Who loves bullet trains? Everyone loves bullet trains! Japan is one of the most mobile countries on Earth, and trains are everywhere. So there are a lot of rail museums and other related exhibits spread around the country. The SC MAGLEV and Railway Park is one of the newest, owned and operated by JR themselves (imagine Amtrak opening their own railway museum). We'd already gone to Haneda Airport as tourists, so now it was rail's turn.
This museum sits in an industrial town outside of Nagoya - I can't say why they picked that location, as it's kind of a trek to get there (but mostly "free" if you have a Japan Rail Pass!) and as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get in a city like this. From Nagoya station, you need to take the Aonomi line to the last stop, and as this is not a JR line, you can't use your rail pass on it. Better eat beforehand - more on this in a minute!
Aonomi line train
There is a pretty amazing bridge right by the museum; this is actually only half of it:
The railway park has a bunch of old and recently-retired trains - from the steam and early electric eras to modern shinkansen/bullet trains. I was pretty interested in seeing some of the more recent shinkansens that were running the first time I went to Japan - my first ride was on a 100 series from Tokyo to Yokohama, about a 15 minute ride! These were the last shinkansen trains to run with dining cars, and I had never seen inside one before.
Overview of the main hall
100 and 0 series shinkansen trains
300 series shinkansen
From my second trip to Japan - 0, 200, 100 and 300 series shinkansen,
all (mostly) retired now
The "MAGLEV" part of the museum basically consists of a single test vehicle that's sitting in the "experimental" section leading in to the main hall. There's also a steam engine here and a 300X series shinkansen test car. The rest of the museum is just that - a museum, dedicated mostly to the past, with some information on current technology as well.
The experimental hall
The nice thing is you can actually go into most of the trains at the museum (there are a few at the end of the hall that are just for show). All of them are just immaculate inside, practically like new. Even the ancient wooden cars look like they were just built.
100 series dining/restaurant car
0 series buffet car
Not sure what this is - a very old all wood car! Looks new!
The big negative about the whole experience is the crowds, and the lack of crowd management. We went on a Monday - not a day you'd expect to be particularly busy - and the place was just overrun with people. (My photos don't really convey this well.) Worse, the museum literally ran out of food. We went up to the little cafe they have (which is far too small - there was spillover of people eating all throughout the second floor) at around 1PM and there was a long line of people waiting for an emergency delivery of lunch food. We ended up deciding to just wait and get food somewhere else.
The last thing I really wanted to see was this supposedly amazing model railroad that's either the biggest in Japan or the world (I know there's one in Germany that is/was the biggest, but this museum's very new so maybe it's now bigger). The problem, again, was the crowd management. There was a line to get in to this area so long that it was totally maxed out - and they were giving every group of people *30 minutes* inside. Again, we decided it wasn't worth waiting 30 minutes just to get in the line, then 30 more in the line itself.
Apparently this museum has been a lot more popular than JR anticipated - they expected 500,000 people last year and got 1.1 million. Still, I got that info from their own press release - they should be expecting the crowds now. Get some more food, add some more tables and chairs, cut down the time allowed in the model railroad area to 10 or 15 minutes, raise the price of entry. It doesn't seem like rocket science to me, just simple supply and demand.
We went outside hoping for some food, but no dice - there's literally nothing around. I remembered seeing a McDonald's two stops back on the Aonomi line, so we actually got off there and finally ate. At the same stop, there is the biggest Book Off I have ever seen - they have everything, even used guitars - and I picked up a Nintendo Game & Watch reissue there for 1950 yen, so the day was a success after all!
Overall, I'd really only recommend the SC MAGLEV and Railway Park for real diehards right now. Hopefully JR will get their act together at some point and manage the crowds a little better. If you do go, try to manage the day and time - Monday was bad already, but I can't even imagine what it would be like on a weekend.