TOKYO —Without a doubt, one of the things Japan is best known for is trains. And it’s not just marketing hype either–public transportation is apparently good enough to accommodate the decreasing number of Japanese youth getting driver’s licenses. But while most trains can be counted on to run from 5 am to 1 am every day of the week in the cities, that’s not always the case in rural areas.
Take Tsushi no Miya station in Kagawa Prefecture, for example, where the train has the most limited schedule in the country: It’s only open two days out of the year. Shikoku, an island with four prefectures just south of the mainland of Japan, certainly fits the bill when it comes to “rural” with a population of just over four million people spread around Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima prefectures. Which means that many of the train lines run on much more limited schedules than urban places like Tokyo.
However, most trains still manage to run a fairly regular schedule, making it possible for residents and travelers to get around the island. Tsuhi no Miya Station, on the Yosan Line in Kagawa Prefecture, is the notable exception. Open only two days a year, August 4 and 5, the station serves but one function: To help people get to Tsuhima Jinja, a shrine built on a small rock island in the middle of the bay. But if it’s the only station serving the shrine, why in the world is it open only two days a year?
First, a bit of history about the island shrine. Tsushima Jinja was primarily seen as offering protection for cattle during the Edo period, after a disease killed much of the cattle in Japan, but left the local animals unscathed. However, in the Taisho period, many parents came to the shrine to pray for their children, seeking to protect them from disease. While that might seem like a bit of a wild connection, is there really that big of a difference between raising calves and raising children? According to my mother after seeing my room, not really.
However, the shrine isn’t open for visitors just any day of the year. If you’re looking for some spiritual protection for your child, you’ll have a very narrow window of time to stop by the shrine each year–like the train station, it’s only accessible to the public during the summer festival on August 4 and 5. We suppose the deity is busy protecting everyone’s children the rest of the year, so it makes sense.
But, wait, how do they keep people off the island? Well, in the past, people used to cross over to the island shrine by boat, but now a lengthy foot bridge is available to worshipers. Since the bridge is the only way people can get across without a boat, a simple but clever method is used to deter mischievous youth and other troublemakers from trespassing on the island for the other 363 days a year. They take out the planks.
Of course, since the shrine and station are only open for a scant 48 hours, the station itself isn’t much to look at. In fact, the ticket counter looks more like a tool shed than a station. While the facilities are certainly very…um…quaint, it honestly seems like a bit of overkill. After all, just a single tent seems like all you would need for a station that’s only used two days a year. Except that over those two days, the shrine gets over 10,000 visitors. Which is like having a Tokyo anime convention on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean.
Of course, the station is also a hot spot for “tecchan,” Japan’s train otaku, who love to collect tickets from all over the country. We can imagine that adding a Tsushi no Miya station ticket to your collection would be a major point of pride for many of our locomotive-loving friends. So, if you’re looking for something to do this summer, why not head down to Shikoku and visit the shrine? At least you’ll be doing all your waiting in line in the middle of some beautiful scenery.
Originally published on www.japantoday.com