時刻表 – Train schedule
- yukisaki 行先 – train destination
- unkyu 運休 – canceled train
- okure 遅れ – Delayed train. Usually preceded by the number of minutes the train is delayed.
- yusen-seki 優先席 – Courtesy seat for elderly, handicapped, etc. Formerly called “silver seat” シルバーシート.
- rosen 路線 – train line (Biwako Line, Kusatsu Line, etc.)
- senro – 線路 – Railroad/train tracks. If you drop something on the tracks, alert the station staff.
- homu ホーム – Station platform where you board the train.
- Roku-ryo-hensei 6両編成 – Six-car train. If it’s a 10-car train, it’s called Ju-ryo hensei.
- nanban-sen? 何番線 – Which platform No.?
- shasho 車掌 – On-board train conductor who may check your express train ticket (on tokkyu and shinkansen). He/she also sells train tickets if your boarding train station does not have a ticket machine or manned ticket window.
- deguchi 出口 – exit (Nishi-guchi 西口 West exit, Higashi-guchi 東口 East exit, Kita-guchi 北口 North exit, Minami-guchi 南口 South exit)
- shuten 終点 – Last stop on the train line.