Kawagoe and Train Museum

In September we spent a lovely weekend exploring the Saitama Train Museum, with a few days in the famous old city of Kawagoe.

The museum was my birthday gift to Dan. It had been on the agenda for some time as Dan does love a good train, and I am partial to a bit of history geekery too. Acquiring the tickets was a bit like an episode of the Crystal Maze, requiring a largely unexpected amount of mental agility thanks to the convenience store booking system. After about 45 minutes, we made it out the other side clutching the crystal/tickets.

The Train Museum was in a beautiful building, with high ceilings and lots of different levels and spaces to enjoy. The main area had over forty different trains from across the eras in Japan. The main space hosts Locomotive 1, which was the first steam train locomotive to run in Japan when the railway opened in 1872. It also shows off a couple of the original shinkansen trains (the Japanese Bullet Train), and one of the first trains developed for the Japanese Imperial Family. Even as a locomotive, the Royal Famly’s train certainly boasted an immense amount of luxury, including a four-poster bed and several carriages holding what appeared to only be posh sofas…

While there was a frustrating lack of English provision in the museum, you can download an application from QR codes to receive details of the exhibitions in a range of languages. There were also a couple of rooms around the main exhibition space that we really enjoyed, including an amazing train transformer surround sound cinema room. What a treat! They even had the little air puffs that blow in your face every time anything moves to make it “extra realistic”!

Over the weekend we stayed in a hotel in the old city of Kawagoe. I was looking forward to the traditional Edo style buildings and enjoying some traditional food and drink. While there were a few Edo buildings,  we were left feeling pretty disappointed with the whole area overall. Firstly, it was packed. So many people and such little space. It got my COVID worries bubbling and I found it claustrophobic, even when outside! Secondly, the old Edo buildings that did exist were full of tourist ‘tut’ as Dan called it. Think over-priced “traditional” goods that were not made in Japan, nor particularly traditional…

So while the town was a bit of a letdown, the hotel was great, situated just above a local brewery and an amazing pizza shop! It also had a beautiful sweeping view of the city skyline. And the purpose of the trip, to enjoy the train museum and celebrate the birthday of my wonderful husband, was a success!

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