Tokyo (AFP) - A full-size Thomas the Tank Engine will steam through Japanese tea fields this summer in the first service of its kind in East Asia, a railway official said Thursday.
Oigawa Railway, a small operator in Shizuoka prefecture in central Japan, has converted a regular steam locomotive into the anthropomorphic British creation.
The train service, which will run for three months from July, has proved popular with Thomas buffs and all tickets have already sold out, the company said.
Known in Japan as "Kikansha Thomas" (Steam Train Thomas), the blue engine was created in the early 20th century by a British clergyman and became the star of a series of books.
It transitioned to television in the 1980s, where it was originally narrated by former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
Thomas, whose adventures frequently revolve around a moral message such as the importance of honesty or friendship, remains a fixture on Japanese television and has spawned a huge volume of merchandise.
Replica Thomas engines have previously appeared in several other countries around the globe, from the United States to the Netherlands.