Doai Station is just one out of the hundreds of stations that exist in the JR East family. But like most families, there’s going to be that very distant fifth cousin that no one really knows about.
Doai Station is located near the Niigata/Gunma Prefecture border along the JR Joetsu Line.
When heading southbound on the Joetsu Line towards Takasaki/Saitama/Tokyo, Doai Station looks like any other station positioned in the middle of nowhere. There are no station attendants checking or selling tickets, no signage letting you know where you’re at exactly, and not a hint of civilization. But plenty of nature!
it's just you and the mountain bugs
When heading northbound towards Niigata, it’s a completely different experience. Technically, this station has two different platforms, resting on two different levels, far, far apart from each other. This is because at the station just south of Doai, which is Yubiso Station, the Joetsu Line becomes double-tracked, meaning one direction goes one way, and the other another way.
Doai Station at the top, Yubiso Station at the bottom
While the southbound platform is remains outdoor, the northbound platform is deep in the middle of an adjacent mountain. How deep is it?
486 steps deep!! Or 70 meters underground. It’s SO far into the mountain that its been given a special name: 日本一のモグラ駅, or Japan’s number one station for moles.
entrance leading into the station
From the platform to the entrance of the station, it’s more or less a 10-minute walk, depending on how quickly you can go up 486 steps. When reaching the 462nd step, there’s a sign on a (broken) door saying:
From top to bottom: Job well done! 462 steps. Distance from here to the ticket gate is 143 meters away, including two more stairways totaling an additional 24 steps. Good luck!
I believe those little red dots above “Good luck” point out sarcasm…
would it really be that hard to fix it?
At the 474th step, you’ll reach another tunnel with windows looking out towards a river running below.
A few turns later, you’ll come to the main building, which serves as the main entrance to the station. Not the most beautiful place in the world, especially since it looks as cold as the concrete which its built from.
feels more like entering a bomb shelter than a train station
Although there is fixed lighting throughout the entire route, it still remains pretty dark, almost to a point where you’d need a flashlight if venturing around at dark.
As I made my way outside, I got my first glimpse of what was in front of the station. After allowing my eyes to readjust, I was better able to get an idea of what was around.
unfortunately, the station was getting a new paint job during my visit
In front of the station is a bus stop that leads up to Tanikawa-dake, a popular hiking area in the summer, and a great place to take the ropeway up to the top of the mountain and see all the leaves change their color in the autumn.
thats the bridge that leads into the mountain
other half of the bridge leading into the mountain
Beyond the road was quite possibly the clearest, bluest river I’ve ever seen in Japan.
not photoshopped or enhanced!
Since I had an hour to kill before catching my return train, I took the opportunity to dip my feet in for a bit.
“For a bit” may be an overstatement as the water was FREEZING. Instead, I found a nice rock to sit on and tried to take in the nature as much as I could.
Heading up the road, you can see the railroad bridge that crosses over the river. I thought about walking up to the ropeway, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to go hiking, so I make my way back down towards the station.
Following the road back, in the distance was a gift shop, which I’m guessing is a place tour buses stop at when going to and from the ropeway. I already had lunch planned out later in the day, but a snack did sound nice, so I walked over there to see what they had.
wasn't even sure it was open, considering the absence of cars in the parking lot
Inside, was a gift shop that sold local specialities and sweets. Adjacent to that was a restaurant that sold your typical Japanese lunches, such as curry and rice, pork cutlets, and udon and soba noodles. I ended up getting Tanikawa no Tsuki, which is a small cake that can be filled with various flavors. I got the chocolate filled one, which ended up being a good choice!
also comes in strawberry cream and custard flavors!
It was then time to head back to the station. It’s hard to visualize what it’s like descending nearly 500 steps to a train platform…
…so I took a video of it for you to enjoy.
If you’re a hiker, it’s a very convenience station to go to because of all the trails in the area. If you’re a train nut like myself, these quirky, unique stations are a treat to visit. But I would imagine that anyone outside of those two interests would find little reason to get off at Doai Station. According to a report released by the Gunma Prefectural Government, an average of only 16 people use this station in one day. Amazing when you consider the fact that nearly 3.5 million people use Shinjuku Station in Tokyo every day.
However, if it means that I can travel to more places that so few people get the chance to do, then it only makes the journey a tad more memorable, yeah?