Niigata: Early railway supporters commemorated on 90th anniversary of JR Joetsu Line

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Reliefs of Mitsugi Okamura (left) and Kinoshichi Nagumo were unveiled at Ishiuchi Elementary School in the city of Minami-Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, on Sept. 3

MINAMI-UONUMA, Niigata — A ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of the JR Joetsu Line, which runs between Niigata and Gunma prefectures, was held on Sept. 3 at Ishiuchi Elementary School in Minami-Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture.

Reliefs of Mitsugi Okamura (1836-1922) and Kinoshichi Nagumo (1864-1936), were unveiled to commemorate their contributions to seeing the line constructed. The reliefs were later installed at Echigo Yuzawa Station.

The idea of the Joetsu Line connecting the two prefectures had been considered since the early Meiji period (1868-1912), but the cost of the project and the difficulty of constructing a railway line through the mountains hindered progress. Okamura, a native of Minami-Uonuma who served as a member of the House of Representatives, worked hard to realize the project, even establishing his own railroad company. Nagumo, a native of Yuzawa, also Niigata Prefecture, and former mayor of the village of Tsuchidaru in the prefecture, supported Okamura’s activities and would accompany him on field surveys.

Even after Okamura gave up on the idea, Nagumo continued to lobby for the railroad, and it would later open as the Joetsu Line on Sept. 1, 1931.

Each relief including its wooden stand measures 1.30 meters high, 50 centimeters wide, and 50 centimeters deep, and is carved with a portrait of each man. About 200 people, including municipal officials from Minami-Uonuma and Yuzawa, attended the ceremony and applauded when the reliefs were unveiled.

On the same day, reprints of the manga “Tetsuro wa yamanami no kanata ni” (The railroad goes beyond the mountain range), by Mitsunori Shiiya, was gifted to elementary and junior high school students in the city and town. Originally published about 30 years ago, the manga aims to pass down Okamura and Nagumo’s contributions to future generations.

Shoji Onozuka, 78, chairman of the executive committee that organized the ceremony, said, “I would be happy if the children could learn more about the region and the indomitable spirit that Okamura and Nagumo kept throughout their lives.”