The End of the Line

By Geoff Chaplin

Imagine a land where snow and ice cover the ground for five months of the year, where summers are short and cool, weather unpredictable, high winds and very heavy rain not infrequent, and wildlife – deer and occasional bears – abound. Try farming in such a land and the odds are stacked against you. And then, when you have produced a crop, the market is hundreds to thousands of kilometers away so transportation costs are high. Farming in such a climate is neither easy nor profitable for most.

Traveling to Obihiro (Hokkaido, Japan) from Biei by road through what is primarily agricultural and forestry land we saw many abandoned farms, homes and farm buildings.

Abandoned farmhouse
Abandoned farmhouse
Abandoned barn
Abandoned barn
Abandoned
Abandoned former home

The loss of farmers from the land has a knock on effect, shops and businesses in towns lose business and many close.

Abandoned Ochiai
Abandoned business, Ochiai

For much of the way the road passes alongside the Nemuro line: from Furano to Higashi-Shikagoe the line is open but scheduled for closure in 2024 – Siberian winters, depopulation of the countryside and increased reliance on cars being the main reasons. A bus service will replace the train, at least for a while, to transport school children, the aged and those unable to drive for other reasons. Further along the line the route to Shintoku was closed in 2016 after torrential rains washed away a section of line and supporting land.

We first stopped near the end of the closed section of line at Ochiai (featured image). The town is run-down with several abandoned buildings on the little used main road.On the side of an abandoned workshop the now disused tools have been hung as decorations and as a reminder of a once useful and busy past.

Ochiai
A colourful reminder of a busy and useful past, Ochiai

The station, large empty car park and waiting room are intact but unused for seven years at the time of writing – somehow there is an air of death overhanging the place.

The End of the Line, Ochiai waiting room
The waiting room, Ochiai station
Train lines Ochiai
Train lines Ochiai, the lines stay until they rust away
The End of the Line, Ochiai
The platform and line, Ochiai

What remains is hanging on to a lonely and uninspiring existence, those people staying because they have no means or are too old to go elsewhere, only farmers (living outside the town) have reason to stay and even then a slim one.

An evocative image of life in the middle of nowhere is a single-carriage train trundling through the countryside. We stopped at Shimo-Kanayama station on our way back to home, one of several stations to lose service from next year. As a single-carriage train drew in we could see most of the passengers were railway fanatics with cameras traveling simply so as to have been on the line before it closes.

One of the last trains
One of the last trains, carrying primarily train fanatics

The images above were taken on FP4 and Ektar using a Leica MP and M3. Unfortunately the processing and/or scanning of the colour film produce a horrible intense blue-green cast so most of the colour images have been converted to B&W and I corrected one image as best I could.

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About The Author

By Geoff Chaplin
Primarily a user of Leica film cameras and 8x10 for the past 30 years, recently a mix of film and digital. Interests are concept and series based art work. Professionally trained in astronomical photography, a scientist and mathematician.
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Comments

Eric Charles Jones on The End of the Line

Comment posted: 12/01/2024

Great article and imagery Chaplin-san, My Japan experience has been a bit different. I'm longing to get out of the greater Kanto (Tokyo) area. This is the first year in my 4 years here in that all the people, packed trains, and daily urban life has stated to wear me down. Since the end of the pandemic and the weak yen, Tokyo has become the number one destination of the heavily social media influenced digital nomads( another reason I need a new perspective). Tokyo, New York, London, etc.. are all starting to look like one another. You really have to get off into the countryside to get a real feel of the country. It's a pitty that everything in Japan is so focused around Tokyo and other places are left to slowly die. I moaned enough. ; -) Thank you again for documenting the other side of Japan. Regards, Eric
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 12/01/2024

Eric, thanks for your comments. Good luck in finding an alternative living space. Peasant farming in a warm location can sound attractive...(but not Hokkaido!).

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Paul Quellin on The End of the Line

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Fascinating article Geoff. Found myself looking on a map to better understand where this was. I have only ever been to Tokyo and I left realising how little I understood. I too really lied the image of the rusting implements as well as the station platform.
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Paul, thanks. Yes Japan is very varied and not easily understood. I'm still learning having lived here for 20 years.

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Tony Warren on The End of the Line

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

A sad reflection on the modern world that could be repeated in many similar places, well portrayed with an interesting article and images. I think the colour problem could be to do with automatic colour balancing. The large proportion of rusty red content may be skewing the colours. Just had this when a copying an image printed in turquoise ink. Came out with a strong magenta cast leaving the camera to its own devices. Scanners may use similar technology. Thanks Geoff.
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Thanks Tony. Change and progress - always sad to lose the "traditional" ways but it happens.

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Julian Tanase on The End of the Line

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Captivating place and story; I especially like the "Reminder" from Ochiai, with those rusted tools affixed on the wall. That image alone speaks volumes. What went wrong with the colour film, if I may ask? Sounds strange...
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Julian, thanks. Just very odd colours, not normally so for the lab but a different film from my normal portra.

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Myles on The End of the Line

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Good images Geoff capturing the sad decline of this Japanese community. Sorry to hear you issues with the processing or scanning of the colour film.
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Geoff Chaplin replied:

Comment posted: 11/01/2024

Thanks, sad indeed but populations move and the extreme winter weather makes a bus service more economical.

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