Category Archives: Train Stations

The Most Mysterious Station in Japan: Doai Station

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!

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.

looking northbound

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?

The Niigata Umasagisshiri Stamp Rally

Remember when I said that Japan loves stamps? No?

Well, Japan also loves stamp rallies!

A stamp rally is an event where you have to go around collecting as many stamps as possible. Recently, stamp rallies have been used as a promotional tool to introduce something to others, such as tourist destination campaigns or seasonal events.

For example, in 2009, JR East had a Shinkansen Stamp Rally to promote its 20th anniversary. All together, there were 6 different stamps to gather, and they could only be gotten at certain stations throughout Eastern Japan. The more you stamps you collected, the better the prize you could collect! If you collected all six, you could receive a replica of a train conductors watch.

oooh, fancy

The Shinkansen stamp rally gave people motivation to collect as many stamps as they could, while visiting new places at the same time. A win-win for all.

riding the Shinkansen isn't cheap. definitely a stamp rally for the rich folk.

A few months ago, I was out on a drive to the sea when I stopped at a roadside rest area. There, they were promoting an event called The Niigata Umasagasshiri Stamp Rally (新潟うまさがっしりスタンプラリー).

In 2009, the Niigata Tourism Association, in cooperation with the Prefectural government, started a destination campaign called Umagasshiri Niigata, literally meaning Full of Deliciousness, Niigata (that’s the closest translation I could think of). The goal is to encourage tourism to Niigata by highlighting the food that the Prefecture is famous for. This is the official logo for the campaign:

Within this logo, there are 10 different foods. Can you find them all?

For Spring 2011, the Stamp Rally breaks Niigata Prefecture into 7 different areas. Each area is assigned 2 or 3 different stamp designs, all originating from the original design above. Because there are 10 foods, there are a total of 10 different stamps to collect.

random fact: ive been told the shape of niigata resembles a kangaroo.

gotta catch 'em all?

These stamps can be collected at various places, or checkpoints, throughout each area, which range from hot springs resorts, to restaurants, highway rest stops, museums, gift shops, and so on. The stamp pad is usually predominately displayed in an easy-to-find area.

Depending on how many stamps you collect, you are eligible to receive a prize. The more stamps you get, the better the prize. On your stamp card, there are 3 different courses you could choose from:

  • 3-Stamp Course
    • In total, there are 326 winners. The prizes are small in size and in value, like bottles of soy sauce, or boxed desserts from local bakeries. Bottles of sake seem to be a big giveaway too.
  • 5-Stamp Course
    • There are 110 winners chosen. Prizes increase in value and include such items as fruit. Hey, fruit is expensive here!
  • 10-Stamp Course
    • Only 14 winners are chosen. A tough route to take, but the payoff can be big. Most prizes include a free night’s stay at a hot springs resort for two. Or 60 kilos of rice. I’m hoping for the latter.

After you select your course, and collect the number of stamps required for that course, you mail in your stamp card and wait for the results. Keeping in mind that it’s a contest, it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to receive something. But to be honest, I don’t think a whole lot of people are getting all ten. Odds are pretty good of getting something. Maybe. Full list of prizes can be seen here.

Naturally, I’m gonna shoot for the 10-Stamp Course.

“But why?” you may ask.

I’ve been living in Niigata Prefecture for nearly 5 years now (minus 6 months for a short stint in Hiroshima), and it’s gotten to a point where I’m starting to do the same things every year.

In February, I participate in the Koide International Snowball Fight Competition (one year, we won towels!). In April, we have cherry blossom viewing parties at Takada Park. In August, we have the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival. If we want to head to a hot springs, we usually go to the local one on the other side of town. If we want to go shopping, we go to Niigata City…or Tokyo.

…and so on.

Now, it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy these things. In fact, some of the best memories I have in Japan have resulted from the activities listed above. It’s just that it’s starting to get to a point where I’m worried if I’ve already done everything there is to do in Niigata.

Hence, the Stamp Rally. My motivation to collect stamps is not only to ride trains throughout the Prefecture (although, that’s all the motivation I need, really), but also to prove to myself that there are still TONS of places to discover in my own backyard. If I happen to win something, its just the cherry (or in this case, squid) on top.

And so the Niigata Stamp Rally begins. I’ll be using the Echigo Two-Day Pass to get around the Prefecture. Some of the places are close to the station, some are not. Better to bring good walking shoes just in case.

I’ll be posting updates throughout the week as I track my progress. Will I be able to get all 10?! Will I be convinced I’ve done all there is to do here?! Will I get lost?!

We’ll find out soon enough!!

The Niigata Umasagasshiri Stamp Rally goes from now until June 19th. The week after next. But not to fret as this seems to be a bi-annual event. Lucky you.

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