The forgotten heritage of Umajimura
When we arrive at this village, the rain welcomes us. Umaji-village is surrounded by a lot of mountains, and the weather changes easily. So we run into the town hall where we are soon surrounded by the comfortable smell of wood.
Mr. Kiyooka, the interviewee that we asked about many information in Umaji, took us willingly. He is a man who has worked in the town hall of Umaji for a long time, and works for the people living there. He said, “the young in Umaji are not interested in the railways in the forest, actually,” and laughed. But his eyes looked sad to me, a little. And he started to tell us the history of the railway in the forest…
The railways in the forest started in 1911, in order to carry lumber to the town by the sea. Originally, Umaji village had long flourished as a major source of Japanese ceder ‘Yanase-sugi’. Yanase-sugi is known as a good quality and expensive ceder in Japan, and this had been used to make, such as Japanese castles or temples. Though the train carried just woods first, the railroad became longer and longer, and the train came to carry not only wood but also people, in the condition of no guarantee against their life. However, the train became an indispensable transportation for the people living in Umaji to go to the city. When the car prevailed in 1950s, pavements were built one after another. the people came not to use train and finally, the railway was shut down.
There had been a few kinds of steam locomotives in Umaji. When the railways started, ‘the shay geared’ steam locomotive or a kind of side tank locomotive, made by H.K. Porter, had been used to carry woods and people. In 1940s, locomotives made in Japan also had become running on the railways. (Steam locomotives were remade into diesel locomotives later.) Since the railways were abandoned in 1963, such locomotives had not run on the railways for a long time. However, two types of locomotives were restored for visitors to ride in 1989. We can ride on the locomotives and even experience to drive the locomotive now. This is exciting absolutely.
In addition, 18 structures related to the railways have been identified as important cultural property in 2009. There are 4 structures (Hirase-tunnel, Gomi-tunnel, Ochiai-bridge, and Kouguchi- tunnel) in Umaji village. we’ll be able to feel the history of the railways in the forest when we see such structures.
The railways is becoming popular little by little. According to Nomura General Institute, there are 1 or 2 million tetsudou-fans (fans who loves trains or railroads) in Japan alone. And in recent years, most of tetsudou-fans come to see the railways in Umaji, and leave with them satisfied actually. Moreover, some travel agencies organize raiway tours. The tour is not just for watching the railways, but you can also climb the mountain with the full of trees and see senbon-sugi, You can have fun to put yourself into hot springs and get relaxed in this tour.
“I want the railways in the forest to set off revival of Umaji,” Mr. Kiyooka said while drinking Gokkun Umajimura, “in order that many people can know the history of Umaji.” The preservation of the railways is becoming active by the hands of people living there. And they seem to protect it not only for visitors but also themselves. The railways in the forest will be certainly preserved as one of the cultural heritages in Umaji, and in Kochi.
The following videos are from the Yanase Shinren Tetsudo Web Museum