Japan is so often known for its cutting-edge technology, for its robots and Shinkansen (bullet-trains). I think almost anyone who has spent even a little time travelling or living here though will know that Japan is actually this eclectic mix of old and new in juxtaposition, and I always feel like a healthy balance of the two is the best way to experience Japan.
Taking a ride on a quant, old worldy tram (otherwise know as chin chin densha) is one of the lesser known ways to see an older Japan. What's more, it's not only an experience in itself but also one of the most time and cost-effective things you can do. If you're exploring a city, the chin chin densha takes you from A to B in your travels for around the same cost as any other kind of public transport. The ticket that you want to get is a day pass and this way you can hop on and off the tram, all day to your hearts content until you have seen everything there is to see.
While the tram lines themselves are historic the tram cars can vary. Some have a wooden floor out of which protrudes some long metal stick that I assume is a gear stick, (although I haven’t looked this up) and they transport you straight into some studio ghibliesque world. Others are quite so old but still pretty nostalgic with carpeted interiors styling patterns and colours that you defiantly wouldn’t catch in any designers catalogue today. Finally, there are the newly renovated we even saw panda tram making its way around the city.
Now, It's all very well talking about this, but once you know you want to try a chin chin densha how do you actually go about it? Catching public transport in a foreign country can be daunting and things are often a little different to what you’re used to. Not to worry though, it’s easy to get the hang of and below is a beginner's guide to help you on your way. The tram I caught most recently and have photos for is the Tennoji tram, so specifically this is a walkthrough for that tram, but I have also ridden on a couple of trams in other cities and the process was very similar, so I hope that this can still help you whichever city you're tram-hopping in. You can either buy your ticket from the office at a terminal station, or you can buy one from the tram driver if you are getting on mid-route, either way, you want to ask for a 'Teku Teku Kippu' whish is a 1 day pass, allowing you to hop on and off all day with only one payment (as you can see, we paid ¥600 per adult ticket).
Once you have your ticket you need to validate it by scratching off that day's date. Actually, I made a mistake, I thought it was the 14th February when it was only the 13th (what a mistake to make)...anyway no one ever examined it too closely and no questions were ever asked!
Once you have your ticket all you need to do is keep it safe, get off the tram whenever you want and catch whatever tram you want again later, just show your ticket each time you enter.
So now you know how to use the tram, maybe you want some ideas for your trip. Below is what my friends and I did on our journey, we took the Tennoji tram from it's terminal in Hamadera all the way to the terminal in Tennoji and back again (it's called the Hankai Tramway and is the oldest tramline in the country). Embark: Hamadera-Ekimae station, opposite Hamadera park
STOP 1 - SHUKUIN
From here you are very close to the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko. Sen no Rikyū is known as the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony while Akiko Yosano was a poet, author and pioneering social reformer, both were born in Sakai and share this museum dedicated their works. You need about an hour and a half for the museum, which has lots of interactive activities and information in Japanese and English. There is also a tea house where you can enjoy a green tea and Japanese sweet.
STOP 2 - BACK TO GORYOMAE
We a few minutes to Kanbukuro (the sign outside only has the Japanese (かん袋). Kanbukuro is a shop/café, established in 1329 and has been recognised for its delicious sweets ever since Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a powerful Daimyō who headed the construction of Osaka castle) praised the skill of the original shop owner, Izumiya Tokuzaemon. One of their signature sweets is Kurumi Mochi, small rice cake balls covered with sweet green bean paste. My friend's student told her, and she told me, that the most traditional way to eat it is with shaved ice on top. Coming from such an infallible source as that, it must be true, so despite it's being February, and still freezing cold, I ordered my Kurumi Mochi with shaved ice. We were a group of 4 and one of us happened to be more sensible and get hers sans ice and both were delicious.
STOP 3 - AYANOCHŌ
Here we visited a knife and sword workshop. The Mizuno Tanrenjo is a workshop has been in operation since 1872 and is still located in approximately the same location as when it first opened. Although they didn't speak English they were very friendly and invited us to see the real working part of the forgery.
STOP 4 - SUMIYOSHITORIIMAE
This stop is in front of Sumiyoshi Tashia shrine, known for its enormous round bridge, like a Taiko Drum. I just find it's a beautiful and peaceful place to walk around and be quiet for a while. For some reason, this visit I didn't take any pictures inside the shrine, just take my word for it that it's worth a visit. What I did take a photo of the old-worldy looking street in front of it, which I also think is pretty cool.
STOP 5 - EBISUCHŌ
This is the final stop and is located in Tennoji, near the Train Station. From here we walked to the Tsūtenkaku area and had an all you can eat DIY Kushikatsu for dinner, so oily, so bad for you I'm sure, but so tasty and an Osaka speciality and delicious, so going once is ok (or twice, or thrice...). You pick your food from the buffet and bring it back to your table where you dip it in batter and breadcrumbs and fry. Just in case it's relevant to you too, I have to eat dairy free and wasn't sure if I'd be able to eat it because of the batter. But we checked, and at least the place where we were at assured us that there was no dairy in their batter. After we were feeling VERY full we went to Tsūtenkaku and got fantastic night view of the city.
STOP 6 HAMADERA-EKIMAE
Walking off our dinner, we returned to Ebisuchō, and from there caught the tram and stayed on all the way to the other end of the line (Hamadera-Ekimae). In the day the trams had all been pretty empty, but now we shared it with so many commuters who obviously still use this line as their everyday transport that it was sometime before we could get a seat, while our feet might have been tired it was nice to see that this historic, slightly quirky line is still an everyday part of life for so many people.
Before there were many cars on the roads Japan had a vast tram system 41 routes just in Tokyo and more in other cities across the country. Since then, however, their popularity has been in decline and now only a few lines are left, they are in: