Jiji PressTOKYO (Jiji Press) — While female giant panda cub Xiang Xiang has been attracting huge attention since she was born at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo in June 2017, you can also see children at the animal park in Taito Ward happily riding a tiny monorail that marked its 60th anniversary last month.
The 330-meter monorail has only two stations, linking the zoo’s east and west gardens. Launched on Dec. 17, 1957, it is the oldest monorail in the country.
The monorail was constructed as an experimental line by the transportation bureau of the Tokyo metropolitan government, which had been exploring a new transport system following the end of World War II.
According to its timetable, the train links the two stations in 1 minute and 30 seconds. A one-way trip costs children aged 2 and over ¥80 and junior high school students and older people ¥150, paid on top of zoo admission fees.
The two-car train can carry up to about 50 people at a time. The cars are smaller than those of most other monorails in the country.
The train normally travels at a speed of about 13 kilometers per hour, but slows down when it comes to a point where passengers can see Shinobazunoike, a pond in Ueno Park where the zoo is located.
Explaining the reason for this, Kazuhide Nagata, 62, the 25th stationmaster said, “We want to see smiling children get off the train saying, ‘I enjoyed the monorail ride.’”
A plan to scrap the monorail line has surfaced twice in the past, due to the aging of the facilities and financial difficulties. But it has survived, supported by its popularity among children.
Recently, the number of foreign visitors riding the monorail has been increasing. About 1 million people use the monorail each year, with would-be passengers often having to wait in line on holidays.
Nagata said, “I can feel the history of the monorail when I hear visitors say ‘I had a date here once’ or ‘I came here on a school trip.’”
Mitsuki Hamamatsu, 9, and her brother, Itsuki, 4, who visited Ueno Zoo during a family trip, said that riding the monorail was fun as it looked as if the train was floating in the air.
Their father, Naoki Hamamatsu, 35, said, “The monorail ride left my children with a good memory that makes them want to come here again,” although the family from the city of Higashikagawa in Kagawa Prefecture failed to win the lottery for viewing Xiang Xiang.