If there is one thing that Hiroshima is more well known for than the special Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, it must be the hodgepodge fleet of streetcars servicing the city day in and day out. Unlike other cities of similar size in Japan, it was not technically possible to build an underground railway here due to the myriad streams and rivers crisscrossing the city and the poor soil conditions of the relatively few patches of dry ground. Instead the city for a long time relied on a system of streetcars operated by the Hiroshima Railway company, Hiroden for short. The streetcars are slow and not very comfortable but they do the trick of transporting people from one end of town to the other economically and conveniently. Theses days a couple of lines even go quite far out of the city into the neighboring towns and villages.
The Hiroshima streetcars are especially well known by streetcar lovers all over the world for the myriad of makes and models that traffic the system to this day. The oldest cars are almost a century old and the newest just a few years young, making for a very interesting mix of vehicles. You never know what kind you will be riding until it turns up at your stop! About half the cars are articulated, double-cars, while the rest are ordinary single cars like the ones we sometimes see in other parts of Japan.
During the war electricity was rationed and very few of the cars were running on that faithfull day of August 6th, but all of them suffered considerable damage. Most amazingly, the plucky 651 which was very close to the nuclear bomb detonation is actually still in service! When the bomb dropped, all 81 people onboard were killed instantly and only one person survived, but it wasn’t long until the 651 was repaired and put back into service. I missed getting a shot of it myself, mostly because it is only occasionally put into use in the morning rush hour traffic, but if you are in Hiroshima on August 8th, you will be sure to see it as it is always put into traffic on that day. I have borrowed a couple of photos of it from Wikipedia, which you can see at the end of this post.
Sorry for the terrible photos, it was raining almost my entire visit to Hiroshima. I hope for more sunshine the next time I visit!
Despite having lived in Tokyo for years and years it was only my second visit to the Uguisudani area: it is nice to have that tourist experience of something brand new in your own hometown! The name Uguisudani is perhaps the most beautiful of all the names of Yamanote line stations, “The Valley of the Bush Warbler” (Uguisu being the name of the bird known as Japanese Bush Warbler, easily the most endearing little bird in Japan).
The station is the least used of all the JR stations serviced by the Yamanote Line, at only 24 000 passengers a day. This number comes into perspective when compared to the massive 742 000 passengers a day for the JR lines at the biggest station on the Yamanote line, Shinjuku!
A long time age Uguisudani was home to a couple of small villages located at the bottom of the valley where it connected with a large lake that over the years gradually turned into a swamp and later completely drained and built over. From the valley it was an easy walk up the valley side to the upper fields, Ueno (上野).
These days the area has an unnecessarily bad reputation. A simple check on the metropolitan police incident map reveals that there are fewer incidents around the Uguisudani station area than most other Yamanote line stations (with about one incident every 10-25 days, including even minor crimes like bicycle theft), and this is in one of the safest cities on the planet overall. The North exit is located on top of the hill overlooking the valley beneath. It is popular mostly with young students, businessmen and visitors to the famous Ueno Park and Zoo. The south exit is located down in the valley on the other side of the train tracks and is used by locals of Negishi, as the old neighborhoods around the station are called.
Uguisudani is a hub for low cost hotels and backpackers hostels and as such it is very crowded with young foreigners. I don’t think there are many places in Tokyo where you can stay so centrally and conveniently for so little money. It is very poplular with Asian tourists and you will hear as much Cantonese, Malay, Tagalog and Thai on the streets these days as you will hear Japanese, at least in the peak tourist seasons.
It’s not very new anymore but I still make a point to go up to the top floor every time I pass, the new tourist information building in front of Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon, the entrance gate to the huge Sensoji temple. I took these photos at the Sanja festival earlier this month, just as the dozens of omikoshi, portable shrines, leave the temple through the main street and spill out on the big scramble street crossing. It was fun to see it all from above, as I have been down there in the middle of it all many times, trying not to get trampled by the rickshaw pullers, the busses, the police cars and the omikoshi! I think it was the first time I ever saw an omikoshi from above like this.