Hikyo eki 秘境駅
Koboro station in Hokkaido
Don't get lost!
In recent years some Japanese stations have begun to disappear - they haven't been completely consumed by nature, but they have become less and less frequented over time: they are called hikyo eki, or 'ghost stations'. Discovering a hikyo eki is to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, in the heart of nature, and far from the chaos of the city. You have to go alone, make it an adventure like the Japanese do. Here, time stands still...
What is a hikyo eki?
There are certain criteria a station must meet to qualify as one of these secluded 'ghost stations':
- It's a train station you can only reach by train. There is no road access by car, and no stationmaster.
- There is a timeless atmosphere.
- Very few trains stop there.
- There are very few people - or none - near the station.
- The old station is steeped in history and has a uniqueness that sets it apart from others.
A hikyo eki will also have a very low "natural" attendance (not counting tourists and other enthusiasts who come specifically to discover it), up to 10 users daily.
The most interesting hikyo eki
- Koboro eki
On the JR Muroran line in Hokkaido, between Sapporo and Oshamanbe, Koboro station, considered the best of its kind, is located between two tunnels in an 80 meters long open-air section of track. There is no other way to get there. Some trains stop there every day, at the rate of 4 nobori trains (going to Muroran and Sapporo) and only 2 kudari (going the other way to Oshamanbe and Hakodate).
The station was first created here because trains crossed between the two tunnels, but of course there are no users. It was scheduled for removal in March 2016, and following this announcement many people went to visit and take pictures. The local community and hikyo eki enthusiasts finally asked Japan Rail not to shut it down. A reprieve was granted until March 2017, then March 2018, renegotiated each year. If you want to visit it, do so quickly! Your visit will also help ensure the station's future.
- Omori eki
Located on the Oigawa Railway line in Shizuoka, this station was built during the foundation of a nearby dam, and village also built for the occasion. Today it has all has been abandoned, and there is no longer any road. Attendance was 0.4 person per day in 2014.
It's a place close to nature, in the mountains. It's not unusual to see wild animals like monkeys and bears. An old storage room is available for visitors to Omori eki, to protect them in case they come across some of the more unfriendly wildlife!
- Okoba eki
Located on the JR Hisatsu Line to Hitoyoshi and Kumamoto on Kyushu Island, this station has attracted train enthusiasts for a long time. Firstly because it's a "switchback" railway, that is, a section of the line where to go up a steep hill the trains must travel in reverse for a short distance. The Hisatsu line then loops around Mount Okoba, rising up to 500 meters above sea level. The combination of the two phenomena is a rarity.
There is also the fact that this station is very old: built in 1909, its beautiful building is made of wood and very well preserved. It was a stopping place for the steam locomotives of the day to refuel. The nearest village is located more than an hour away!
To get there, the Isaburo-Shinpei tourist train was put into service. It stops for a few minutes at Okoba station.
- Kowada eki
Located on the JR Iida in Hamamatsu, there are no roads leading to Kowada eki. The mailman comes to deliver mail to a house 15 minutes from the train station. The same goes for the police who make their rounds there. It's an hour's walk to the nearest village, where all the houses have long been abandoned. The suspension bridge leading to it is broken. In short, apart from making a horror film, there is not much to do there!
- Tsubojiri eki
Located on the JR Dosan Line to Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, only around 2 people per day use this station. The train station itself is just a small wooden building. Again, it's a switchback line, one of only two on Shikoku. On one side there's a forest, on the other a river. And trains that pass at 100km/h.
It's a 30-minute walk to the nearest village, and it will take you 20 minutes to get the main road on a difficult path with venomous snakes at your heels.
The best way to visit is with one of the nice tourist trains that JR Shikoku sets up during the summer months.
Some tips before visiting a ghost station
Don't go to one of these hikyo eki without being prepared - it's necessary to know the timetables of the trains that stop there. You can have a window of 45 minutes between two trains, or stay there for several hours, or even stay overnight. Know that you won't have any assistance nearby, and sometimes there's no telephone signal to call for help if needed.