Tobu Railway Co. began operating its first steam train service in 51 years on Thursday, on a short stretch of track in the tourist site of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, eastern Japan.

A train pulled by a small C11-type steam locomotive will cover a 12-kilometer section between Shimoimaichi and Kinugawa-Onsen stations on the Kinugawa Line mainly on weekends and holidays. The journey will take about 35 minutes.

Ahead of the service's launch, an opening ceremony was held at Shimoimaichi Station with transport minister Keiichi Ishii among the attendees.

"We hope the steam train will grow into a permanent tourist attraction," Tobu Railway President Yoshizumi Nezu said in his remarks.

The Tokyo-based railway operator abolished its steam locomotive service in 1966 but decided to revive it now with the aim of revitalizing the Nikko and Kinugawa areas, whose main tourist spots include the Nikko Toshogu shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The locomotive was leased from Hokkaido Railway Co., with other railway operators providing passenger cars and turntables. The turntables are installed at Shimoimaichi and Kinugawa-Onsen stations.

The train is named "Taiju," and a gold-rimmed signboard at the front of the locomotive features the name in large kanji characters.