• Japan In Focus

Kanagawa: Single Track Line Becomes Community’s Heart

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hitsuji Densha (sheep train), right, and Ushi Densha (cow train) trains are seen at Nagatsuta Station.

YOKOHAMA — The Kodomonokuni Line is the only single-track train line of Tokyu Railways.

Running 3.4 kilometers between Nagatsuta Station in Midori Ward and Kodomonokuni Station in Aoba Ward in Yokohama, the line was initially exclusive to visitors of the Kodomonokuni amusement park. However, it began serving general commuters 20 years ago after residents along the line requested it.

A new train wrapped in the image of a sheep called the Hitsuji Densha began service on the line on March 29, the line’s 20th anniversary since becoming a commuter-friendly train.

Along with Ushi Densha, a train wrapped in the image of a cow that debuted in 2018, the designs are meant to inspire images of the ranch found in the amusement park.

The cute trains with only two cars fit right in with the scenery along the line, which includes a lot of greenery.

Though the ceremony to mark the anniversary was canceled due to the coronavirus crisis, many passengers and others took photos of the trains with their smartphones and uploaded them to social media just after the trains began services on the day.

“We hope people will enjoy the atmosphere of a ranch while riding on the trains,” said a Tokyu Railways official in charge of the trains.

Courtesy of Kodomonokuni amusement park
Kodomonokuni Station, when it opened in 1967

The Kodomonokuni amusement park was built in a zone that once accommodated the Imperial Japanese Army’s Tana ammunition depot. The Kodomonokuni Line began services in 1967, two years after the opening of the amusement park.

The incoming rail track that once extended from Nagatsuta Station to transport artillery shells and other materiel was converted into the train line now used to transport guests to the amusement park.

However, as the passenger train line was initially created for visitors to the amusement park, the line usually began services after 8 a.m. and ended them before 7 p.m. Few trains ran when the amusement park was closed.

People had a hard time using the trains with such a schedule.

“Residents would have to reach stations along the Denentoshi Line or the JR Yokohama Line by bus,” said Koichi Sekine, 79, head of a federation of neighborhood associations in the Naracho district in the city.

Sekine, who was then a teacher at a vocational school, had his wife take him by car to and from Nagatsuta Station.

The population along the line exploded thanks to land readjustments and developments of residential areas by the Housing & Urban Development Corporation — today’s Urban Renaissance Agency.

In 1987, a local residents association submitted a request to make the train line usable for commuters as well, and the Yokohama city government began considering it.

To make it possible for two trains to pass by each other on the single track line, it was decided Onda Station would be built halfway along the line.

However, some residents wanted an additional station built along with Onda Station.

Skine said officials of the city government’s transportation bureau “explained with numerical data that it was difficult to build a second additional station to secure six trains running during rush hour.” Given this, the majority of the residents supported the plan of adding only Onda Station.

Making the train line usable for commuters was realized in 2000. Service hours were expanded with the day’s first train running before 7 a.m. and the last train departing after 11 p.m. They also added more trains that ran on the line.

As a measure to reduce noise caused by the increase in trains, long rails — the longest of which was 700 meters — were introduced to decrease the number of joints connecting the rails.

Later, residents along the line cooperated on the building of restrooms at Kodomonokuni Station and the relocation of a koban police box to a site beside the station.

Sekine expressed his joy about the revitalization of the area.

“Finally, the station became the center of our town,” he said.

Together with Akira Kaneko, whose father donated land to build Kodomonokuni Station, Sekine sincerely hopes the train line can be extended to Tsurukawa Station on the Odakyu Line.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Parents and children emerge from Kodomonokuni Station.