Thomas the Tank Engine, the lead character in the British television series “Thomas & Friends” is so popular in Japan that there are already two theme parks dedicated to him. However, fans of Thomas the Tank can now enjoy the character one other way thanks to the Oigawa Railway Company (大井川鐵道) located in the Shizuoka Prefecture. On July 2, 2014, the Oigawa Line unveiled its life-size version of Thomas the Tank Engine and during its maiden run past tea fields and the Oigawa River, seventy-two lucky kindergartners from the Goka nursery school were invited to share the journey with local government representatives, the media and travel industry representatives.
Kikansha Tomasu, as it is known in Japan, will run 52 roundtrips between Shin-Kanaya and Senzu stations on the Oigawa Line from July 12th through October 12th. Tickets are already sold out in advance and that fact should not come as a surprise according the company officials, as hundreds of children used to show up at the station to watch the train’s test runs.
The life-size Kikansha Tomasu was conceived by the the Oigawa Railway, which is famous for its old-fashioned steam locomotives, as an effort to drum up tourism and keep people interested in steam trains. They collaborated with Sony Creative Products to transform a C11-227 steam locomotive into the Thomas the Tank Engine. The company took into consideration the many small details in producing an authentic looking Thomas, including painstakingly ensuring that the smoke coming from the locomotive was its trademark white color, and not discolored by the occasional black plume.
The company also dressed up a second engine as the Japanese locomotive, Hiro, a new character who made his television debut in season thirteen of Thomas and Friends.
Although you may not get a chance to actually ride Thomas the Tank unless the company receives cancellations, you may be able to catch a glimpse of him making his run through the tea fields if you happen to be visiting Shizuoka through mid-October.