More than once I asked myself that question when getting up way too early on a Saturday morning to head out to an abandoned place I have barely information on, once in a while not even the exact location. On some days it’s even a “WHY?!” – especially when it’s cold outside and I have to go all by myself. But then I grab my equipment packed the evening before and head out to the middle of nowhere, using up to four railway companies on a trip that takes up to four hours… each way.
The Old Higashi-Aoyama Station was my goal on one of those “WHY?!” days. A 2.5 hour long trip on three different lines to the Mie countryside, plus a 5 km hike in the mountains to the final destination. None of my friends wanted to come along, but at least the weather forecast was decent – sunny 12 degrees in the middle of December, not too bad while Europe was covered in snow. GoogleMaps, back in 2010 my most reliable haikyo partner, was rather useless in this case since my place of interest was really off the beaten tracks…
Opened on December 20th 1930 the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station was already in the middle of nowhere in 1971, when it hit the news big time. Located in a beautiful valley between two pretty long one track tunnels, it must have been extremely popular amongst day-trip hikers. Probably only with hikers, as there is or was no bigger town or even village in reasonable walking distance; and there are no hints of parking lots close to the station.
One track tunnels always involve the danger of train accidents and one of those sealed the destiny of the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station: On October 25th 1971 at around 4 p.m. an express train to Nagoya collided with a limited express going to Namba / Kyoto (I guess it was supposed to be separated later along the track…). 25 fatalities, 218 wounded, cause: human error.
To avoid an accident like that could ever happen again, Kintetsu, the company owning the line and its stations, planned a huge new two-track tunnel, avoiding the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station and the valley it was located in, building the current Higashi-Aoyama Station a few kilometers away. On November 22nd 1975 the new station was opened, while in the following months the railroad tracks of the old line were stripped down and all buildings except the platforms as well as the tunnels were demolished.
At first sight, after huffing and puffing up a steep forgotten road that once must have been used to transport supplies to (build) the station, the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station was a big disappointment. Although I hadn’t seen anything but seven years old photos of two abandoned train station platforms on a hiking blog, I was kind of hoping for something more. I took a couple of quick pictures of what I had already seen on the internet, looking for more signs of the past.
Luckily the disappointment disappeared in no time as I quickly found a side-track and then something that must have been a kiosk four decades ago – including a fridge and several empty glass bottles of “Morinaga Twist”, a soda I’ve never heard of before, and other drinks. That’s when the mental cinema screen started to work again. Left of the kiosk I found a shrine, so overgrown that I wasn’t able to see it from the platforms. To the right was a concrete flight of stairs leading up the mountain – I guess that was the starting point for the hikers once buying Morinaga Twist. What could it have been like to follow that trail 40 years ago? I tried to get a taste by climbing the stairs, only to find a reminder of how dangerous even the most harmless *haikyo* can be when having bad luck – a huge rock, at least 60 cm in diameter was “blocking” the stairs; some things can just hit you without a warning… I went around the boulder and climbed the mountain for about 15 minutes, concrete step after concrete step. Up there I found the typical leftovers of what must have been another kiosk when the train station was still down in the valley – lots of corrugated iron, some broken bottles and dented pots as well as a rusty gas canister.
This discovery just fueled my imagination, so I followed what I assumed once was the hiking trail, now covered by leaves. After about another 10 minutes I reached the top of the mountain and there I found more leftovers from hikers passing by decades ago – bottles and cans once holding tea, juice and sodas. A couple of meters along the ridge I startled up a bigger specimen of the local wildlife (I guess it was a deer), so I decided to turn around and go back down to the station for a couple of more photos, still wondering what it would have been like to be an autumn hiker 60, 70 years ago. At that point I was actually happy being alone on that exploration, because I didn’t have to talk to anybody and could fully enjoy the atmosphere of this wonderful location on that amazing late autumn day. Eight hours prior I asked myself “WHY?!” – leaving the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station behind, I knew why…