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STORIES

See & DoThe Hydrangea Train

Update:2021.05.11

Every spring in Hakone thousands of hydrangea bloom among the mountains. The blooming hydrangea line the famed Hakone Tozan Railway between Yumoto and Gora and are lit up for a special experience called the "Ajisai Train" in the evening.

The railroad was built to connect Hakone-Yumoto, the gateway to Hakone, and Hakone Gora Park, located in the middle of the Hakone mountains. The track is one of the steepest in the world, second only to one in Switzerland. The trains running on this historic railway have also been upgraded recently and include the 3100 series train that has one numerous design awards. This new train also includes large windows that let you feel the vibrant surroundings as you make you way through the forest.

The Hakone Tozan Railway includes 7 stations, all with different personalities, histories, and sites to enjoy and explore. The trip from Yumoto to Gora takes about 40 minutes and allows you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Hakone`s lush mountains and deep river ravines. The construction of the railway was an engineering marvel for its time.

It was opened in 1919. It was in the Taisho era (1912-1926), when Japanese people still wore kimonos. At that time, Japan did not have the technology to lay tracks on the steep mountains of Hakone, so the Swiss mountain railroad was used as a reference. The cowbells installed on the platforms of Hakone-Yumoto and Gora stations were a gift from the Swiss Rhaetian Railway, with whom the two countries have a sister railroad agreement.

When the train reaches the steepest part of the slope, the difference in height between the driver’s seat in the first car and the crew’s compartment in the last car can be as much as 3.6 meters for a three-car train. In order to make it up this slope, various measures are taken. One of them is the switchback.

A switchback is a method of zigzagging up a hill while the train moves forward and backward. The switchbacks allow the train to climb up the mountain, sticking to the surface of the mountain, instead of having to follow the tracks all the way up the mountain.

On the Hakone Tozan Railway, the direction of travel is switched three times between Hakone-Yumoto Station and Gora Station, at the Dezan, Ohiradai and Kami-Ohiradai signal stations. Each time, the driver in the first carriage and the conductor in the last carriage also change. When you are in an old car, pay attention to the movement of the driver you see outside the window. In his hand, he is holding the brake valve handle of the train. Yes, the handle is removed, carried and replaced every time the train makes a switchback.

It takes about one minute for the driver to check the safety of the train, change the car, and start the train again. The time for the driver and conductor to switch sides is surprisingly short. So, when it is raining or snowing, the driver gets a little nervous. This is because there is a possibility of slipping and falling on the uncovered platform at the signal station.

The Hakone Tozan Railway is a wonderful experience regardless of season. We hope you have the time and spirit to explore and see all the wonderful things along this historic line.

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