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