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Moka SL: Steam Locomotive in Modern Japan


Have you ever wondered what it’s like riding a steam locomotive? Perhaps we saw it once in vintage movies. And with trains evolving into faster and convenient ways, it is a rare event to see a steam locomotive in action. Because of their rareness, people often regard these antique trains as extraordinary and special.

We often heard about bullet trains speeding their way from Tokyo to the rest of Japan’s regional cities. But in Tochigi prefecture just north of Tokyo, you will see and experience a steam locomotive train that dates back to 1912. It is called SL Moka which is operated by Moka Railway.

History of Moka Railway

Moka Railway was launched originally before World War II in 1912. After the war, passenger figures declined, leading the railway company to discontinue its services. However, there were a series of discussions between local residents and authorities to continue the operations so Moka Line reopened once again in 1988.

Present-day Moka Railway and SL Moka

Moka Railway is presently operating through a series of 17 stations between Shimodate Station in Ibaraki Prefecture and Motegi Station in Tochigi Prefecture. There are two types of trains that travel between each station. First, is the diesel train that resembles a railbus called suika densha (watermelon train) because of its two-tone color green and red that looked like a watermelon. It connects Shimodate and Motegi station daily while the second train locomotive SL Moka makes its roundtrip on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

The steam locomotive as a crowd drawer

When the steam locomotive makes its trip from Shimodate to Motegi, it attracts a crowd of photographers and railway enthusiasts at the stations, along the tracks, and at railroad crossings. The locomotive is greatly preserved that just by looking at it, it takes you back from the old times.

Railroad tracks at Kita Moka station, Tochigi during spring.

The four seasons of Japan gave an excellent backdrop to the steam locomotive in action. The most popular season for viewing is in Spring (preferably between late March to April) when the cherry blossom trees and rapeseed flowers bloom and create a contrast of interesting colors to the locomotive. And with a pleasant temperature and climate, everybody is out and about.

Where can you find models of present-day steam locomotives?

Steam locomotive on display at SL 96 kan.

You can view more models of the different steam locomotives right at Moka SL96 Kan. SL 96 kan is a rail museum and exhibition space right next to Mooka Station. Entrance is absolutely free for all and this place is popular among families with small children and steam locomotive enthusiasts.

You will find here the D51 and 9600 steam locomotives, the only models in Japan that move through the power of compressed air engines. Passenger cars made of wood that date back to the 1950s are also on display giving visitors a look at the vintage vehicles decorated with seasonal ornaments. The museum also sells original SL Mooka products and goods, and some refreshments.

Self-driving event at SL 96 kan.

There are also special events held on weekends and special occasions like the self-driving 9600 steam locomotive that allows visitors to have a glimpse or ride the actual train for a small fee. It runs three times a day.

For a new experience of vintage Japan, do try to visit Moka SL 96 museum or have a steam locomotive ride for that wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Check out the virtual tour of Moka SL96 kan.



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