KOEDO-KAWAGOE

by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism
 

§ No.28

The "Tinkle Train" in Kawagoe

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the "tinkle train" in Kawagoe. This is number twenty-eight in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
 
I wonder if you have heard about the "tinkle train." It is a nickname for a street car, which we can only see in a few areas of Japan today. They say it was named "tinkle train" because the motorman's cab was equipped with a bell that made a tinkling sound when it was rung. The motorman rang a bell by stepping on a bar to call pedestrians' attention to the train. And the conductor rang a different bell by pulling on a string to signal departures and stops.
 
Kawagoe against Introducing Railroad
In June 1884, railroad service was inaugurated between Ueno, Akabane, Ohmiya and Takasaki. However, the original plan was to connect Ueno, Kawagoe, Higashi-matsuyama, Kumagaya and Takasaki. The wealthy Kawagoe merchants, who gained profits by making use of the transportation by the Shingashi-gawa River between Kawagoe and Tokyo, were totally against the plan. They said, "All treasure and materials in Kawagoe will be taken away by the train!" Upon hearing that the plan for railroad service was withdrawn, they say the Kawagoe people were so pleased they organized a parade with a lot of lanterns. This meant, however, that Kawagoe fell behind the times. It was April 16, 1906 when the tinkle train finally started running between Kawagoe and Ohmiya, Saitama Prefecture. In order to operate the train, electricity was necessary.
 
Electric Light Lit in Kawagoe for the First Time
On December 31, 1904, the first electric light was lit in Kawagoe. It was the first electric light to be lit in Saitama Prefecture. Kawagoe Electricity Railroad Company, located in Tatekubo-cho, now Sankubo-cho ("cho" means district) of Kawagoe, transmitted electricity generated by thermal power to downtown Kawagoe. This company was established by merging Kawagoe Coach Railroad Company established in 1902 and Kawagoe Electricity Company established in 1903 and, both were owned by AYABE Riemon, a wealthy Kawagoe merchant. The newly merged company intended to supply electricity to Kawagoe and operate the train between Kawagoe and Ohmiya.
 
AYABE Riemon by courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
AYABE Riemon
by courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
 
The following conditions were established to find the best location for the company: It should be located near "Fudano-tsuji," the center of downtown Kawagoe; it should be a convenient place to locate the train tracks from Ohmiya; it should have enough space to accommodate the headquarters, a thermal power plant, a station building and a train shed. As a result, they decided on a farm of 4,000 tsubo (13,200 m2) which had been upper-class samurai residences in the Tatekubo-cho. The market price of the nearby land was 17 sen/tsubo but they obtained the land at the price of 39 sen/tsubo, more than twice the market price. So the president, AYABE Riemon, was angry about his subordinates' lack of business sense, they say.
 
"Tinkle Train" in Kawagoe
The "tinkle train" in Kawagoe was the 10th railroad line in Japan and 5th in the Kanto Region. The length of the tinkle train railroad was 12.9 km (8 miles). The track went from Kubo-machi Station in Kawagoe to Ohmiya Station along the current Route 16. It took 50 minutes from Kawagoe to Ohmiya and the speed was 25-30 km/hour. The tinkle train, with a slightly faster speed than a bicycle, continued to run until December 1940. Though residents called it the tinkle train, it was a street car which meant that only one car at a time traveled along the track.
 
"Tinkle trains" in Kawagoe by courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
"Tinkle trains" in Kawagoe
by courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
 
 
Railroad men in front of the "tinkle train" in Kawagoe in 1940 by courtesy of YONEHARA Tomoko
Railroad men in front of the "tinkle train" in Kawagoe in 1940
by courtesy of YONEHARA Tomoko
 
The people in Sankubo-cho collected their memories of the tinkle train and published them in a book in 1988. In the book, my aunt-in-law Teruko wrote as follows: "I spent the time from my birth to adulthood in Tokyo. I came with my mother to Kawagoe, which was my mother's native town, two or three times a year during my childhood, to see my grandmother and grandfather. On such occasions, we took the tinkle train from Ohmiya. The train echoed with the vibration of the rail. It passed through downtown Ohmiya, entered the countryside which was covered in fresh greenery and continued to run for a while. I saw a man with loose underpants, called "suteteko", tucked up his yukata (summer cotton kimono) wearing a straw hat. He was standing by the railroad line where there was no sign posted for the stop nearby. Also I saw a young lady in kimono putting up a parasol. They boarded the train and started to talk about the harvest and how their relatives were getting along.
 
Route from Kawagoe Station to Ohmiya Station Illustrated by YAJIMA Teiichi and KOBAYASHI Saburo from Tinkle Train published in 1988 by Sankubo-cho Residents' Association
Route from Kawagoe Station to Ohmiya Station
Illustrated by YAJIMA Teiichi and KOBAYASHI Saburo
from Tinkle Train published in 1988 by Sankubo-cho Residents' Association
 
A Reminder of the Past
When I was a child in the 1960s, there were remains of one or two dilapidated tinkle train cars, a deteriorated station building, and a worn-out fence. All of that is gone now. Currently the Kawagoe Central Public Hall is located on the land. Now when I pass the place where the tinkle train used to run, strangely enough, I feel as if I had experienced the good old days, which Teruko wrote about so fondly.
 
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
 
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.
 

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