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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Take The Last Train From Kyu-Shirataki

When it comes Japan’s rail system, there are many a thing which makes the non-Japanese marvel, usually in awe.

There’s the wonderful shinkansen bullet trains and other now beautiful high-speed trains.

There’s the white-gloved  line operators who help cram passengers into rush hour subway cars - and no one complains.

There’s the fact that Japan’s rail service is run on time with few delays.

There’s the fact that when a suicide does the act in front of a train, relatives of the deceased must pay the cost for the ‘clean-up’ and delay.

And then there’s the fact that one train line operator decided to keep a train station open just because one single person required the use of it for their daily trek to and from school.

I have always said that I would continue to write this blog as long as there was a single person who wanted to read it (I know I have that)… but it’s not like it costs me money… just an hour or two every day to write. And it’s my pleasure.

But… in the case of Japan Rail - (actually the Hokkaido Railway Company known as JR Hokkaido) to those who live in Japan, it had actually kept a train station open on the Sekihoku Main Line in Engaru, Hokkaido, and made its twice-a-day stop at the station just to cater to a single passenger.

It didn't do it because of nepotism or payment of a blood debt, but rather because JR Hokkaido felt that it was the right thing to do.

The station was opened on February 11, 1947 under the Hokkaido Railway Company, but after the privatization of Japanese National Railways (JNR) on April 1, 1987, the station came under the control of JR Hokkaido.

At Kyu-Shirataki eki (Kyu-Shirataki train station, 旧白滝駅) (see image above taken in 2009 - from Wikipedia) in Japan’s big northern island of Hokkaido, the train actually stops a few times a day: once to pick up a female high school student to take her to school, once to drop off the girl at the end of the school day, and a few other times after that.

Wait... what's with the few other times it stopped... could it be there were actually other riders? Yup... a total of 10, it seems.

Dammit, why did I go and look that up? I destroyed the romantic notion of the story.

Oh well... let's pretend it's just the lone female student.

The station's name translates to Old Shirataki... it was an unmanned station, but had a closed room building to wait in...   

A small, rural part of Hokkaido, a few years ago JR Hokkaido thought about closing the station because there simply wasn’t any ridership except for a few students who needed it to get to and fro school.... but each year more and more students graduated high school and no new younger students arose to take their place.

At the beginning of the school year in April of 2015, there was only the single rider… closing in March 2017 when the student graduated... and no new student riders arose to take her place.

While it is true that there were more than the lone female student who used the train, she was the only student.

So, when she graduated, JR Hokkaido closed the station because well... despite the needs of the other nine people, it did value the education opportunity of the lone student at a higher premium.  That's what's cool.

While I am unsure if any can blame the lack of young students requiring a train on the fact that Japan’s birth rate is dropping to negative numbers—you can’t… rural areas in damn near every country are suffering as more and more young people who grow up in rural areas, leave and head for the local city.

The people who remain grow old, and towns and villages and hamlets grow smaller… and smaller… and smaller.

Anyhow, what we are left with after JR Hokkaido finally closes service to the Kyu-Shirataki eki, is a wonderful taste in our mouth… how JR said screw the almighty yen, and let’s just do what is right for people in this area, and especially for the last female student to use it to get an education.

Man… I sure hope that student is off to university and does something special.

Eww… I hope she can afford to go, if she’s coming from a shrinking rural hometown.

As for those other people who used the train station... let's hope they found their way.

Kyu-Shirataki eki closed following the last day of services on March 25, 2016, and was demolished in October of the same year.

By the way, along with that station, JR Hokkaido also closed Shimo-Shirataki Station, Kami-Shirataki Station, and Kanehana Station due to low ridership.   

Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks, Matthew!

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