Well, it looks like train fans in Japan have something to be excited about — the real-life Thomas the Tank Engine, which has already attracted considerable attention on the Internet and media, is now in service! The Thomas steam locomotive, designed with a large face in the front to quite accurately recreate the well-known children’s character, started on its very first journey on July 12 with about 560 passengers on board. And since we knew this was a ride that would be sure to delight kids as well as adult train fans, one of the reporters from our Japanese site traveled to Shizuoka Prefecture in the center of Honshu, the main island, to see the “real Thomas” on his very first day in operation!

The seven-car Thomas locomotive is made from a C11 type locomotive that was originally manufactured in 1942, and  for a limited time, “he” will be servicing the approximately 40km route on the Ōigawa Railway between Shinkanaya Station and Senzu Station, in an area of Shizuoka about 200km from Tokyo. Thomas is scheduled to make one round-trip a day on most weekends, holidays and on irregular weekdays until around mid-October, but tickets for all days have apparently sold out and there is now a waiting list, which we guess isn’t surprising considering Thomas’ popularity in Japan.

On the day of his first official outing, Thomas departed the Shinkanaya Station at 10:30 a.m. Our reporter went to see him at the other end of the line, at Senzu Station, where there was a “Thomas the Tank Engine Fair” going on and  several other trains from Thomas and Friends were on display too.

▼Here we are at Senzu Station!DSC05903

▼The sign advertising the Thomas The Tank Engine FairDSC05886

▼The crowd certainly was there!DSC05901

▼There was even a bit of Moe advertising on display: this is apparently the Tetsudo Musume (Railway Girl).DSC05941

▼We also had the chance to say hello to friendly station staff.

▼And this is what we came for — here comes Thomas!



▼See that big, smiling face!DSC05956

▼Here’ s a look at the inside of the train. Compared with the train’s outside appearance, the interior is quite simply decorated, so even if the tickets to actually ride on the train are hard to come by, it should be plenty of fun just looking and taking pictures from the outside.


▼They were even selling a Thomas bento box lunch. Now, children will surely love that box!



▼The bento contained a sausage, fried prawn, a piece of  cooked sweet egg, a small piece of hamburger patty with what looks like teriyaki sauce, some fries, ketchup-flavored spaghetti, a pineapple jelly snack …

▼ … and rice sprinkled with furikake flakes for flavor.

▼Unfortunately, our reporter says that the Thomas bento (950 yen [US$9.40]) was not exactly a culinary masterpiece and would be best enjoyed by kids who love the packaging.DSC05925

▼The crowd certainly seemed to be having a good time!





▼We’re sure fans were thrilled with the other locomotives on display as well!



▼Here’s a video our reporter took at Senzu Station showing Thomas in action:

If anyone has plans to travel to Shizuoka to ride the Thomas locomotive, our reporter recommends starting at Shinkanaya Station and making the round trip back there without getting off at Senzu, as Senzu Station is apparently not easily accessible by car even for experienced drivers due to the mountainous roads in the area. And if you want to just go see Thomas, you’ll want to make sure you check the operation schedule with  Ōigawa Railway, as again, the timetable is quite irregular, especially for weekdays.

Whether you’re a kid Thomas fan or a serious train enthusiast, seeing Thomas and his friends in real life should be quite an exciting experience. We have a feeling Shizuoka will be a particularly popular destination for families with children this summer!

Reference: NHK News Web (Japanese), Ōigawa Railway website (Japanese)
Photos: RockeetNews24