Revolving platforms for locomotives and buses of Moka Railway Co., Tobu Railway Co. and Kan-Etsu Transportation Co. (Video by Katsuhisa Saito)

The turning around of a train might not normally receive much attention. But in this case, the sight is something to behold.

Revolving platforms for changing the direction of steam locomotives and buses at key terminals are becoming a popular attraction in the northern Kanto region.

On a recent day, a locomotive called Moka Go was seen arriving in Moka Railway’s Motegi Station in Motegi, Tochigi Prefecture, around noon. The cab car was soon uncoupled and headed for a turntable.

As ordinary trains have driver cabs on both ends, they can travel in both directions. But locomotives only have such cabs on their front sides, so they have to reverse unless they are turned 180 degrees using rotary platforms.

Though turntables could be found everywhere in Japan in the heyday of steam locomotives, few revolving platforms remain.

The entire turntable can be seen from the second floor of Motegi Station. While the locomotive is being turned, passengers can view the operation from up close.

Tobu Railway Co. in summer 2017 resumed its steam locomotive operations for the first time in half a century. The locomotive Taiju makes three round trips daily, drawing many spectators.

To coincide with the comeback, Tobu Railway introduced new turntables.

One on the site of Shimo-Imaichi Station in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, was moved from Nagatoshi Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture, while the turntable for Kinugawa-Onsen Station, also in Nikko, was originally used at Miyoshi Station in Hiroshima Prefecture.

The rotary platforms are operated three times a day each at the stations.

Asked why it relocated the turntables, a Tobu Railway official said it was for “preserving and making full use of the rail industry’s culturally important properties.”

The revolving platform at Kinugawa-Onsen Station is in an open space in front of the station, allowing anyone to easily watch it in action.

Many people gather when it is time for a locomotive that has arrived at the station to turn. Upon seeing the train running toward the platform with a whistle while steam shoots out, spectators let out shouts of surprise.

“It was the first time for me to watch a train being turned,” said a women from Saitama Prefecture. “I was really impressed to see a steam locomotive up close.”

An older man said, “I feel nostalgic because I had not seen a train turned for decades.”

In Minakami, neighboring Gunma Prefecture, there is a turntable for buses at Gokan Station on the JR Joetsu Line.

As the space around the bus stop is too narrow for large vehicles to turn, Kan-etsu Transportation Co. buses use the rotary platform to change direction. Use of such turntables for buses is rare in Japan.

When a bus enters the station grounds, it heads for the turntable. The driver opens the window and pulls a strap to turn the vehicle so that it can reach the stop.

“Were it not for the turntable, we would have to make a K-turn by turning the wheel in one direction and then the other, repeatedly, in the narrow space,” said bus driver Yoshitaro Imai. “It's very helpful both for boosting safety and sparing the drivers of trouble.”

Still, he noted that pulling the strap is sometimes difficult.

“I occasionally struggle to grab the strap when the wind is strong,” Imai said with a smile.