A Railway that Continues to Live with the Community
The Kominato Railway runs from north to south across the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. Established in 1917, it has been operating for more than a century. The existing cars were introduced in 1961, and their two-tone color combination of bright orange and ivory contrasts beautifully with the surrounding greenery. The ambiance inside the one- or two-car trains is not nostalgic, but rather evokes a sense of the future. Visitors to the region are captivated by the sight of the cars as they pass, in vibrant contrast, through the lush green scenery.
"Spirited, Correct, and Strong" is the management philosophy of the Kominato Railway Company. “Spirited" conveys the company’s positive and forward-looking stance, and indicates expertise in operations. “Correct” is written 正 in Japanese, symbolizing adherence to ethical standards. “Strong” implies flexibility rather than brute power, representing the idea of continuity rather than fads. I greatly respect this philosophy and its values.
Ever since it was established, the Kominato Railway Company has sunk its roots deep and supported the local community as part of its management mission. According to Nobuaki Misonou, General Manager of the Railway Department, the company has always been on the leading edge, spearheading change for the region in each era. When television broadcasting first began, the company installed street-level TVs in waiting rooms at their station. In the pre-war days, it provided diesel-generated electricity to over ten local towns and villages. As a result, locally, “Kominato Railway” is synonymous with the concept of “a good company”. This region, once called Kazusa, is known for “Kazusa spirit”, which emphasizes mutual respect. The corporate culture of the Kominato Railway Company is a prime example of this local attitude.
The Boso Peninsula is a beautiful natural region featuring fault valleys and what are known as satoyama - areas surrounding human settlements comprising farmlands, irrigation ponds, secondary forests, plantation forests, and grasslands with diverse tree species. As one might expect, depopulation and aging of the population are issues. Passenger numbers using the Kominato Railway are also not favorable. Despite this, the railway is being carefully managed and diversified to protect its future. In collaboration with local residents, a project has been launched to revitalize the rural areas. On one hand, nanohana (rape blossoms) have been planted in abandoned fields, creating a new landscape with beautiful flowers lining the railway. And this gateway to mountain tourism has a "reverse development" approach. Trees and flowers replaced asphalt in front of Yoro Gorge Station, and a walking path has been created using recycled railroad ties.
A few years ago, a geological discovery was made along the Yoro River coast, downstream from the Yoro Gorge that proved the existence of a period of geomagnetic backflow from a fault that occurred approximately 770,000 years ago. This geological period was named the Chibanian Age, after Chiba Prefecture. During this period, the Earth's magnetic field reversed, something that occurs only every several hundred thousand years. I visited the Chiba stratum fault, which is exposed on a cliff along the Yoro River. My volunteer guide, using visual aids, explained that the bed of this chilly river is estimated to be roughly 790,000 years old.
The Boso Peninsula, just a short distance from Tokyo, is quickly becoming a hub of urban culture. Located near the train line, the Ichihara Lakeside Art Museum is a modern space that showcases thoughtfully curated exhibitions. The museum restaurant offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy delicious pizza while taking in the lakeside scenery. The facility's signage, designed by Yoshiaki Shikibe, a graphic designer known for his meticulous attention to detail, enhances the building's architectural charm.
The train cars’ interiors are also refined and refreshing. The seats in the car I boarded were light brown with a texture that was pleasant against my skin, filling me with a great sense of comfort, and the cleanliness was impeccable. The simplicity of this train is the antithesis of the lavish trains of late, but a journey agreeably enjoying the scenery outside the window, facing one another in comfort, is perfectly satisfying. It’s much more meaningful to appreciate the well-kept satoyama, rice paddies, and flower fields from the train window than to bask in a passenger cabin's luxury.
I stayed overnight at Marugayatsu, a refurbished traditional home situated about twenty minutes by car from the final stop, Kazusa-Nakano Station. It was a majestic old home built 200 years ago, but its skillful renovation made it very comfortable. Because it was the tail end of April, the cold had abated somewhat, and we enjoyed the chorus of the spring peepers as we sat around the campfire that had been prepared for us. Oddly enough, the alcohol didn’t seem to have any effect when consumed around the fire! As I gazed into the flames, thoughts of the future of Japan’s inns and lodgings swirled around my mind.