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'Phantom' train station in Tokyo's Ueno district to get new breath of life

A penguin mural painted by students at the Tokyo University of the Arts is visible on the platform wall as a Keisei Electric Railway Co. Skyliner Limited Express bound for Narita Airport passes the station in the background, in Tokyo's Taito Ward, on June 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- For the first time in 21 years, the "phantom station" between Ueno and Nippori stations on the Keisei Line in the capital's Taito Ward was opened to the media on June 19.

    Murals of penguins painted by students from the nearby Tokyo University of the Arts and the yellow interior walls and other fixtures inside of the former Hakubutsuen-Dobutuen Station -- literally "museum and zoo" station -- remained untouched from when it closed its gates in March 1997. Keisei Electric Railway Co. is teaming up with the university to repair and clean the station, aiming to open restored parts to the public this fall.

    The "phantom station" opened in December 1933 on the Keisei Line, which now runs between Ueno and Narita Airport stations, and was the nearest station to visit sites such as the Tokyo Imperial Household Museum (present-day Tokyo National Museum) and the Ueno Zoological Gardens. However, the platform could only accommodate four carriages, and when the railway changed to mainly six-car trains, more and more trains passed the station rather than stopping, and the number of station users fell. By the 1996 fiscal year, the average daily users of the station had dropped to only 863 people.

    In 2004, the station became defunct, but continued to exist as a possible escape route in the event of a fire occurring on underground tracks. If one looks out the window when passing between Ueno and Nippori stations on the Keisei Line, the yellow walls of the platform are visible for an instant. Because of this, some knew of its existence as it appeared in volume 95 of the popular manga "Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen Mae Hashutsujo" ("KochiKame: Tokyo Beat Cops") as a so-called "abandoned spot." This April, the station became the first railway facility to become a Tokyo Metropolitan Government-designated historical structure.

    The joint repair and restoration of the station will run from the beginning of July to the end of September, and a new entrance designed by artist Katsuhiko Hibino, the dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Tokyo University of the Arts, will be added to the outside of the station building, which was built in beautiful western-style architecture. Sections of the platform will also be equipped with glass so that visitors will be able to take a look around the station safely.

    (Japanese original by Tatsuya Haga, City News Department)

    With no automatic ticket gates, staff punched slits into tickets in the old station in Tokyo's Taito Ward, pictured here on June 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

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