The railway museum in Saitama, Japan

Stylish retro trains line the floor of Saitama’s Railway Museum.

The Railway Museum

Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture If you’ve ever dreamed of driving a steam locomotive, you’re in luck: This museum is home to Japan’s first realistic steam locomotive simulator. You can also try your hand at operating commuter and shinkansen trains — or take a miniature train out for a spin on the tracks around the premises. There are demonstrations of various train-related tasks, and, for toy train enthusiasts, model trains that speed around a large, intricate diorama.

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Japan Train museum Kyoto

Check out old school locomotives at Kyoto’s Train Museum.

Kyoto Railway Museum

Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture This mammoth museum boasts 54 retired trains and rail cars. You’ll find 20 kinds of steam locomotives as well as diesel and electric locomotives. There are shinkansen, old-school bonneted express trains, dining cars, sleeping cars, freight cars and a first-class passenger car with an observation deck. Ever wanted to know how train couplers or track switches work? Or maybe you were curious about the evolution of train turnstiles. It’s all here, along with simulators, a railroad bicycle that you can pedal around and a short ride on passenger cars pulled by an actual, working steam locomotive.

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Japanese Maglev museum showcase

The SCMaglev and Railway Park

Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture At the SCMaglev and Railway Park, you’ll learn about the ultrafast superconducting magnetic levitation (maglev) technology powering the Chuo Shinkansen — currently under construction — that is expected to shorten the Tokyo-Nagoya trip from 1.5 hours down to 40 minutes, and get a close look at an extensive lineup of rolling stock. Among the 39 railway vehicles on display are steam and electric locomotives, shinkansen and earlier maglev trains. There’s also a Doctor Yellow, the beloved yellow-painted shinkansen that inspects and tests the safety of high-speed tracks.

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Japan train museum

An inside look at a train in Tokyo’s Tobu Museum

Tobu Museum

Sumida Ward, Tokyo This small but popular museum’s collection goes beyond the usual steam locomotives and electric trains. It also has a tramway, bus and ropeway gondola. Check out the model trains, mockups, bus and train simulators, and diorama featuring 170 computer-controlled model trains. The Watching Promenade is a fun bonus for diehards: the track-level windows offer a close-up of the wheels and motors of trains arriving at and departing from Higashi-Mukojima station.

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This article was originally published in the En Route special issue: