The People’s Railway – A Story of Community Spirit From Choshi, Chiba Prefecture

The old 801 wagon displayed at Tokawa Station

Cutting its way through the beautiful coastal countryside of Tokyo’s neighboring Chiba Prefecture, the Choshi Electric (Dentetsu) Railway serves around 20,000 local residents and is the only service that can be used to access the Kanto Region’s most eastern location, Inubozaki Point. 

Dating back over a century to 1913, the railway is far quieter than any of those serving Japan’s major metropolitan areas such as Tokyo or Osaka, yet some may argue that its history makes it far more interesting than most. 

In 2005, it was discovered that the president of the railway company had been embezzling funds. He was immediately fired, but his actions left the Choshi Dentetsu with an issue – the company could no longer be accepted for any bank loans or funding. At a time when passenger numbers were dwindling and money was in short supply, the railway was suddenly faced with a real and intimidating challenge: quickly pull together the money to keep running, or shut down completely. 

A young station attendant in Nakanochō Station
The waiting room of Nakanochō Station

The railway’s loyal staff immediately set to work on various attempts to raise money. Conductors lugged large cool-boxes filled with drinks onto each train and sold what they could to the day’s passengers. Within stations themselves, stalls selling various snacks were set up; when the snacks failed to sell, desperate workers even took to visiting local businesses and asking employees to purchase them instead. 

Some money was made, but it was far from enough. The loyal, hardworking employees of the Choshi Electric Railway were faced with the reality that they would soon become unemployed, and that the trains that had served the local area for over 90 years would be forced to a complete halt. 

A stand selling nuresenbei and Mazuibō in Inubō Station

Luckily, one member of staff had an idea, and it involved a beloved local delicacy that the railway’s stations were already selling: nuresenbei. 

Senbei, a type of rice cracker, can be found on sale all across Japan. Yet while traditional senbei is served dry and crispy, the nuresenbei made in Choshi is moist and soft, having been dipped in locally-produced soy sauce and packaged quickly before drying. 

The railway had already been producing its own nuresenbei for a while, but following the staff member’s idea, they decided to start selling it online. Almost overnight, hundreds of orders started flooding in; the people of Choshi and beyond were rallying behind their beloved local railway, and even people who hadn’t used the service in years were desperate to do their bit. 

Station attendant in Tokawa Station
The waiting room of Tokawa Station

Encouraged by their senbei-selling success, the railway went on to come up with several other fundraising ideas. Station names were auctioned off, themed carriages were designed, on-board weddings were held and even a special movie about the railway’s uplifting story was produced. 

Thanks to the efforts of both the railway’s staff and loyal supporters, the Choshi Dentetsu is still running today, and is a must-ride service for train enthusiasts and curious visitors alike. 

Passengers waiting to board the train in Inubō Station
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