I’ve done MOTAT in Auckland. And I’ve done the train museum in Swindon. And when I was a kid I climbed all over the rusty old locomotive at Hamilton Lake.
But the train museum in Saitama is not any of those things. It’s a proper museum, with trains. Lots and lots of trains.
There are dozens of locomotives and carriages, from the 19th century to yesterday. And they are all beautifully restored, clean as a whistle, and you get to go inside many of them.
But wait, there’s more.
There are artefacts and displays that cover the bridges and tunnels and food and music and movies and tickets and uniforms and stations.
It’s glorious history you can touch: social and political and economic history driven along by a technology revolution that we take for granted and barely comprehend.
And gloriously filled with hundreds of laughing, running, screaming with delight young children. Because this is where they pass on the Japanese love of trains to the next generation. (There’s a big classroom of train driving simulators, and a wonderful play area full of model train sets.)
It brought home to me how important railways and trains are to the Japanese sense of themselves. Perhaps it’s because the opening of the country through the Meiji Restoration coincided with the eruption of the new technology: moving people and things at distances and speeds that were completely transformative. And every generation has striven to go faster and better. Trains are at the heart of how Japan works as a community, and somehow at the heart of how Japanese comprehend themselves.
Here’s just a sample, to encourage you to come and see it for yourself. Bliss.