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Tokyo’s last streetcar line still rolling strong, after 105 years in operation

by

Staff Photographer

In all of Tokyo, the Toden Arakawa Line is the last remaining streetcar. The single-car train covers a 12-km route between Minowa in Arakawa Ward and Waseda in Shinjuku Ward, a leisurely ride that takes 50 minutes.

Marking the 105th anniversary of its launch this year, the streetcar, known as chin-chin densha for the sound of its bell, is a nostalgic reminder of the postwar era, when such trains were a common sight all over Tokyo. The streetcar was a major means of transportation in the 1960s as the city recovered from the ravages of World War II and redeveloped. During their heyday in the mid-1960s, they were used by 1.93 million people per day.

With the motorization of the metropolis in the late 1960s, however, the number of streetcar users dropped and lines were closed.

Today, the Arakawa Line is back in the spotlight as a tourist attraction. It runs through shitamachi (traditionally working-class neighborhoods in the city’s northeast), which is rich in historical sites. If you buy a one-day ticket, you can get on and off the line as many times as you want, enjoying stopovers at such sightseeing spots as Asukayama Park in Kita Ward, famous for centuries-old cherry blossoms, and the Togenuki-Jizo Statue in Sugamo, dubbed the Harajuku of the elderly, in Toshima Ward.

You can also rent a whole car: A one-way ride is all yours for ¥13,820.

Rakugo storytelling and other live performance events are often organized on the train, and recently, fans of the all-male pop group SMAP held an event on the train marking the 25th anniversary of their launch.

A mother pushes a baby cart across streetcar tracks in Tokyo
A mother pushes a baby cart across streetcar tracks in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward on Oct. 20. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
A boy peeks out from the window of a streetcar on Oct. 20.
A boy peeks out from the window of a streetcar on Oct. 20. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Passengers take a slow ride on the Toden Arakawa Line.
Passengers take a slow ride on the Toden Arakawa Line. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
A streetcar passes Oguhachiman Shrine in Tokyo
A streetcar passes Oguhachiman Shrine in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward. | SATOKO KAWASAKI