Tokyo’s train system is both efficient and convenient, but using it is often anything but pleasant due to the network’s truly monstrous number of daily passengers. Outside the capital, however, train travel can be a very different beast altogether, and this is particularly true in rural areas, where the journeys are often slow and peaceful, making them an enjoyable part of the day, rather than a necessary evil one simply has to endure.
The only trouble with such a relaxing experience is that a key part of the peacefulness is down to a distinct lack of other travellers, making many routes financially unsustainable. This being Japan, the majority continue to run at least a limited service, as they provide essential transportation for students and the elderly in smaller, less well connected communities. But inevitably there are limits, and over the years a large number of lines have already been closed. For a couple of examples, earlier this year I photographed an abandoned route and its environs just north of Tokyo, and prior to that, the lovely old stations of a disused line in Hokkaido.
In fact, Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is at the sharp end of this issue, as the perfect storm of a shrinking population and urban migration have already resulted in a multitude of line closures, with many more set to follow. Not that this is a particularly recent problem, as one that disappeared just over 30 years ago was the Shibetsu Line. It opened way back in December 1933, but the service sadly ended on April 30th 1989. The tracks are now overgrown, but the platform where its branch line started from is amazingly still intact due to the station also being part of another, somewhat busier route. Understandably it’s a little forlorn looking, especially so in the rain, but at the same time it boasts a quiet, melancholic beauty all its own.