The Modern Transportation Museum (MTM) and Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum (USLM) are museums created in the era of Japanese National Railways (JNR) to publicize the technology and history of industry, especially railways. They were transferred to West Japan Railway Company (JR West) in 1987 when JNR was divided and privatized.
The operation and day - to – day management of the museums is the responsibility of the Transportation Culture Promotion Foundation. The company and foundation work in close cooperation so that the museums can fulfil their social mission.
The MTM and USLM also work in cooperation with other railway and science museums as well as history museums and the like. In 2000, they also concluded sister museum agreements with the National Railway Museum (NRM, see pp. 32) in the UK to share materials, accept staff for training, hold joint events, and work in partnership.
Japan’s second railway line opened in 1874 between Osaka and Kobe. It was later expanded to reach Kyoto. That area had long been a centre of government, culture, commerce, and transport, and today it is second only to the Tokyo area.
The MTM is under elevated tracks at Bentencho Station and its adjacent grounds on the JR West Osaka Loop Line, which plays an important role in Osaka’s urban transport. Initially, the line was not a loop, but a plan for the construction of the section that includes Bentencho Station was formed with the rapid increase in transport demand. The loop line was subsequently completed in 1961. The predecessor of MTM, Kotsu Kagaku Kan, was opened by JNR in January of 1962 as part of projects to commemorate the opening of the Osaka Loop Line. It was constructed as the sister museum of the Transportation Museum in Tokyo (TMT, opened 1921, closed 2008). Unlike TMT, the Osaka museum focused on showcasing new railway technologies that were developing at a rapid pace and the latest equipment. It also invited participation by operators of other non-railway transport modes to enhance exhibits and feature transportation in general.
This year is auspicious as the 50th anniversary of the completion of the JR Osaka Loop Line. A special exhibition to commemorate the anniversary was held for about 70 days, and it is worth mentioning that during that period, visitors’ ages were slightly older than usual.
The museum was transferred to JR West at the JNR division and privatization in April 1987. Efforts were made subsequently to expand exhibits on history and culture and to make collected and preserved materials more substantial. Work was also started to manage materials, documents, etc., by computer. In July 1990, the Japanese name was changed to Kotsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan (Modern Transportation Museum). While railway-related exhibits remain the centrepieces, the museum is active as one of Japan’s prominent museums handling transportation in general. Exhibition rooms underwent complete renovation in 1993, and in July 2002 materials from the second generation Kyoto Station (the current station is the fourth generation) were used to build the Platform Plaza outdoor exhibition, allowing rolling stock to be preserved in better condition and visitors to view exhibits with greater ease. Exhibition rooms are being gradually upgraded since 2005 to enhance the content of exhibits and maintain facilities.
The exhibition space spans 11,700 m2, divided into an indoor exhibition area, outdoor exhibition area, and a second exhibition area. Exhibits include 20 pieces of railway rolling stock, 2 airplanes, 7 automobiles, and 13 other vehicles, including motorbikes. A variety of other real materials are also exhibited.
The indoor exhibition area has actual vehicles in exhibition rooms divided by theme. Many related materials, videos, and hands-on exhibits are also provided for visitors to learn about the history and makeup of transportation in a fun way. The diorama at the far end of the indoor exhibition area features an HO-scale (1/80) model railway that is one of the most popular exhibits in the museum. With running model shinkansen trains, sleeper cars, and other trains, it is a big hit with children and adults alike. The diorama show has curators manually operating a control panel and lighting while providing explanations backed with light music. They make subtle modifications to the running order of the trains and to the explanations and background music to provide excitement that is different to what is possible using computerized control. Special exhibitions on original themes are held by curators twice each year in the special exhibit room and auditorium. Lively events are also held in busy periods to provide opportunities for hands-on experiences and learning.
The main feature of the outdoor exhibition area is the Platform Plaza that displays rolling stock from the early days of Japanese railways through the 1950s. The roof of the second-generation Kyoto Station No. 1 platform along with actual over-bridge columns, benches, washbasins, and more, are on the platform, giving visitors an almost time-traveller feeling.
The second exhibition area is connected to the indoor exhibition area by a passageway. It exhibits three diesel locomotives, track maintenance equipment, signals, and other items.
A library and reference room is also available to guests. It is open to the public on weekends, and on weekdays assistance is provided to researchers by allowing materials to be referenced, questions answered, and items loaned out. A separate archive also holds a variety of other non-exhibited materials.
