Imperial Train

Japan’s Emperor is the head of the world’s oldest continuing hereditary monarchy, reputed to have been established in 660 BC. He is also the last monarch in the world reigning under the title of Emperor. Japan’s current constitution stripped the position of emperor of political authority and, although it still has formal duties, the holder of that title is largely relegated to a ceremonial role. However the Emperor, both the office and the individual, is still highly regarded in Japanese society, and his duties include diplomatic ones such as “receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers”.

When the Emperor or his immediate family travel, they do so like any head of state, with a great deal of security, press coverage, and attention. Mostly such travel today is by car or plane, but given the predominant role of trains in Japanese transportation, this mode is sometimes used as well. If the Emperor travels by Shinkansen, a reserved car will be used. But for travel on the narrow-gauge network, there is a special Imperial Train. Since 2007, the E655 shown above has been used.

Old and New: Japan’s Joyful Trains

One of the defining characteristics of Japanese Trains, and of Japan in general, is a mania for newness. When Japan National Railways was broken up, one of the first actions of the newly-formed Japan Rail East was to begin planning a new model of commuter/suburban train with a design lifespan of just 15 years, quite short for an electric train. The reason was to lower construction and operations costs, compared with the existing trains that were due for replacement and very labor-intensive to operate and maintain. But it also had a PR dimension, in that JRE needed to shake off the public perception that JNR had as being out-of-touch with its passengers, and a new fleet of trains without the two or three decades of wear their then-current trains had was a good way to do that, by catering to the perception that “new” equated to “improved”. That effort was successful, and while most of that first generation of “15 year” trains (the 209 Series) are still in service, they’re gradually being replaced by the new generation of E231/E233/E531 commuter and suburban trains which form the bulk of my collection (and which, to be fair, do represent a substantial improvement over the 1960’s technology JNR had been using, in both comfort and economy).