Races with Trains 

Every week, I ride my bike to the other side of town a few times. The route runs under the shinkansen tracks, then turns to run parallel to them for a while. Often, a train will come along while I'm riding, preceded by its magnificent roar. It's a race I never win, but for those few seconds that we run along together, it's pretty cool to feel like its companion.

Bullet trains are at the same time common and exotic. Tens of them pass through Kitakami, and thus right by our house, daily. We see many of them while walking the dogs or just looking out the window. They're as much a part of daily life as the commuter and freight trains, prefectural and city buses, and other road traffic. On the other hand hello! They're bullet trains! They set the air abuzz as they approach at hundreds of kilometers per hour, and are audible before they're visible. They roar overhead on elevated track, filling the space beneath with sound. They're sleek, beautiful, and they nearly blow you over as they pass through a station without stopping.

The shinkansen will always win the race against the girl on the mountain bike. Frankly, I'm just happy to be there, sharing space with these gorgeous machines.
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Riding with Monsters 

Do you remember the Pokemon craze from a few years ago? The Japanese sure do. In fact, it's still a craze here. It's even popular enough to be at the center of a joint advertising campaign between JR East and All Nippon Airways. From today until September 15, you can ride a bullet train decorated with your favorite characters. It all kicked off when one of the decorated trains (actually, a coupled set of two trains, an E3 and an E2) headed north from Tokyo, stopping at Kitakami on its way to Morioka.

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Lucky Shot 

On Tuesday, I was out shooting photos around town when I heard a shinkansen coming. They're neat, so I thought I'd take a picture for the blog, not at all expecting this:

It's the Fastech 360, which JR is apparently still testing on the Tohoku Shinkansen line.
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Back in early March, I was out walking the dogs when I spotted a train I'd never seen before.

It's Joyful Train Kogane, a special-service train that doesn't usually run on the Tohoku mainline through Kitakami.
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The "East-i" is JR East's shinkansen track inspection train. It runs at night, when regular passenger services do not run. There's no commercially made model of it, so a member of the Iwate Model Railroad Club ("Iwatetsu") made this one himself.
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The other day, we were at the station to see off some visitors. We decided to spring for the "platform pass" that would let us onto the shinkansen platform, so we could see them all the way to the train.

After their train left, we stayed on the platform a while to take some photos and enjoy the passing trains. Trains that aren't stopping don't even slow down, so this one may have been going as fast as 275 kph (171 mph).

(For anyone keeping score, this is the E3 Komachi end of an E3/E2 coupled set, heading north. E3 Komachi 6-car trains and E2 Hayate 10-car trains often run coupled together from Tokyo to Morioka, where they split; then Komachi runs west to Akita while Hayate continues north to Hachinohe.)
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Fastech 360 

Why you should always have a camera ready

Walking the dogs this morning, I got a special treat: the new shinkansen prototype came by on a test run. JR East doesn't publish the test schedule, but they do notify neighborhoods along the line of what days (and nights) they'll be running test trains. Today they are running the Fastech 360 S test train between Sendai and Hachinohe.

Alas, I don't always carry a camera with me. I probably wouldn't have had time to turn the camera on and take a picture anyway.
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Kintaro is a hero of Japanese legend, a little boy riding a bear and wielding an axe. It's also the official nickname of the JR Freight EH500 locomotive. This one is northbound pulling a train of container flatcars.
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Puff the Magic Dizeru 

I hope I'm not stepping on any, ahem, non-densha otaku toes by posting this:

This little guy appears on some of the East Japan Railway Company's (or JR East) trains. I think he's adorable.
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Densha Otaku 

Okay, this isn't a densha (electric train), it's a diesel. But that's okay, I'm not an otaku (rabid fanboy), either. But I did finally get some track and a controller, so now I can run the handful of (Japanese) trains I brought with me to Japan.
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