Japan’s elderly rail station saviours

A single-platform station in the Japanese village Chikugo Oishi is almost as far away from the country’s iconic high-speed Shinkansen routes as it is possible to get.

Situated on the southern island of Kyushu on the Kyudai mainline, which is single line throughout apart from a number of passing loops, the unmanned station once had a passing loop and bay along with a station master who took great care of the station and its passengers.

Although the station staff have long gone, the station remains an important part of community life, especially for village’s elderly population who meet once a month to clean and maintain the one remaining platform and station buildings.

The waiting room bears more resemblance to a toy shop with numerous games and books, including Thomas the Tank Engine, all donated by local people for children to play with as they wait for their trains.

On the first day of each month around 20 people gather at the station and, during the winter months, begin by holding a planning meeting around a wood burning fire just outside of the station. The group discuss what work needs doing and who will do it. This can range from pruning trees in the station garden to sweeping the platforms and tidying up the waiting room.

The waiting room bears more resemblance to a toy shop with numerous games and books, including Thomas the Tank Engine, all donated by local people for children to play with as they wait for their train. On the platform passengers can wait on donated chairs and seats.

Despite being located in a very rural area there is a train each way every hour, even on Sundays, between 05.30 to 22.30 and although there are no station staff vandalism is unheard of.

It is possible to purchase a ticket from one of the village shops and fare evasion is extremely rare. The line is worked mainly by one-man operated single-car trains where the driver both drives and checks tickets as passengers leave the train. If a passenger ‘forgets’ to show the driver their ticket upon leaving the train the driver will announce over the loud speaker attached to the front of the train that they need to return and show their ticket. Such is the social embarrassment of this happening in a rural village where everybody knows each other it acts as a natural deterrent.

Once all station work has been completed the volunteers make their way to the former staff hall and enjoy a chat and cup of green tea before planning for next month’s meeting.

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