Tokushima: Tanuki-themed Train Station Welcomes Visitors; Locals Band Together for Revitalization Efforts

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Clad in tanuki yokai costumes, local residents welcome a sightseeing train.

MIYOSHI, Tokushima — A sightseeing train that runs along the Yoshino River through the mountains of Shikoku has gained popularity for the beautiful scenery and the hospitality of the locals.

The Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari train runs between Tadotsu Station in Kagawa Prefecture and Oboke Station in Tokushima Prefecture on the JR Dosan Line.

On Feb. 16, I boarded the train at Oboke Station and was greeted by locals dressed in colorful costumes at Awa-Kawaguchi Station 25 minutes later. They were dressed as tanuki raccoon dogs.

During a 15-minute stopover, passengers enjoyed shopping for handmade souvenirs, such as pickled plums and tote bags, and took photos with the tanuki-clad locals on the platform.

“The warmth of the locals became my favorite memory of the trip,” said a 53-year-old woman from Kanagawa Prefecture, who was visiting the area for the first time.

“Even though it was for such a small time, it would be great if we have made people want to visit again,” said Hideko Kagiyama, 68, one of the costume-clad locals. Kagiyama watched the train disappear around a curve.

Starting point for revitalization

Awa-Kawaguchi Station is situated in the Yamashiro district of Miyoshi, which lies near the center of Shikoku — an area where about 90% of the land is forest.

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The station was used by many people, especially students, after its opening in 1935. However, the population of the area has declined rapidly due to the declining birthrate and aging population. Three-car trains used to operate on the line in the past, but since the early 1990s, mostly single-car trains are in operation. The number of daily passengers dropped below 100 in fiscal 2007, and the streets in front of the stations became deserted.

Using the station as leverage, efforts to revitalize the area started.

Residents in 2015 started the Yamashiro Tanuki Matsuri festival in front of the station and other locations to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Dosan Line. The event is based on local folklore about tanuki yokai monsters.

When the sightseeing train began service in April 2005, the station was chosen as a stop thanks to a proposal by residents to Shikoku Railway Co. (JR Shikoku) stating they would greet train passengers at the station in tanuki yokai costumes inspired by the folklore.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hideko Kagiyama of the Yamashiro Tanuki Na Kai association

“It may not be the most sophisticated way of showing hospitality, but our enthusiasm was conveyed,” Kagiyama said.

Kagiyama and others formed the Yamashiro Tanuki Na Kai association in January 2017 in an effort to accelerate local revitalization efforts. They installed a large decoration of a tanuki face — about 2 meters high and wide — on the gable of the station in November that year to make the station building look like giant tanuki.

Birth of Pompoko Station

The local people decided to nickname the station “Pompoko Awa-Kawaguchi” in April 2022. In Japanese folk tales, tanuki drum on their stomach, and pompoko represents that sound. They installed station name signs with pictures on platforms.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
JR Awa-Kawaguchi Station with the tanuki facade design
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The commemorative stamp of JR Awa-Kawaguchi Station

Initiatives that began at the station are spreading. Last fiscal year, students at Yamashiro Elementary School began performing a play about tanuki at a study presentation for parents and residents.

“The community was revitalized thanks to continued redevelopment efforts that utilized the station and tanuki. I am sure that it will be passed on to the next generation,” Kagiyama said.