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How One Small Japanese City Is Attracting Trainspotters

Hitachi Class 800. York.

“Hitachi Class 800. York.” Photo by Flickr user Carl Spencer. License: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Tens of thousands of rail enthusiasts turned up in an out-of-way town on Japan's Inland Sea earlier in March, in order to catch a glimpse of a new train destined for the United Kingdom. While trainspotting has turned into an obsession in Japan in recent years, the event provides clues for how regional Japanese cities attract tourists.

On March 6, about 30,000 people lined the streets of Kudamatsu, a small city in Yamaguchi Prefecture, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) west of Tokyo, to watch a Class 800 series diesel-electric railcar be delivered by tractor trailer from a Hitachi manufacturing facility to the port.

Bound for a high-speed rail line in the United Kingdom, the train was delivered by road this afternoon. 30,000 fans gathered in Kudamatsu, Yamaguchi.

The delivery of the railcar to the port, including the route it would take, and the best spots to catch a glimpse of the train, was publicized by the city. Kudamatsu, a small city of 55,000 people, is not generally known as a tourism hotspot. However, inbound tourism in Japan is booming, so much so that there are room shortages in major tourist destinations. To help keep up with demand, there is an effort to promote and develop regional tourist attractions in Japan.

To the mayor of Kudamatsu:

The “Let's Transport High Speed Railcars to the Port Along Public Streets Project” was just the best. Although it was just 4 kilometers [2.5 miles] between the factory and the port, the fact that 30,000 people showed up indicates this event could have only have happened in Kudamatsu. I really hope you continue with this project!

Although it's difficult to gauge how popular this sort of event might be with visitors to Japan, this “new type of tourism, attracting people who are interested in Japan's industrial manufacturing” seems to have been a hit with Japan's vibrant trainspotting subculture, who flocked to see the traincars delivered to the port for shipment to the United Kingdom.

The Class 800 train may have some nostalgic value for Japanese rail enthusiasts; it's based on Japan's 681 series express train that traveled between Osaka and cities on the Japan Sea coast. The 681 is the fastest narrow-gauge train in the world, able to travel at speeds of more than 160 km/h (99 mph).

The sheer number of spectators seems to have caught locals by surprise:

Today was the day when the transport of the the new trains from the Hitachi factory to the plant was open for viewing by locals. I thought I would go take a look after I got of work, but for most of the way the crowd was back shoulder-to-shoulder, and I couldn't get a good look. However, I saw it later when it was broadcast over cable access.

I couldn't believe how many people there were… there must have been more people than live in Kudamatsu itself!

Other cities in Japan, hoping to capture the interest in rail manufacturing, quickly emulated Kudamatsu's train-based tourism promotion. Hakata, in Fukuoka on the western island of Kyushu, tweeted:

Hello! As you may have seen on the news yesterday, there was an event in Kudamatsu, Yamaguchi, where a newly-manufactured train was transported from the Hitachi rail factory to the port, and a lot of rail fans came out to watch.

As a matter of fact, JR West Japan received a number of high-speed rail cars for the Shinkansen super express service at Hakata Port. This was a very rare event to experience as well!

The Class 800 rail cars loaded at Kudamatsu are bound for the United Kingdom as rolling stock for Britain’s Intercity Express Program.

While train carriages will be built in both Japan and in the United Kingdom, where manufacturing is expected to create more than 700 jobs, the Japanese government has bluntly stated that Brexit puts at risk similar Japanese investments in Britain in the future.

News reports showed the scale of the crowds who gathered to see the train shipped to the port at Kudamatsu:

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