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.
On the island of Hokkaido, the Kyu-shirataki train station’s last remaining patron—a student—has graduated from high school.
The story of a defunct train station in Hokkaido, Japan, that stayed open so that its sole patron—a teenage girl—could commute to school has come to a bittersweet end: Eighteen-year-old Kana Harada graduated from high school last Friday, March 25, and the Kyu-shirataki station—where she boarded a train every morning to travel to school, about 35 minutes away—has finally closed.
"I got on and off this train for the last three years, and this station's presence has become something I have taken for granted," Harada told Reuters in January. "I do feel sad to think it will disappear." Over this time, trains have serviced the Kyu-shirataki station just once per morning, to pick up Harada, and a few times in the afternoon to drop off passengers. Two other stations in the region, Kami-Shirataki and Shimo-Shirataki, have also recently closed due to low ridership as Japan reaches the end of its fiscal year.
This past weekend, Japan debuted its first-ever bullet train service to the northern island of Hokkaido, with tickets selling out fast. The train passes through the undersea Seikan tunnel, one of the longest in the world, and connects parts of Hokkaido to mainland Japan. It’s all part of the country’s plan to expand its popular network of bullet trains to the farthest corners of the country, where ski resorts and scenic landscapes make them popular tourist destinations.
Even as Japan’s high-speed rail takes the global spotlight, locals are holding on to the memories of the country’s traditional railroad system. The Kyu-shirataki station was built in the mid-1900s to help kids commute to schools, according to Business Insider. And when news spread about the station’s last student passenger, a local blogger reported that the country’s train otakus, or trainspotters, created a problem for the high-schooler when they flocked to the station to snap photos.
When a reporter for Rocket News 24 visited the station on its closing day, a handful of local residents had gathered to watch the last train pull in. They were greeted with treats from staff members and with large banners that read, “ Kyu-shirataki station, 69 years, Thank You!”