Nagano: Book Market in Train Station Becomes Gathering Place for Locals and Railway Enthusiasts

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takeshi Ota, left, talks with Tomoki Kobayashi beside a bookshelf installed in Shimonii Station in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, on Nov. 20.

NAGANO — A used book market held once or twice a month in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is serving as a place where local residents and railway enthusiasts can interact.

The market is held at Shimonii Station in the middle of Alpico Kotsu Co.’s Kamikochi Line. The 14.4-kilometer line is known as the Shimashima Line, and connects the urban district in Matsumoto with Shin-Shimashima Station, where buses to the prefecture’s Kamikochi area arrive and depart.

The book market is called Shimonii Bunko. On Nov. 25, about 200 used books on railroads, mountains and other topics were lined up on shelves at the station, which has a distinctive triangular roof.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Shimonii Station building has a distinctive triangular roof.

Mao Endo, 27, an office worker and railway fan from Shizuoka City, stopped by the market on her way to take pictures of trains, and bought a railway-related book. Local residents also gather there to browse the books and enjoy conversation. Homemaker Yukiko Ito, 80, who donated a book to the market, said, “I am happy to help the market.”

“It’s like we’re creating the book market all together,” said Takeshi Ota, 31, the representative of a local citizens’ group working to revitalize communities along the rail line. Ota, who runs a guest house, first became interested in regional revitalization through the use of railroads when he was in high school. Ota joined a citizens’ group studying the use of retired trains on the Kamikochi Line.

The group organized events utilizing train cars, among other activities. But the revitalization efforts came to a standstill while he was away from his hometown pursuing higher education. After returning in 2016, he took on the aspirations of the citizens’ group and organized an annual used book market in both retired and running train cars. The event enjoyed popularity, but was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus.

Then Tetsuya Inkyo, 45, the head of Alpico Kotsu’s railroad business department, told Ota it would be great if he could add some warmth to Shimonii Station, which had become dreary. Counter services at the station had been closed since April 2020 due to the pandemic.

In April 2021, Ota brought books from his home to the station and reopened a small used book market. But in August of the same year, he was faced with a new challenge.

Heavy rains caused the piers of the railroad bridge over the river between Nishi-Matsumoto and Nagisa stations to tilt, and a section of the Kamikochi Line was closed. Some local residents voiced concern that the line may be abandoned, but Ota explained on social media how the line was being restored using the hashtag “Hashire bokura no Kamikochi sen” (Run, our Kamikochi Line).

To support the reopening of the entire line and to thank local residents for allowing him to use the station building, last autumn Ota collaborated with a sake shop near the station to organize a campaign to sell special junmai sake made to support the restoration of the Kamikochi Line. Having sold more than 300 bottles of the 720-milliliter size, they donated a portion of the proceeds to Alpico Kotsu. A number of people posted messages on social media saying that they wanted to contribute to the restoration.

In June 2022, the Kamikochi line resumed full operation after a 10-month suspension.

Ota joined the locals to watch the first train running after the resumption of service. Among them was Tomoki Kobayashi, 23, a graduate student at Shinshu University’s Matsumoto campus. Kobayashi became acquainted with Ota through activities to support the line and joined in managing the book market.

Kobayashi, who is from Tokyo, said, “Through Shimonii Bunko, I have made connections with people in the area. I want to continue to live in Matsumoto.”

Only about 30 passengers use Shimonii Station every day, but visitors from outside the prefecture have come to the station for the book market.

Ota’s dream is to someday make the Kamikochi Line and Shimonii Bunko a symbol of Matsumoto, just like Matsumoto Castle and the Northern Alps.