Kan’Etsu 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 Kan’Etsu Bus Crash (関越自動車道高速バス居眠り運転事故).

Currently there is no English summary on Wikipedia, but there a Japanese page. For some reason, bus crashes do not garner the same level of interest as other public transportation accidents. I have previously written about the Karuizawa Ski Bus Crash Memorial, and there is also no English Wikipedia page for that. Writing this post on the anniversary of the Kan’Etsu Bus Crash, I can see there is little mention of it on Twitter or in the news, even the Japanese news. Although the same could be said for the China Airlines flight CI140 crash, which I previously posted about, bus accidents tend to get a lot less coverage. I wonder why this is, given that so many people do travel by bus everyday.

But I do remember seeing details about the Kan’Etsu bus crash in the news when it happened. As I check the Japanese news every day, perhaps that is not a surprise, especially given my research interests in public transportation accidents. But there was another reason why this accident caught my attention and it related to the main accident that I have researched, Flight JL123. That is because the crash happened in Fujioka, Gunma. Fujioka is the city where the bereaved gathered in 1985 following the JL123 crash, as I have discussed in many of my publications, particularly Dealing with Disaster in Japan and Osutaka (this one covers in a lot of detail what it was like in Fujioka in 1985). Yet again Fujioka was connected to an accident which otherwise (in terms of the passengers), there was no direct link.

In terms of the Kan’Etsu bus crash, the key points are that at about 04:40 on 29 April 2012 a tour bus, travelling from Tokyo to Toyama and Kanazawa, collided with a noise-prevention barrier close to Fujioka junction on the Kan’Etsu Expressway. Seven of the 46 on board were killed in the accident. This was the worst accident of its kind on an expressway and was thought to have been caused by the driver falling asleep and also related to working conditions on such buses.

I visited the crash site in September 2017 after visiting the Karuizawa Ski Bus Memorial. You can get to the site by car on the local roads or walk from Kita-Fujioka station.

When I visited about 5 years had passed since the crash, and I was aware that there were two memorial points, as shown on the map above. The first is close to the crash site itself and is marked by the pointer close to the ‘E17’ label on the map above. The other is at a temple, Kanonji, nearby.

In terms of the crash site memorial, this is quite a simple memorial and similar to many other roadside memorials seen around the world. It isn’t a quiet spot, being both by a road and also just below the expressway where the accident itself happened. I find it a shame that the warning signs not to enter the banked area are so prominent. Given that the crash happened quite recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if further modifications were made to the site, if the triggers are right (see my article on modifications are made to public transportation accidents). But the fact that there is already another memorial site nearby may stop this.

Close to the crash site is a temple, Kanonji. This also has a memorial for the crash, on which are also the names of those killed in the accident.

I haven’t been in contact with any of those directly involved with the crash, but I know from my conversations with those in the 8/12 Renrakukai (the association established by families involved in the JL123 crash), that they have been in contact with families and offered support, and also visit the crash site and temple. Yet again (as with the Karuizawa accident, Fukuchiyama accident, and China Airlines CI140 crash), there are strong links with JL123. That this particular accident also happened in Fujioka further strengthens links, as many volunteers from 1985 still get involved with memorial activities for JL123 and I suspect were also there to offer support after the Kan’Etsu Bus Crash.

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