KUMAMOTO, Japan >> Kumagawa Rail Road in the southern part of Kumamoto prefecture is known for its sightseeing train running through the countryside. An even more beautiful sight can be found on one of its station platforms, where a 95-year-old resident dubbed “the oldest stationmaster in Japan” charms passengers.
A resident of the village of Sagara, Miyuki Shimoda serves as “honorary head” of Kawamura Station, a “third-sector” firm jointly funded by the public and private sectors. She stands on the platform to greet passengers when the Den-en Symphony sightseeing train arrives at the station. The service runs once a day on weekends and holidays.
On a recent Sunday, Shimoda waved from the station when Den-en Symphony glided into the platform. Dressed in clothing usually worn when picking tea leaves and sporting a stationmaster’s cap, Shimoda welcomed passengers with smiles and posed for photos during the five-minute stop.
“She’s so energetic I can’t believe she’s 95,” said passenger Keiji Koki from Kirishima, Kagoshima prefecture. “Her energy inspired me.”
Shimoda moved to the village 10 years ago with her third daughter, Akemi Okuyama, and her family. Shimoda soon became friendly with other local residents as she participated in cleaning the station and other community activities with her daughter and granddaughter, Miho.
When the Den-en Symphony train began operations in March 2014, the operator asked Shimoda and five other local women to welcome passengers at Kawamura Station. The women initially served cups of green tea from leaves grown in the village to passengers, but Shimoda later proposed doing more to help visitors enjoy the stop. Residents decorated the station by hanging handmade dolls and other ornaments and also dressed up in seasonal costumes.
The railway company eventually appointed Shimoda as honorary stationmaster in December 2015.
Shimoda said talking with visitors to the station helps motivate her in life. “I hope to continue doing this until I turn 100, and welcome more and more people,” she said.