Friday, 6 May 2016

JAPAN - Nagoya Subway

Higashiyama Line - Sakae station: busiest line, busiest station

When I arrived in Nagoya from Kyoto (just around an hour by Shinkansen) on 29 April 2016, I wondered whether I should walk to my hotel or take the Subway for two stops. Lazy as I am (and curious for yet another metro) I made my way down to the Sakura-dori Line (red line), used my PASMO card to walk through the gates but was rather disappointed that on a Friday evening, around 7pm, I have to wait for 10 minutes for the next train. With luggage that is getting heavier as I pick up leaflets and maps etc. one appreciates lifts and escalators, and also the station maps available in most Japanese metros to choose an exit with escalators. Everything seems fine, until you realise that the indicated escalator leaves you halfway up to the surface. No return either, because there is no down escalator anyway - and I wasn't the only one caught in that trap.

Aonami Line - ready to depart from Nagoya station

The next morning with the sun out, I got a 1-day pass (cheaper on weekends, just 600 Yen - available also from the machines, but I don't know if it gives you the same nice ticket you get from the ticket window, with a subway map printed on it). But to take advantage of the nice weather, I first headed for the Aonami Line, which is a separate suburban line (with its separate fare, of course), leavings from a dedicated platform at Nagoya station. I checked in with my PASMO card and rode the train until I saw a good place to take some photos, which I found at Nakajima. I didn't exit the station but returned to the last but one stop where I exited, Sasashima Raibu. Unfortunately this was not a good place to take pictures at this time of the day, and the JR station I was hoping to find there according to my own badly-drawn map on UrbanRail.Net, I walked back to Nagoya station. Later I realised that Kintetsu actually has a very primitive stop not too far from there. Like the Linimo (see below), the Aonami Line is shown on many Subway maps, but it is not integrated in its fare system. It was quite busy in the outbound direction on a Saturday morning, which I found surprising. So they could increase the off-peak headway, which is now a train every 15 minutes.

At Nagoya station, I was quite confused as I had no idea where all these JR trains went to. It's hard when you are not properly prepared and don't know the locations shown on train indicators. Eventually I managed to identify a local train on the Kansai Line that would stop at Hatta, an interchange with the Subway and Kintetsu. I took a Kintetsu Local back into town, curious to find out where their underground terminus is located. The trains actually pass below the JR tracks and then terminate underground on the eastern (city) side of the railway station.

Sakura-dori Line - Maronouchi station

During the day I used the Subway on various stretches without exploring it systematically. All in all, it is rather standard, nothing special I would remember except of the thin headways. Just the Higashiyama Line (yellow) is busier (somehow I would always think that the red line by default needs to be the busiest in any city...), running every 4 minutes even on a Saturday, whereas the Sakura-dori (red) and Tsurumai (blue) Lines only ran every 10 minutes. Also the purple Meijo Line, the only real metro circle line in Japan, but this one is doubled on its most important section through the city centre (which I suppose would be defined by Sakae station) by the Meiko Line. The red and yellow lines have platform gates, whereas on the purple and blue lines you can get nice train photos in all the stations (although I wonder if they are going to retrofit gates here, too).

I used the purple line to reach one of the most absurd of all Japanese metro lines I have seen, the Kami-Iida Line (sometimes written as Kamiiida), which only consists of two stations, and is shown as such on maps and can therefore also be used with a Subway day pass.

Kami-Iida Line - ridiculous 2-station "line"

All trains, however, ignore this fact and continue on the Meitetsu Komaki Line. So why on earth can't they just incorporate it simply into this line? Meitetsu has another underground city terminus right next to Sakae. I suppose the Kami-Iida Line was once supposed to continue further south into the city centre. Right now, it only runs every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, so rather a suburban line than a metro. So, being inside the Subway system with my day pass, I rode a Meitetsu train for a few stations and back again, because there were more weird things to explore still while the sun was shining.

Yutorito Line - extravagant elevated busway

The Yutorito Line, possibly the most extravagant means of transport I have seen so far in Japan - this is guided busway similar to the O-Bahn in Adelaide, running 6.5 km on an elevated structure. So I was expected something Brisbane-like, with a bus rolling past every minute. However, there is a bus every 10 minutes only, and it's a short bus, and in 2016 it's a high-floor bus, which despite its high floor has few seats with enormous space being occupied by the huge wheels. And something I hadn't seen on a city bus since the age of Ikarus buses in the (European) East, the driver changes gears manually. So in case he gets bored because there is no need to steer the bus, he is kept busy changing gears. But anyway, I suppose this is the most expensive transport infrastructure for the amount of passengers it is meant to carry. At least they should introduce some low-floor articulated buses to make it worthwhile. But better still, convert it into some sort of light rail.

Driverless Linimo maglev train returning from siding at the outer end of the line

Moving on in a clockwise direction on the purple line, and with a change to the Higashiyama Line (once again it's the zoo station that is decorated with animals to make it different from the rest), I reached the Linimo, another fancy transport system. This maglev system was built for the Expo 2005 and has survived. It's fun, the stations are like basic monorail stations, and the ride is smooth, but nothing too exciting either. I guess a properly built wheel-to-rail system (and railways are usually properly built in Japan) provides almost the same quality of ride, so I don't see the advantages. I don't know about operating costs, but certainly an isolated technology must be more expensive to maintain. It was probably one of those demostrator lines for a technology no one acquired in the end.

Higashiyama koen - zoo station

I finished the day with some photos in the Subway which you will hopefully see on the website one day if I get the time to make a little gallery.

Meijo Line - circle line without platform gates

On the following day I still had a bit of time before moving on to Tokyo, so I jumped on a Toyota train, I mean on a train to Toyotashi, the car-building city east of Nagoya. This line is directly integrated with the Tsurumai Subway Line, so I didn't bother to get a ticket, just stayed inside the station and returned to Nagoya. With a final trip to Nagoyako (port) I eventually managed to ride the entire circle line. Interesting to note that unlike most other circular lines, which circle around the city centre, this one actually runs right through the city centre and the circles around the eastern suburbs. The directions, i.e. which platform is best for which destination on the circle line is perfectly shown at mezzanine level, a bit like or even better than in Madrid.

Mapwise Nagoya is slightly better than Osaka, on demand, they do have an English A4 multipage brochure which I later also found in the tourist office, but nothing as nice as Tokyo or Fukuoka. Inside trains, display types vary from train to train.

By the way, along with the metros of Sapporo and Sendai, and many tram systems, Nagoya will be featured in our second volume of our series "Metros & Trams in Japan" (North & Centre), hopefully out in 2017!

Previous stop: KYOTO | Next stop: TOKYO(Part 2)


Nagoya on UrbanRail.Net (feat. map)


  1. I believe it's the Aonami line...
    Also the Seto line is built as a 600V interurban which explains its isolated track. As far as I understand there are no plans to integrate it with the Komaki line.

    1. Thanks, I have corrected the Aonami Line name!


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