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Release | Fumiko Magota

Unique railway related events are held at “The Home of Hikyo Stations ‘Horonobe’”

About one hour drive to south from the northernmost town in Hokkaido, Wakkanai City. There are eight JR stations in Horonobe Town, but seven of them are unmanned stations. The town works on railway tourism and attracts train geeks as “The Home of Hikyo Stations ‘Horonobe’”. 

幌延町で開催された秘境駅フェスタの一幕▲(The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall) 

The unmanned stations in Horonobe Town are Shimonuma Station, Kamihoronobe Station, Minamihoronobe Station, Yasuushi Station, Onoppunai Station, Nukanai Station, and Toikanbetsu Station. (From north) 

There used to be train staffs and customers, but because downtown moved and many people gave up farming, the number of houses and attractions near station became less and less. Stations became unrelated to most of the residents’s daily lives. 

For a long time, stations were deserted. 


As “The Home of Hikyo Stations” 

However, the situation has changed recently. There are people who are attracted to and call these stations “Hikyo stations” (meaning secluded stations), yes, they are train geeks! 

Because of the recent Hikyo stations boom, train geeks who travel around Hikyo stations started to use stations and rail lines. 

* Check the below articles about each station! 

- JR Soya Honsen Line hidden station tour - Part 1

- JR Soya Honsen Line hidden station tour - Part 2

The town recognized the situation and became to think how to make those people happier and use the stations for railway tourism. 

And after few months testing period, they started working on railway tourism as “The Home of Hikyo Station ‘Horonobe’” from two years ago. 

“Popporo Aikokai (Popporo Fan Club)” which support the activity was established by staffs of the town hall and added train geeks to “Chiiki Okoshi Kyorokutai (Community building club)” members. They challenge to many things to attract people to Horonobe. Such as plans to increase the use rail line, selling Hikyo station-related goods, checking travel notebooks put in each station, train photo contest and Hikyo station character contest, etc. 

By the way, “Popporo” is a coined word coming from “Kisha Poppo” (the sound of a locomotive in Japanese) + Horonobe. 

幌延町の駅のキャッチフレーズ表▲There are papers put on each station about stations’ catch phrases and attractions around the stations. 

幌延町の鉄道グッズ▲Horonobe Town original train goods such as mobile phone cleaner using motifs of train signs and mouse pads. 

幌延町糠南駅のキャラクターぬかにゃん▲“Nukanyan”, who won the Hikyo Station Character Contest and became the character of Nukanan Station. She is adorable… Nukanan Station is famous for using Yodo Storage for its waiting room. (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall) 

糠南駅▲For your information, above is the waiting room. 


“Hikyo Station Festival” welcomes over 200 visitors two years in a row 

“Hikyo Station Festival” was held two years in a row from 2015. Over 200 visitors from all over Japan participated in the festival on both years. 

At “The World Hikyo Station Symposium” in 2016, ex-railroad worker Tatsuhiko Tomioka, who opened a guesthouse “Teshioyayoi Station“ which looks like a station building in the ruins of Teshioyayoi Station of JR Shinmei Line on the opening day of Hokkaido Shinkansen, gave a talk. Also a talk show of Yusuke Minamida, who is a celebrity manager and member no. 004 of “Tamori Train Club”, and Kazumi Hisano, a female train geek free announcer, was held. 

幌延町の秘境駅フェスタのパネルディスかっしょんの様子▲The panel discussion of “Hikyo Station Festival 2016 in Horonobe” (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall) 

The main event of the second day was “Walking Challenge to Horonobe Town stations Kiha / Toho From Horonobe Station”, which challenges to go around all the stations in Horonobe Town using foot and local trains. However, the train did not operate because of the bad weather.

In a hurry, they changed the tour to a bus tour with a guide Hisashi Inoue, who is the Sightseeing Ambassador and a guitarist from Horonobe Town. During the tour, there was a heartwarming surprise that the traveler who has written on travelers notebook in Minamihoronobe Station encountered the administrator of the note who was writing replies.

秘境駅フェスタ2016。雄信内駅にて▲The memorial photo at the special site in Onoppunai Station in “Hikyo Station Festival 2016 in Horonobe”. (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall) 

「秘境駅の里『ほろのべ』」の秘境駅フェスタの様子▲A mini-concert by the ambassador Inoue at Onoppunai Station. (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall) 

下沼駅卒寿の飾り▲They also celebrated Shimonuma Station’s 90th birthday. (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall)

「秘境駅フェスタ 2016  in ほろのべ」の下沼駅卒寿祝い▲The residents and fans who came to celebrate the 90th birthday. (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall)


Russel photo shooting event in mid winter is very popular!

In winter, “Soyakita Line DE15 Russel photo shooting event”, which welcomes a train cameraman works at a newspaper company as the teacher, is very popular. 

This is the event to go around the photo shooting spots from Horonobe Town using a bus for a whole day, but people liven up from the networking event at night before the day. It will reach to the maximum capacity as soon as they start the recruitment. 

Some people who participate in these events become attracted to Horonobe Town and willing to experience migrating here. The town is preparing the program. 

幌延町のラッセル撮影会の様子▲“Soyakita Line DE15 Russel photo shooting event” looks like above. This picture indicates how much they love the trains.  (The photo is provided by Horonobe Town Hall) 

The early morning Christmas party in Nukanan Station, which Hokkaido Likers introduced a shortly in the past article, got 35 visitors from all over Japan in 2016 which is the second year. The number doubled from the year before. The temperature of the day was around minus 20 degrees Celsius! The harsh coldness is another thing people can experience in Horonobe Town. 

* The detail is in the article below! 

- JR Soya Honsen Line hidden station tour - Part 2


The events connect people

Through these events, train geeks make new friends, and conversations between train geeks and residents are born. The connections between people keep spreading. 

How are these events which attract many people born? 

Mr. Yamashita, the manager of regional development in Horonobe Town Promotion Section Planning Group, who is involved in train tourism from the beginning, told us the story. 

“At first, we started this activity with train beginners. We had no idea what train geeks like, and we got advice from train goods shop manager in Asahikawa for the first Hikyo Station Festival. From this event, we could meet many people. The Russell photo event was the idea from the cameraman who participated in the event as a panelist. Other than that, I talked with train geeks and analyzed the results of the surveys… What I want to say is we became what we are today with the cooperation of everyone. I think about what people would like and what I can do as a town, considering opinions from people, every day. “

幌延町役場のスタッフ▲The left is Mr. Yamashita, and the right is Mr. Iwata, also a staff of Horonobe Town Hall and a member of Popporo Aikokai. 

Now, they are planning “Hikyo Station Walking Rally” which is mainly for residents, make a bigger event by collaborating with three other cities and towns around who have Hikyo stations like Horonobe Town. 

There are many events planned for this year, so check the Twitter and Facebook of Horonobe Chiiki Okoshi Kyorokutai (Community building club).

Horonobe Chiiki Okoshi Kyorokutai (Community building club)
- Twitter
- Facebook
I recommend Horonobe Town to not only train geeks but also those who want to experience unusual trip and who want to relax in nature! 
  • Unique railway related events are held at “The Home of Hikyo Stations ‘Horonobe’”

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Fumiko Magota