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Over $455,000 donated to save local line in Hokkaido for use as 'train trips' for children

This provided photo shows the expanded two-car trains on the Hanasaki Line. (Photo courtesy of the Nemuro Municipal Government)

NEMURO, Hokkaido -- The Nemuro Municipal Government in Japan's northernmost prefecture raised over 50 million yen (approx. $455,300) through crowdfunding last fiscal year in order to continue the Hanasaki Line, which Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) says is "difficult to maintain on its own."

    The city will use the money this fiscal year to fund "first train trips" for kindergarten and nursery school students, as well as other activities.

    Nemuro collected about 300 million yen (approx. $2.7 million) in donations for the same purpose in fiscal 2018, and used it for activities to ensure the continuation of the line, including to create PR videos and have photographers take photos for posters. Since then, the city has received many requests from people who still wanted to donate for the continuation of the line, so last fiscal year officials started crowdfunding again and raised 50.733 million yen (approx. $461,900), more than 25 times their target of 2 million yen (approx. $18,200), from 3,486 people nationwide.

    As one of the ways to use the collected donations, the city is planning to hold a "first train trip" for children from four kindergartens and nursery schools in Nemuro this fiscal year. The pupils are seen as "future passengers" and a total of 120 children will be allowed to experience rides on the line from July to October in their respective school groups so that the train cars will not be crowded.

    An official at the city's policy planning department said, "We want to ensure the continuation of the train line in the future by having children who have never been on a train before hold tickets in their hands, go through the ticket gate, and experience a train journey while gazing at the scenery out the windows."

    Last fall, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the city proposed micro-tourism trips, mainly for individual passengers from neighboring cities, under the name of "Local Distance." To avoid overcrowding, the city has made efforts such as turning normally single-car trains into two-car trains, and running them mainly on weekends and holidays and pays the additional costs incurred to JR Hokkaido. The city has already started crowdfunding for this fiscal year to ensure the continuation of the line.

    (Japanese original by Hiroaki Homma, Hokkaido News Department)

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