Japan is full of densha otaku (train fans), but you don’t have to be one to enjoy this hands-on museum in the Tokyo “suburb” of Omiya dedicated to all things railway-related.
The Omiya Railway Museum opened in 2007 in one of Tokyo’s largest bedroom communities just across the border in Saitama Prefecture. The museum sprawls over a large amount of turf, but it needs to in order to accommodate the dozens of antique and modern rail carriages in the large exhibition hall. Visitors can climb in the carriages and sit in the seats, a fun way of experiencing rail history through the centuries.
The museum also has several simulators, including one where you can drive a steam locomotive. (Come early though – only 27 people a day get to try it.) Another section one of the upper floors of the museum has an entire series of wheels, hydraulics and other engineering-related paraphernalia that demonstrate exactly how the trains run.
There is also a fun miniature diorama that offers demonstrations several times an hour of various types of trains (shinkansen, limited express, steam train, metro) in a shrunk-down version of Japan. While the narrator only mentions each train in Japanese, it’s fun to watch the scaled-down trains run through the landscape.
Outside, there is a great train-themed playground on one side of the museum, while a large open space with yet another rail car to explore sits on the museum’s opposite side.
One unique aspect of the museum that parents might appreciate is the fact that visitors can use their SUICA (JR debit-style train card) to pay for refreshments in the restaurant, souvenirs in the gift shop and to make reservations for certain interactive exhibits.
If your kids like things that move or enjoy exploring and climbing in and out of various vehicles, they’ll LOVE a visit to this museum. Omiya is only a 30-minute train ride from either Ikebukuro or Ueno, making this a very feasible half-day escape from the city.
If you want to plan a visit, check out the Omiya Railway Museum’s website.