Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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The train station and the high school girl: what’s the truth?

It was a little story about Japan Railway keeping a tiny station in a remote part of Hokkaido open for three years just so that one high school girl can get to school and back.

Unsurprisingly, the report, posted by Chinese broadcaster CCTV on its Facebook page, went viral. People were delighted, in this day of business efficiency and ruthless

Unsurprisingly, the report, posted by Chinese broadcaster CCTV on its Facebook page, went viral. People were delighted, in this day of business efficiency and ruthless cut-backs, to read of an instance where humanity triumphed over corporate calculations.

Readers around the world were drawn to the story with headlines such as ‘Japanese train firm goes extra mile for single passenger’, ‘In Japan the railway station works for the sake of one’, and ‘Schoolgirl is Japan train’s only passenger’.

But then the naysayers got going. And as it turns out, there were, sadly, some inaccuracies in the CCTV report.

Kyushirataki Station

The station where the high-school girl boards the train is Kyu-shirataki Station and not Kami-Shirataki Station. And the decision to close down three stations, not just Kami-Shirataki Station, was made on 21 July 2015, not three years ago.

Announcing its 2016 timetable, Japan Rail Hokkaido said the three stations –   Kami-Shirataki, Kyu-shirataki, and Shimo-shirataki – would close in March 2016 as there were too few passengers using them.

The March closure does, however, coincide with the expected graduation of 17-year-old Harada Kana from Hokkaido Engaru Highschool.  So when Kana stops school, so will the train stop calling at Kyu-shirataki Station.

Harada Kana
Harada Kana

For three years, schoolgirl Kana’s daily routine is to catch the 7.15am train from Kyu-shirataki Station. She is the only regular passenger. Other residents in the area occasionally join her, but there is just a few scattered households and demand for the ride into town is low.
On boarding the train, Kana takes her seat amongst her schoolmates who got on board at earlier stations. Most of the passengers, indeed, are students at the Engaru Highschool.  The train has just two carriages.

Interestingly, it’s a tradition for year one and two students of the high school to occupy the first carriage while the third year students take the second carriage.

Daily one hour ride to school along Sekihoku Main Line

It takes 5 minutes for her parents to send her from home to the train station. Although another nearby train station, Shirataki Station, just 6 kilometres from Kana’s home, also has a trip at 9 am.

But even if she manages to board the train at that timing, she would not be able to reach in time for the first lesson.

Once, Kana failed to board the only train from her station, and her parents had to drive her all the way to school. She said, “At that time, the school just started, so I was not used to waking up early, but now is no longer a problem.”

As there is only a trip for her to get back home, she occasionally has to run to catch the last train after her club activities and would give a bitter smile to train station staff who catch her doing that.

She said that she was disappointed to hear that the station would be obsolete after her graduation and even feel “lonely” from it.

A guestbook at the Kyu-Shirataki Station, with a note by a railway fan that Kana was spotted
A newspaper cutting of the story affixed to the notice board of the train station.Source

Her interesting story was reported by Asahi Shinbun on 7 January 2015 and went largely unnoticed until the recent hype over it.

While It is not explicitly clear if Japan Railways, when it made the decision on the date of the closure of the three stations, had the school terms in mind.

Let’s assume it did. We need these little stories of humanity and care for the individual amidst the reports of the relentless pursuit of profit and productivity.
(sourced from Japanese news reports.)

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