It’s summer again and that means the season for discovering very local countryside train lines! Here’s the Ichibata Taishasen (一畑電車大社線) running between Izumotaishamae and Kawato stations (出雲大社前駅-川跡駅). This line is actually just an off-shoot on the main Kita Matsue line that is very rural even in itself. This train and the terminus pictured here is famous for being the station closest to the famous Izumo Taisha. There used to be a line dedicated just to service the town of Izumo with a connection to Matsue City, the capital of Shimane Prefecture, the Taisha Line but it was cancelled in 1990, even before the end of the bubble economy. If you’ve been traveling around rural Japan you will have noticed that almost nothing has happened since 1991-1992, the famous lost decade of Japanese economy is now famously two lost decades. Still, the areas close to the main cities (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama) have fared better but it is still amazing to see how robustly the Japanese countryside has managed to withstand the death sentence meted out to most rural areas in North America and Europe. But I fear even the Japanese countryside will succumb to the final death blow with this TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Once Japan signs the agreement the last lifeline of the Japanese rural economy, the domestic market, will implode and that will be the end of all these cities and towns spread out over the country. If you will allow me to be political for a moment here, it is my opinion that the TPP is an even great threat to Japan than earthquakes and nuclear accidents. Once the agricultural sector is left defenseless from cheap imports there will be no reason to farm in Japan anymore, and with that the supporting businesses and civil society built around the farms will collapse. Many people fail to realize that Japan is essentially an agricultural society. You don’t need to venture far out from the cities to enter a countryside that in essence has remained the same for the last two to three thousand years. However, the TPP can still be stopped and I urge anyone with voting rights in the concerned countries to vote only for parties that are fundamentally opposed to the agreement.
Traveling around Japan I often meet idealistic young farmers who are putting their livelihoods on the line to keep the countryside of Japan alive but there is absolutely no chance of them being able to stand in the face of the TPP. And with them the rural train lines, like this one.
Visiting Saitama’s Chichibu City last month, I took these photos of one of the tiny little station on the Chichibu Main Line and a few trains from the Seibu Chichibu Line. It’s a classic small town country station, still relying heavily on human operators and not as automatic as the big Tokyo stations full of machines and automatic message systems. The station has a couple of station masters, a kiosk and a small udon and soba restaurants for the hungry traveler. There’s not all that many trains passing through here so every time I use this I have to spend quite some time waiting, so the food services help greatly! This is also an example of how the Japanese have structured their society to make unemployment as low as possible and focus on civic participation rather than maximizing economic returns on every invested yen. Take this station as an example, it employs at least 6 people and serve about 3700 passengers a day, in most developed countries this would be absolutely impossible. The little noodle restaurant can’t make more than a couple of hundred yen in profit every day but it employs two locals and serves the community with cheap and relatively healthy hot foods, which helps the station and provides a point of civic contact for everyone in the neighborhood and the passengers. The work at this station is not physically or mentally demanding, making it perfect for workers who for some reason or other wouldn’t be able to keep up with a younger or more active workplace while still allowing them to participate in the local economy by paying taxes and spending their earnings in the local community and keeping their families afloat. By having a purely trickle down, participatory economic system like this the Japanese civic society and economy becomes incredibly resilient. The owners of the restaurant don’t mind making almost no money at all on their investment as long as they can continue to serve the economy. The low value of the business will allow them the freedom of not having to sell it when they retire or pass on, the restaurant can just be transferred to the staff of another local who knows how to brew tea and cook noodles. It helps keep the older population active and mentally stimulated and reduces the need for older people to drain resources of society in retirement homes or activity centers.
This is a way of thinking about work, life, money, return on investments and profit that I would love to see replicated in the West, or rather brought back. In the west today, in the tragedy we see in Greece with European and US taxpayers (both the present workforce and those not yet born) bailing out the people and banks who made bad investments in a country that they invested in solely for the purpose of a slightly higher profit. Intra-state solidarity being tested when US Republican politicians have shouting matches who can condemn the European bailouts the most and while German ordinary citizens come to resent their Greek brothers and sisters to the south while in reality, they are actually bailing out their own banks and financial institutions. The Greek certainly are not getting any of that money. And so while the fate of millions are decided by people whose only goal in life is to maximize profits, here in Japan, we have a system that values civic participation, stability and work ethics above anything else. To me, this little noodle restaurant in a tiny station in a tiny town in remote place of Japan is as good as any symbol of what makes this country so great.
There’s been quite a few train related posts lately so here’s another one! In March this year I visited the Koganei park here in Tokyo for the first time and met this grand old Lady, a decommissioned type C57 train nicknamed 貴婦人, The Lady, that used to run in Asahikawa in Hokkaido until 1974. I have read somewhere that using today’s technology it would be impossible to build a locomotive like this. There’s still a few train lines operated around Japan just for the use of old style locomotives, all very popular with tourists. This train is open for visitors from March to November every year, so if you’re in the area, go have a look!
More photos, insanely boring photos, about how life goes on in Tokyo despite what foreign media is trying to make you think. Here’s two snap shots that illustrate the continuous efforts by companies, citizens and governments in Tokyo. The first is a shot from inside a Keio line train in traffic, as you can see there are no lights on inside! I was quite surprised when I first saw this but I guess every little bit helps. The second shot shows a pachinko parlor in Ikebukuro, shut closed, thank God. I think that they would have had to answer to a lot of angry people if they had been wasting energy on those mindless games. This photo is from the Monday after the quake.
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