One train station in the snow-swept northern Japanese island of Hokkaido has been kept operational so that one girl can finish her last year of high school. That girl is 18-year-old Kana Harada who lives in the area of the former village of Shirataki – which now consists of 18 families, and just 36 people, according to NHK. The village was administratively merged with the bigger municipality of Engaru.
Every day, Kiichiro, Kana's father, drives her to and from the small train station, waiting for her to board the only train in the morning in sub-zero temperatures that takes her to school in a nearby town 35 minutes away. In March, she will graduate and leave her home to take up studies in a city further away to become a nurse. That will be when the station closes once and for all as part of a reorganisation of the Sekihoku Main Line. Such consolidation of transportation and cities is a common sight in much of Japan where the rural population is declining.
"I got on and off this train for the last three years and this station's presence has become something I have taken for granted. I do feel sad to think it will disappear," Kana Harada told national broadcaster NHK recently. "I am filled now with gratitude," she said of the fact that she is the only regular passenger who uses the station which is looked after by local residents.
For residents who have kept this station with its four-times-a-day stops going over the years, it is an emotional time. The train station was built around 1955 with the help of villagers keen for a train service through their village so that their children could go to school. Local residents, including Kiichiro, help shovel snow in temperatures that fall to -20C, according to NHK.
"Every day that passes, there is less time left and that is saddening," Kiichiro Harada told NHK. "There won't be many of these occasions left so I want to be sure to imprint these in my memory," he added.
Kana's departure for new horizons will mean the end of the line for what's been, for so long, her own personal train to school.