Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Trains here make only a few stops—when a lone high-school student leaves for school, and when class is over.
女子高生一人しか利用者がいない駅、✌( 'ω' )✌最高～ pic.twitter.com/NzYiDaUvCG— はたらくキツネ (@foxnumber6) December 31, 2015
For years, there’s been just one passenger who regularly waits at the Kyu-Shirataki* train station, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan: A high-school girl, on her way to class. Trains stop there only a few times a day—once to pick up the girl for school and a few times after the school day is over.
It sounds like a Hayao Miyazaki film. But, according to CCTV News, Japan Railways—the group that operates the country’s railway network—has kept the underused station open for years for a good reason.
Ridership at the Kyu-Shirataki station and a few neighboring ones had dramatically fallen because of the remote location, and freight service had ended there as well. But students depend on the train for transit, and parents asked that the company keep the station open for their children. Japan Railways will keep operating the station until March, when the fiscal year ends—and when this teen is expected to graduate, according to the Asahi Shimbun.*
People are tipping their hats to the Japanese government for making education a top priority. “Why should I not want to die for a country like this when the government is ready to go an extra mile just for me,” one commenter wrote on CCTV’s Facebook page. “This is the meaning of good governance penetrating right to the grassroot level. Every citizen matters. No Child left behind!”
Others, like the creator behind this YouTube video, grieve the struggling railways of rural Japan. With the country’s record-low birthrate, aging population, and the threat of losing a third of its population by 2060, Japan faces a number of crises including a surplus of vacant housing and a shrinking workforce. The nation’s railroad system is being hit by these shifts.
Japan’s impressively efficient high-speed rails have continued to expand to the outskirts of the country, rendering many of Japan’s older, low-tech railways obsolete. Kyu-Shirataki station, for example, sits in the town of Engaru in a rural part of Hokkaido, which lost at least 20 rail lines in the past few decades, according to Fortune.
But if this story of a young girl and her special connection to the Kyu-Shirataki station is any indicator, Japan’s disappearing rural railroads will be remembered for their service to even the most remote parts of the country.
12/24 石北本線 旧白滝駅 数年前にも訪問した白滝へ。この駅の唯一の利用者の高校生が来春卒業のため、この駅も来春に廃止。この日は高校生とその取材のためNHKの方がいました。古い待合室の裸電球がまた何とも言えない。 pic.twitter.com/zmHACS3Dlo— きこう (@kikou9186) December 26, 2015
*CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that Japan Railways decided three years ago to keep the station open until the girl graduates, and that the closure will coincide with the end of the company’s fiscal year. The post also previously misidentified the Kyu-Shirataki as Kami-Shirataki station.