Trams, trains and pedal cars

Trams once plied the streets of Tokyo, as they did many other cities across the world. Sadly, all that remains today is a single line through mostly obscure northern Tokyo suburbs. Judging by the patronage today it is still a popular option.

After reading this article by Gianni Simone I knew I had to ride on the Toden Arakawa line. We checked out of our hotel room, walked down to Aaliya’s for a second taste of their divine French bread, then followed B to H&M, which had some surprisingly cheap kids clothes.

We finally exchanged our vouchers for the actual JR Pass, booked tonight’s train to Toyohashi, then hopped on the Yamanote Line to Otsuka. Arrows pointed to the Toden Arakawa line Otsuka-Ekimae stop and we joined the very long queue.

Each tram was a single narrow carriage. Some quite old, others relatively new. They certainly had character. We had to skip the first two trams going in the Minowabashi direction as they filled up before our turn. Then we were in the front of the line. Until two old ladies pushed in. I understand respect for the elderly, but in this country where the elderly are starting to outnumber the young, the latter stand no chance of getting anywhere if they were to always yield to the tottering geriatrics.

We used our wonderful Suica smart cards to pay the fare (they are compatible with the PASMO system used on that line). Our tram was just as packed as the others, almost approaching Taiwanese congestion. And as we clattered along Alex wanted to sleep! So taking photos was tricky.

Tokyo residential suburbia is much like any other nameless Japanese city with small shops and houses, plus everything else. But the minutiae of life therein is just as interesting, if more sedate, as in the bustling tourist centres of the city.

Many passengers stepped off at Asukayama, presumably to enjoy the magnificent blooming cherry trees that lined the nearby river. I should like to have joined them, but we were on a fairly tight timetable.

We, and a number of other young families, left the tram at Arakawa Yuenchimae. Small shops sat on either side of the tram stops while a cherry blossom lined path lead to the Arakawa Amusement Park, our destination.

On the way we searched for lunch. A few tiny eateries beckoned, but the tonkatsu was too expensive and the curry not appealing today. Sadly, we had lunch at a small Mos Burger.

It costs Y200 to enter the amusement park, then a single Y100 ticket for a child and two for an adult to go on a ride. Most of the rides are about the level of a fairground. B accompanied Alex on the very small and slow rollercoaster, then he shot water canons at targets. The inflatable obstacle course was strangely for 5 year olds, though he had done harder in Australia. He had to ride the mini “steam” train round its course as it had level crossings. The ferris wheel gave spectacular views across the area. Unfortunately, the queue for the pedal cars was too long, and the electric cars were a disappointment, but we still got dizzy on the small spinning teacups.

Behind the rides is a mini zoo with a few monkeys, capybara, farm animals and birds in somewhat small, dirty and dingy enclosures. Not really recommended, but the walk back to the entrance under the cherry blossoms and by the fishing area was pretty.

Also along the road back to the tram stop are little shops selling kids clothes and toys. We purchased a chocolate banana from an ancient stall keeper and you got the sense that this wasn’t really a young and vibrant part of town.

We only returned as far as Oji-Ekimae on the tram, before changing to JR trains for the ride back to Shinjuku. I should like one day to ride the entire line, getting on and off at will and just wandering the streets. Perhaps not on a weekend, though.

Once back in Shinjuku I retrieved our now so heavy luggage from the hotel and we caught the Chuo Rapid service to Tokyo station. There was enough time to wander around and get a bento box and sandwiches for dinner on the train, then we were off on a Shinkansen N700 series to our next destination, Toyohashi.

Incidently, Toyohashi also has a tram system, which I hope to give a go.

It was pleasant to have some downtime in the Shinkansen, racing along the Tokaido line at 270 km/h. There was little to see outside in the dark and all of us slept a little. Once we stepped out we felt the chill of an early Spring night and quickly hurried to our hotel. Now we are relaxing in our comfortable room, familiar from Toyoko Inns everywhere, having done our weekly wash in their machines. And the vending machine sells grapefruit Gokuri.

Up early for a steam train ride tomorrow!


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