A mystical, hidden place with only two trains a day: a secret gem or a portal to another world?
If you’ve been on a country train in Japan, you’ve probably seen it small roadside stations built more of trees than of cement, with barren platforms through which many trains pass, except for most local ones. Or maybe not; if you blink you will probably miss them.
Our Japanese-speaking reporter Seiji Nakazawa spotted one while traveling to the city of Oshamambe on Hokuto, a limited express train that runs between Sapporo and Otaru in northern Hokkaido Prefecture. As he stared out the window, watching the passing landscapes, he caught a glimpse of a strange station that flashed past him.
It wasn’t just that it was a small, empty station that made Seiji uncomfortable. The point was that the station was lying down between two tunnels in a mountainous region. Looking out the window, Seiji was surprised as they shot out of the tunnel, through the station, and then back into another tunnel. The only thing Seiji had time to see was a dilapidated sign that made him almost doubt what he saw.
When he came to Oshamambe and investigated the matter, he found out that it was a fairly famous secluded station on the JR Muroran Line called Koboro Station.
But as Seiji pointed out, the station is surrounded by mountains, with a cliff in the back and the ocean in front, so the place was inaccessible either by car or on foot. Which means the only way out is…
…was nearby a local train that leaves Oshamambe only twice a day. Although there are actually four trains leaving Oshamambe Station and heading towards Gohoro, the 5:44 and 6:38 trains do not stop there and only pass through it. The only trains that stop at Koboro leave at 3:34 PM and 7:28 PM
Boarding the train at 7:28 p.m. meant arriving at night, which would not be good for taking photos, so Seiji had no choice but to board the train at 3:34 p.m.
▼ By the way, the price of a one-way ticket was 880 yen (US$6.44).
Seiji arrived at 15:50. The fact that he was only three stations from Oshamambe station was the only saving grace for this place, considering how late Seiji had arrived. In the middle of the mountains, 3:50 p.m. was approaching dusk.
Seiji was surprised to see five people boarding the train he had just left at Koboro. After thinking briefly about how they got there before him, he guessed that the trains coming from the opposite direction were probably leaving early, so it may be easier to travel to Koboro from Muroran.
After orienting himself, Seiji looked around and saw that the station really was sandwiched between two tunnel entrances, like a puzzle piece inserted into the perfect spot. The platform was very narrow and looked more like a passing runway than an actual platform.
With its simple design, two tunnel entrances on either side, and the fact that one side of the station was leaning against a steep mountain, Seiji felt rather trapped, as if the two tunnels and the mountain were the sides of a box.
The open side of the box was on the same side as the platform for Oshamambe, a small hole in the trees where the toilet was and… some kind of station building?
So much for the right station. Seiji didn’t think it was particularly scenic or pretty but found a plastic box on the platform for Muroran that contained it 12 station guestbooks. There was also doujinshi, or fan-made manga. After traveling to Koboro and seeing how difficult it was to get there, Seiji really felt the love of the otaku train that came all the way to leave their messages in the guest books.
The next train back to Oshamambe was at 5:34, so Seiji had it about an hour and a half to explore. He looked around…
And found two arrow signs pointing in opposite directionsone for “Iwaya Kannon”temple and one for Buntaro Beach. Maybe there were places with nice views? Seiji supposed he probably only had time to see one, so he headed for Iwaya Kannon.
It ended up continuing serious trip to the mountains along a narrow path, wide enough for one person, with a steep drop on one side. Seiji occasionally glimpsed the ocean far away at the bottom of the cliff, which made his legs tremble. If he made a single mistake, he would fall to his death. It was really scary.
Tired of treacherous, remote mountain paths leading to hidden places to explore, he breathed a sigh of relief when he finally reached Iwaya Kannon. It was near a small sandy beach, sandwiched between a barren mountain and a cliff face.
It was on the side of the mountain a small cave where the Iwaya Kannon statues were located. It is said to have been carved and hidden here by the Buddhist monk Enku in 1666.
The year 1666 would place Japan right at the beginning of the Edo period, the era of the Shogun. This was long before the development of Hokkaido, so the fact that someone came here to the farthest corners of 17th century Japan and placed the Kannon statues in a cave is an impressive “I’m glad it wasn’t me” kind of thing.
Honestly, the fact that someone managed to come here during the Edo period is impressive. Just getting here in the age of modern transport is hard enough – imagine going to such a place!
As a result, Seiji began to wonder why build a station in a place like this? He couldn’t stop thinking about it, so he asked at the Toyoura City Hall, who manages Koboro Station.
Toura City Hall: “Apparently there was a Koboro station once a signaling station.“
Seji: “What is a “signal station”?
Toura City Hall: “A place built to facilitate the movement of trains. In those days, steam trains that blew smoke were not allowed to stop in tunnels, so it was a safe place for them to stop when another one passed. Repair workers also used it. According to the documents found, the signaling station was built in 1943, but because fishermen lived nearby, they elevated it to the status of a station.
Seiji thought this was very interesting information. He saw remains of a bridge near Iwaya Kannonwhich may have been used by fishermen at that time.
Still, he couldn’t get over how far away this place was. By the time Seiji returned to the station from Iwaya Kannon, the sun had completely set behind the mountain, and Gohoro Station had become a faint point of light in the darkness. The “Koboro” sign in the light of a single lantern made the place even more mystical.
By the way, needless to say, it was quite a lot no telephone support anywhere in the area. Seiji could get one bar at times, but that was going in and out. It could barely load Softbank’s automatic homepage, not to mention apps like Twitter. Waiting for the train was long and boring.
It soon started raining and Seiji thought he heard sounds of festival music and drums coming from a short distance. He glanced at his watch – he had some time. “Maybe I’ll go look around…” he thought.
And we never saw him again.
Kidding! He wrote it from his desk in the office. true? Hey…has anyone seen Seiji?