The Muroran Main Line 130th anniversary commemorative train that’s creating links – ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project

The ‘Kiha 40’ locomotive that travelled from Asahikawa to Muroran on September 24, 2022 (photo courtesy of the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee)

In 1892, the Muroran–Iwamizawa stretch of the Hokkaido Colliery and Railway Company’s railway line opened, and coal began to be transported to the port of Muroran from the coal-producing Sorachi region. Over 130 years have passed since then, and now new interactions are developing along the line and overseas.
Words by Ishida Mie
Photographs by Ida Yukitaka
Translation by Xene Inc.

A commemorative train in memorial year

2022 saw the 150th anniversary of the opening of Japan's first railway, and also the memorial year celebrating the 140th anniversary of the opening of Hokkaido's first government-operated Horonai Railway line in its entirety. In the same year, a commemorative ‘Muroran Main Line 130th Anniversary Commemorative Trip’ was implemented on the Muroran Main Line, which was celebrating the 130th anniversary of the opening of the Muroran–Iwamizawa stretch of the line. The project was planned by the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee.

The committee chartered a JR Hokkaido train for a full day, adjusted services between the regular schedule and included various projects along the way, attracting approximately 100 participants from throughout Japan. We asked Yano Tomohiro, secretary general of the Executive Committee, about how the event got started.

“We have been helping to pass down aspects of the railway culture for some time, by utilizing the Ozora Limited Express (Kiha 183) that is preserved at the D51 Station Abira roadside rest area. Oiwake in the town of Abira is where the Muroran Main Line and the Sekisho Line intersect. These lines supported Japan's industrial revolution from the Meiji era (1868-1912) to the 1960s. We have always wanted to highlight this history and heritage, and convey the appeal of the areas along the line. The 130th anniversary of the Muroran Main Line was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The plan conceived by Yano and a dozen or so likeminded people was selected by the Hokkaido Tourism Organization as a ‘project to promote the creation of tourist attractions utilizing the appeal of the local area’ in 2022, meaning a budget to implement the project could be expected.

Ishikawa Shigeaki, representative of the executive committee, recalls, “It was June 2022 when we learned of the selection. We immediately started coordinating with the railway company and asked them to consider a feasible date to implement the project by October.” The response was a single date – September 24, 2022 – and hurried preparations began for that date.

What does the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ project name mean?
During the heyday of coal transportation in the 1950s, freight wagons arrived at the Muroran Port loaded with coal from coal-producing areas. The coal was transferred to special ships, and the empty wagons headed back to the coal-producing areas. The sides of the black wagons were inscribed with the words, ‘not outside Hokkaido,’ indicating that they were to be used only in Hokkaido, and not be shipped outside the region. By using such unfamiliar power words, the executive committee hoped to stimulate the interest of those who knew little about that period.

Executive Committee representatives Ishikawa Shigeaki (left) and Yano Tomohiro

A poster in the image of the coal wagons of the time

Involving the people along the line and collecting many memories

The first thing the committee members did was to explain the purpose of the project to the local government offices in the four cities and four towns through which the commemorative train would travel – as well as to tourist associations, companies that produce and sell ekiben (boxed lunches for passengers that are sold at stations), long-established confectioners, and steam locomotive preservation groups – with the aim of working together to make the project a success. “We visited these places many times,” says Yano. Thanks to their efforts, the committee members gained the cooperation of many people, and were convinced that the project would lead to future activities. This was a major achievement of operating the commemorative train.

At each station, related parties unfurled ‘Welcome’ banners, setting the celebratory mood. Local sake and other specialty products were also sold, much to the delight of participants from throughout Japan. At Tomakomai Station, a company that used to sell ekiben made a limited-edition boxed lunch, and even found the tray from which the ekibens used to be sold, and brought it to the station. These boxed lunches were included in the price of the tour, and participants were given a ticket to exchange for the ekiben along the way. The company also sold an assortment of nostalgic confections that have been popular since the days when coal trains ran along the line.

“When we told them about the commemorative train, the old stores and residents who knew the trains back in the day, were very happy. I think we were able to complete this project by collecting lots of memories from everyone,” says Yano, whose words leave a lasting impression.

Custom-made headmarks were also created (photo courtesy of the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee)

Boxed lunches were distributed to recreate the sales that were conducted from the platforms (photo courtesy of the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee)

An assortment of confections from famous confectioners along the line, which were sold in the train (photo courtesy of the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee)

Encounters with Taiwan and Thailand

In addition to the commemorative train, the executive committee implemented two other projects in 2022.
One was ‘Linking Oiwake,’ a project in which an online exchange connected Oiwake Station in the town of Abira, with Oiwake Station in Taiwan.
The other project was an online exchange meeting to honor the preservation and restoration of the Kiha 183 series of locomotives in Japan and Thailand (abbreviated as ‘Thailand-Hokkaido Kiha 183’)

“Lots of things have been linked in the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project,” says Ishikawa. The yellow ‘Not outside Hokkaido’ letters that disappeared about 50 years ago are once again under the spotlight, and are shining brightly once more.

Scenes from the ‘Linking Oiwake’ online exchange (photo courtesy of the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee)

Scenes from the ‘Thailand-Hokkaido Kiha 183’ online exchange (photo courtesy of the ‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project Executive Committee)

‘Not outside Hokkaido!?’ Railway Project

Japan Heritage ‘Tan-Tetsu-Ko’ (coal railway port)

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