Tucked away in the manufacturing districts of Niigata City is the Niitsu Railway Museum. Space being a premium in Japan, this museum has only two full-sized engines, one from the days of steam and one Shinkansen, or bullet train, engine. Inside the two-story facility houses an incredible number of artifacts.
Mr. Roderick Blake, the Ball High choir director, and I got the chance to visit the museum on our recent trip to our sister city. As a member of the board of directors for the Galveston Railroad Museum, I was very interested in the Niitsu Railway Museum.
The museum tells the story of the railroads in Japan through models, artifacts and film. There is an extensive HO (1:87 scale) collection of trains from the history of Japan, as well as much larger-scale models of significant trains.
Cutaway views of actual diesel and traction engines show the visitor how these work. An actual pantograph is part of a display which the visitor can raise or lower the pantograph using the actual controls from a decommissioned train.
Because Niigata is a snowy part of Japan, there is an extensive collection models of snow-removal equipment and several very fine videos of major snows through the years.
Modern snow-removal equipment is so much more efficient. Watching a video of the people digging the trains out with shovels and carting the snow off to the ocean made me cold on the warm spring day we visited.
The actual steam locomotive and Shinkansen engine are quite impressive. They are displayed outside along with trackside equipment and signals.
Perhaps the most fun though was a simple computer simulation of the Shinkansen, which is controlled from an actual decommissioned engineer’s station. You sit in the engineer’s chair and control the speed of the locomotive and the braking. Your task is to arrive at the station and be no more than a yard off the mark for the stop. Not an easy task at all, particularly since all the instructions are in Japanese. Both Mr. Blake and I were able to park our train at the appropriate point, though I think my riders would have been very upset. I accidentally used the emergency brake because I didn’t read the kanji for emergency only.
This is a delightful museum and any visitor to Niigata should take the time to visit. A little further out from the city center, there is an actual live steam locomotive. We did not get to visit that. Maybe next time we will get to. We are planning to take part of the Ball High choir to Niigata next spring as a part of the Taiguruma Project celebrating the 50th anniversary of our sister city status.
Dr. Stephen F. Duncan is Director of Fine Arts for Galveston ISD.