Education/promotion activities and passing down of transportation culture
Various education and promotion activities are conducted periodically at the museum. Visitors cannot get on most of the vehicles exhibited at the museum for preservation reasons, but at periodic Museum Hands-on Tours, visitors have the rare opportunity to actually tour inside vehicles. Curators give explanations during the tours, and a variety of methods are implemented to deepen visitors’ knowledge and interest. Additionally, Museum Seminars offer a variety of learning opportunities at the museum as well as through cooperation with other facilities such as tours of train depots and ships in an effort to promote knowledge of transportation.
Modern industry has come to be appreciated as history in Japan. Transportation is an important foundation upon which modern social activities and industry are formed. The railway sector in particular receives much focus. museum collects and studies railway-related materials with the assistance of JR
West. It also collects a broad range of materials related to transportation in general, even to the point of actively accepting donations from the public. Curators organize and classify collected materials so they can be utilized appropriately, putting them on exhibit or preserving them. In order to make the best use of materials, they are sometimes repaired or restored depending on condition. Digitalization technologies, which have developed rapidly in the past few years, are also used. Intellectual property rights, such as copyright are dealt with appropriately.
The MTM is also a member of the Japanese Association of Museums and Japanese Council of Science Museums. Transportation culture is broadly propagated by this membership and cooperation with other museums and borrowing and lending of materials. The Museum works further to increase the railway fan base to pass down railway culture to the next generation.
Japan’s first railway opened between Shimbashi and Yokohama in 1872. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of railways in Japan, JNR opened the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum in October 1972 as a museum specializing in steam locomotives. Steam locomotives that had hauled Japan into the modern era were disappearing at that time, and the museum received much attention at its opening for assembling some of the best-known steam locomotives in Japan at the Umekoji depot, which was still an active depot.
When JNR was divided and privatized, USLM was transferred to JR West along with MTM. In 1994, a steam locomotive that until then had only been run for exhibitions was nicknamed SL STEAM and started carrying museum visitors as passengers. Major renovations were conducted in 1997, including relocating the stationhouse from Nijo Station on the San’in Line for use as an exhibition hall.
The USLM is in Kyoto, which has a long history as Japan’s ancient capital. It is adjacent to Umekoji Park, about a 20-minute walk from Kyoto Station. Its major features are an exhibition hall and fan-shaped locomotive shed. It also has a steam locomotive exhibition line, coal and water bunkers, and drainage facilities.
The exhibition hall was once the stationhouse of Nijo Station on the San’in Line and was partially renovated and relocated to the museum. Originally constructed in 1904, the stationhouse is a stately Japanese-style construction with a tiled roof and served as the head office of Kyoto Railway Company, which built the original San’in Line. It operates as Japan’s only museum dedicated to steam locomotives, introducing their history and how they run. Valuable materials on inspection and repair tools, items carried by engineers, materials related to Imperial trains, and more are also exhibited. Special exhibitions are held periodically.
The shed was built in 1914 as a facility for Umekoji depot, making it the oldest existing reinforced concrete structure in Japan. It is an impressive building holding 20 lines, and it served as a key locomotive depot for the Tokaido main line during the heyday of steam locomotives. Today, it houses 19 steam locomotives, including those preserved in working order. Along with the ceiling crane used for repair work, service lines, and other equipment, it was designated an important cultural property by the Japanese government in 2004.
The 19 preserved steam locomotives cover 17 types. They include some of the most important models of steam locomotives in Japan, the only domestically manufactured three-cylinder locomotive, and locomotives imported in the early days of Japanese railways. The locomotives along with the shed, turntable, installed lines, training tools, log books, and former Nijo stationhouse were together designated by JR West as the quasi-railway memorial ‘Umekoji Steam Locomotives and Related Facilities’. Seven of the 19 locomotives at Umekoji are in working order. Steam locomotive inspection, maintenance, operation, and exhibition are all conducted here, making this facility the only one of its kind in the world and gaining much praise in Japan and from abroad. Of the seven locomotives in working order, two can run on commercial lines, operating as SL Yamaguchi and SL Kita Biwako. The SL STEAM also gives daily rides, allowing visitors to experience historical materials and an actual running steam locomotive.
The USLM carries out a variety of activities as a museum dedicated to steam locomotives to promote understanding of locomotives that played an important role in modern Japan and their technologies. Along with exhibiting materials, it holds events where people can experience ‘living technology’ and holds SL Museum Talk seminars linking steam locomotive history with the era.
Plan for new museum construction
In February 2009, JR West announced a plan to build a new museum on land adjacent to USLM. Specifics are under consideration, but a final decision has yet to be reached at May 2011. Many people are now eagerly awaiting the decision.