Karuizawa Ski Bus Crash Memorial

As part of my research for the article on modifications are made to public transportation accidents, I have visited a number of memorials around Japan. Not all of these became a part of that study due to specific parameters of the study (detailed in the article). One of those not included is the memorial for the Karuizawa Ski Bus Crash (軽井沢スキーバス転落事故).

Currently there is no English summary on Wikipedia, but there a Japanese page. The key points are that at about 1:55 in the morning of 15 January 2016 a large sightseeing bus crashed on National Highway 18 on the Usui Bypass, close to the Nagano and Gunma border (and about 2km from Karuizawa station). 15 of the 41 crew and passengers died in the accident. The cause was related to the overworking of drivers and that this particular driver is thought to have fallen asleep at the wheel. The bus was travelling at 96km/h (in 50km/h zone) at the time of the accident.

I visited the crash site in September 2017. I had had no original plans to visit this crash site for my research as I knew it could not be included in the article due to it happening so recently. However, while staying in Ueno-mura for my research about the JL123 crash, another guest commented on the site and I realised that it would not be a significant detour to go there on the way to my next destination. It would also be a good opportunity to drive on some roads that I had not been on before since I had taken many other roads in Gunma. There is a car park (Usui Bypass Car Park) only 100m or so from the site, so parking nearby is not a problem. You can then walk along the pavement (made especially for people wanting to visit the memorial, perhaps, and because the area was altered to improve safety after the crash) to the memorial.

As, when I visited it was not even two years since the crash, it was not surprising that there was no permanent memorial. However, the tables and notices made it stand out from other temporary road crash memorials that have become common place around the world and which I read so much about in developing the model that I wrote about in my article on modifications are made to public transportation accidents. It was also clear that sufficient space has been created so a permanent memorial could be erected one day.

Indeed, looking at the photographs of the site on Google Maps, it is possible to see that a permanent memorial has been established. According to the Wikipedia site, it was established on 27 May 2018 and as well as members of the “1/15 Sakuraso Association” – set up by families of those involved in the crash – representatives of the JL123 crash, JR Fukuchiyama line crash and Sasago Tunnel Accident were also present. This does not surprise me and fits with what I discovered (and wrote about in Dealing with Disaster in Japan) about the influence of the 8/12 Renrakukai (the association established by families involved in the JL123 crash).

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