Wed, Dec 9, 2020
Viewed from a distance, Mimasaka-Takio Station in Tsuyama, Okayama Pref., resembles many train stations in rural Japan. Its early Showa-era (1920’s) wooden structure with a single platform is surrounded by a long stretch of rice paddies and tree-dotted, verdant mountains. It is unstaffed, and Inbi Line trains only stop there a handful of times per day. Most notably, only about 30 people embark from its single platform on any given day, mainly middle and high school students. Why, then, was it named a registered tangible cultural property in 2008?
One answer is written on a small stone monument next to the entrance: “Otoko wa Tsurai yo,” which translates to, “It’s tough being a man.” This is not an actual grievance, but the title of a popular film franchise in Japan, whose 48th film “Tora-san to the rescue” had its opening scene filmed at Mimasaka-Takio. As the last entry in the franchise to star Kiyoshi Atsumi as series protagonist Tora-san before his death in 1996, the station is an important location for fans of the series, who flock to the station in costume to take photos and pay tribute.
Another reason lies in the station interior. Mimasaka-Takio was not always unstaffed; from its establishment in 1928 until 1980, there were station masters, and their quarters have been well-preserved. It is full of dusty artifacts of the Showa era: a lasso-like tool formerly used for a signaling block system to prevent train crashes, old maps and timetables, and stamps and hole-punchers used to mark tickets that fell out of use years ago. There is even a black-and-white poster of Audrey Hepburn on the wall. Naturally, there are also various Otoko-wa-Tsurai-yo memorabilia, most notably a wooden frame of Tora-san with an opening through which visitors can stick their faces for a photo-op.
While Mimasaka-Takio is indelibly connected to the character of Tora-san, another fictional hero has ties to the station as well: Naruto, from the anime series of the same name. An Inbi Line train decorated with the blond, spiky-haired ninja ran by the station for a limited time in 2013, and local residents came together to depict his portrait in the rice paddies outside. Why Naruto? The nearby town of Nagi (through which no trains run) is the birthplace of series creator Masashi Kishimoto.
The station also holds significance for citizens of Tsuyama, particularly those from the surrounding neighborhood of Horisaka-cho. In spring and autumn, JR West hosts an event called the “Mimasaka Slow Life Train,” where riders can enjoy travel in a nostalgic old train car that stops at various stations between Tsuyama and Chizu in neighboring Tottori Prefecture. Mimasaka-Takio’s event offers locally-produced mochi and cookies. Spring in particular is a popular time for the station; a nearby cherry blossom tree blooms magnificently every year, and is an ideal, idyllic spot for hanami (flower-viewing parties). Residents of Horisaka-cho take care of pansy beds that line the platform, and small groups come to clean the station every Sunday.
Sadly, like many small-town train lines all over Japan, the Inbi Line is at risk of closure due to low ridership and declining profits. But, as Tora-san says himself in the first “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” film, during a nostalgic visit to his hometown, “the cherry blossoms are blooming this year, too.” The cherry blossom tree by Mimasaka-Takio station will certainly continue to bloom for years to come, and one can rest assured that the residents of Horisaka-cho and fans of Tora-san will come too.
(Photos courtesy of Okayama Prefecture unless otherwise indicated)
(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)
Ethan is from Portland, Oregon in the United States, and currently works as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) for Okayama Prefecture. An avid train travel enthusiast, he has traveled to almost every prefecture in Japan by rail. His other hobbies include cooking, karate and gaming.
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