Japan’s extensive rail and public transportation systems makes travel simple just about anywhere in the country. It’s even possible to visit relatively out-of-the way locations by transferring from larger trains to smaller local lines.
While urban stations like Tokyo Eki (“Eki” means “station” in Japanese) often contain numerous platforms and many kinds of trains (including the high-speed shinkansen, or “bullet trains”), stations get significantly smaller as travelers move into the countryside.
During my research trip to Japan in October and November of 2016, I spent the night at Tatsueji, a temple on the traditional pilgrimage route around Shikoku, Japan’s third major island. Pilgrims generally approach the temple on foot, but since I had only a single day, I traveled by train from the city of Tokushima (the prefectural capital) to Tatsue Station – the closest depot to Tatsueji.
The trip from Tokushima to Tatsue Eki (Station) takes about 30 minutes by local train. Tatsue is south of Tokushima, on the eastern side of Shikoku, in a small farming community. The station itself consists of a single platform and two tracks – unsurprisingly numbered 1 and 2:
Upon arrival, visitors walk down the platform, across the tracks, and through a one-room station building that has a ticket window and an automated ticket machine. Although I didn’t spend much time at the station during my visit (little more than I needed to walk through the building and out the other side) the ticket window was not manned, and showed no signs of being staffed on a regular basis. This, too, was not surprising; most of the people who ride the train to and from Tatsue Station appeared to be locals using rail passes, rather than tourists in need of aid.
A number of bicycles were parked around the entrance to Tatsue Eki, most of them unlocked and unchained. Theft is less of a problem in Japan – especially in rural areas – than in the United States, and the locals apparently felt comfortable leaving their bicycles unguarded at the station while commuting to work or to school.
When traveling to local stations in Japan, it’s wise to know your stop, and where to go once you arrive. Many smaller stations are unmanned, or staffed sporadically, and although the signs are often printed in both English and Japanese, depending on English alone can be tricky in rural areas. (In urban areas, almost everything is written in English, and English-speaking help is often available.)
Despite this, visitors should take advantage of the rail system and visit rural Japan – not only are there many lovely temples and sites of interest in the countryside, but rural Japan has exciting opportunities for hikers and bird watchers, as well as restaurants offering delicious regional specialties.
Have you ever visited a train station this small? Do you think it looks fun, or scary?