Kanagawa: Fall in love again with Romancecar trains

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A 3100 series NSE Romancecar, left, and a 7000 series LSE train

EBINA, Kanagawa — I used to love the observation seats situated at the front of the Odakyu Electric Railway Co.’s limited express Romancecar. From there, I watched the landscape whoosh past from the large windows. The seats gave me the perspective of the driver, who sat above us on the train’s second floor. So, when I heard a museum dedicated to the express train cars had opened in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture, I couldn’t resist visiting.

The exhibition room on the first floor of the Romancecar Museum, built to resemble a train depot, features five different models of Romancecar trains that linked Tokyo and the hot spring resort town of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, as well as Enoshima, also in Kanagawa. They include the 3100 series NSE — the first model to have an observation deck — which began service in 1963.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A simulator built on the driver’s platform of a 7000 series LSE

The innovative layout of the driver’s compartment being on the second floor and observation seats on the first became a staple of the Romanecar from then on.

Visitors can examine each train car from up close. For example, they can compare the sizes and shapes of their lights and markings.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A counter used for service selling onboard items

Visitors can also board a car from the 10000 series HiSE, introduced in 1987. A poster and a concession counter help the train retain some remnants of the past.

In-train concession sales were discontinued in March because of the coronavirus crisis.

“I was always excited to have been served food and drink on trains,” said Rio Koizumi, 28, a public relations official for Odakyu Electric who once lived along the train line and used the service on a Romancecar as a child. “I’m sad to see the service has disappeared.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A diorama reproducing areas along a Romancecar train line

Parents and children seem to particularly enjoy the simulator built on the driver’s platform of the 7000 series LSE, which was in service until 2018. Visitors can simulate driving along three railway lines, including one linking Hon-Atsugi and Machida, via a video screen.

Another highlight of the museum is a massive diorama reproducing areas along the Romancecar train line from Shinjuku to Hakone. Projection mapping is used on the buildings in the city center, the mountains of Hakone and the sea around Enoshima island to help indicate the time of day, complete with sounds and lights.

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Romancecars are now used not only for sightseeing, but also for commuting. This evolution is closely related with the expansion of the Tokyo metropolitan area.