The Fukuchiyama Line Derailment Memorial

After the JL123 crash, which has been the main focus of my research on memorialisation for about 13 years, the one that I have the next greatest association with is the one for the Fukuchiyama Line derailment (also known as the Amagasaki derailment) (JR福知山線脱線事故). I have been to the site twice – in January 2009 and September 2017 – have met one of the izoku (bereaved) and have also spoken to one of those who worked on the identification of the dead bodies (he even showed me some of the pictures he took). I was also interviewed by the media (BBC Five Live, BBC Online, BBC World Service and the Asahi Shimbun) following the crash.

A summary of what happened to the flight itself can be found on Wikipedia. The key points are that it occurred on 25 April 2005 at 09:19 local time, just after the local rush hour. A seven-car commuter train came off the tracks on the JR West Fukuchiyama Line in Amagasaki, Hyogo prefecture (near Osaka), just before Amagasaki Station on its way for Dōshisha-mae via the JR Tōzai Line and the Gakkentoshi Line, and the front two carriages rammed into an apartment building. The first carriage slid into the first floor parking garage and as a result took days to remove, while the second slammed into the corner of the building, being crushed against it by the weight of the remaining carriages. Of the roughly 700 passengers (initial estimate was 580 passengers) on board at the time of the crash, 106 passengers, in addition to the driver, were killed and 562 others injured. Most passengers and bystanders have said that the train appeared to have been travelling too fast. The incident was Japan’s most serious since the 1963 Tsurumi rail accident in which two passenger trains collided with a derailed freight train, killing 162 people.

The crash site is marked by the orange pointer. It can easily be walked to from Amagsaki Station.

As I noted, I have been there twice. When I went to the site in 2009, not even four years after the crash, the memorial still looked quite ad-hoc and the now empty apartment block was easy to observe.

I was aware that some of the bereaved of the Fukuchiyama Line derailment were in contact with the 8/12 Renrakukai (the association for many of the bereaved of the JL123 Crash) and even visited Osutaka-no-One on 12 August. It was no surprise, therefore, to learn that they were also discussing the memorialisation plans.

I had the chance to go back to the site in September 2017. Unfortunately there was a typhoon that day and so the site was more closed up than normal. However, as I was going with one of the bereaved, I was able to have most things shown to me and have a very detailed conversation about the memorial, the crash and the activities of the bereaved. For much of the time a JR West official walked around with us. He was not keen for me to photograph anything, for which he got a barating from the lady I was with. In the end, the only pictures I got were from the opposite side of the track. As can be seen, the site has changed a lot and a new memorial was under construction.

The new memorial has now been completed, but I hope to visit on a future trip to Japan. I also hope go around the time of the anniversary to see one of the other parts of the memorialisation, when a local farmer has ‘4.25’ (the date of the accident) written in the crops as can is discussed in this sign that I took by the field in September 2017. Apparently the ‘4.25’ are clearly visible from the trains that run by the crash site and field.

In relation to my my article looking at where modifications are made to public transportation accidents, there clearly have been modifications made in the case of the Fukuchiyama Line derailment (as was indicated in Table 1 in that article). That article primarily focussed upon the JL123 crash and specifically the memorial at Irei-no-Sono, so what I don’t know is whether the reasons for the modifications fit with the model that I developed in that article. However, based on my discussions with those involved in the accident, and others, it does seem that there is a fit, particularly in relation to the bereavement process – but as there was much discussion about what form the memorial should take (including what should happen to the apartment building), it requires further exploration (particularly in thinking about how differing views are co-ordinated).

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