Japan is known for its high-speed bullet trains and old-fashioned locomotives, which still tug at our hearts. But, nothing compares to the attention this life-sized Thomas the Tank Engine has received since last summer.

The happy-faced blue locomotive has been a huge hit, with children and adults riding the fully-working version of Thomas through the stunning mountains and resorts of Shizuoka Prefecture.

In order to maintain interest in steam trains and beef up tourism, owners of the Oigawa Railway worked with the Sony Creative Products distribution company to make an identical version of the beloved children’s character, complete with his trademark white smoke and whistle. (Watch the video and read more below)

Well known for having unusual and vintage locomotives, Oigawa built the Thomas replica over the shell of a C11-227 steam locomotive. Another steam engine was used to create Thomas’ Japanese buddy Hiro.

Spokesman Tsuguto Nishi told the Daily Mail, “I am not surprised Thomas and his friends are also present here, after all, they come from the island of Sodor, and Japan is an island, as well, with beautiful countryside.”

Making his debut in 1946, Thomas was the most popular character in the U.K.-based railway series books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher.

British television producer Britt Allcroft saw the books in 1979 and soon created the stop-animation phenomenon called, Thomas & Friends. Voiced by the Beatles’ Ringo Starr and comedian George Carlin, the children’s show became a worldwide hit.

Thomas and his pals remain extremely popular, with theme parks in Japan and Europe, and a brand new “Thomas Land” opening this summer in the United States. Backers are hopeful that the newest version, located in Edaville, Massachssetts, will become a national attraction with an attendance of over 1 million yearly.

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