Shigaraki Kōgen Train Crash Memorial

As part of my research on memorialisation, I have visited a number of memorials around Japan. One of these is for the Shigaraki Kōgen Train Crash (信楽高原鐵道衝突事故) (also known as the Shigaraki Train Disaster).

A summary of what happened can be found on Wikipedia. The key points that it was a railway accident that occurred in Shigaraki (now Koka), Shiga Prefecture, at 10:35 on 14 May, 1991. A Shigaraki Kōgen Railway (SKR) train and a West Japan Railway Company (JR West) train collided head-on, killing 42 people and injuring 614 others. Until the Fukuchiyama Line Derailment in 2005, this was the deadliest railway crash in Japan since the Yokohama rail crash of 1963, which killed 161 people.

I was an undergraduate at Sheffield University, studying Business Studies and Japanese, when the crash happened. I remember going into the office in the school that morning and one of the lecturers commenting on the crash, which I think I had seen or heard news of already, and how he was having to field a lot of phone calls from parents worried that their child could have been on one of the trains. The lecturer was struggling to understand the concerns, knowing that the students would be several hundred kilometres away near Tokyo. Having faced similar situations in my time as a lecturer in the past 20 years, I can see it both ways. These days we get less such calls as there tend to be better ways (thanks to the internet and mobile communications) for parents to contact their children. But also, these days, we would not be able to handle such calls due to data and privacy protection – we cannot even confirm that their child is a student of ours, let alone anything else. However, underlying all of the concerns, I suspect, is a lack of understanding of Japan and the scale of the country. I may be wrong, but I doubt that parents of students studying French, for example, would call the university enquiring about their child’s well-being had an accident happened a small rural town far from Paris (if that is where their child is studying). If this is the case, it shows that there is still much for people to learn about Japan and that also, those studying Japan need to do more to explain about Japan to their family before they go there.

I visited the Shigaraki Kōgen train crash site in September 2017. As I was based in Kyoto and had limited time during one of my busy trips to Japan (see other posts talking about this – such as Brief Encounters in Research and Researching Japan – My Busiest Trip), I hired a car and drove to the memorial – but it would also be possible to take a train to Shigarakigushi and then walk from there. If driving, then it is straight forward as you can leave the expressway at the Shigaraki IC (Kyoto is off to the left from the map below), and then, as soon as you are through the tolls barriers, the memorial is in front of you. You can find some parking nearby.

There are two parts to the memorial. The first is a marker post that shows where the two trains collided.

To the left of this, is another larger memorial, surrounded by trees.

There are parallels with the designs of the BOAC Flight 911 and JL123 memorial at Irei-no-Sono which I have posted about before. To the right of the main towers, there is a plaque explaining what the memorial is for, while the one on the left of the towers has the names of all of the victims.

A train passing the Shigaraki Kōgen Train Crash memorials

I included the crash within the 10 Japanese cases in my article about modifications are made to public transportation accidents (see Table 1 in that article), but I could see no signs of any significant modification. The main memorials seem to have been established at the same time. The only additional memorial stone that has been established, as shown in the picture below, does not appear to be one that would have been overly expensive to erect and so fell outside the parameters of my study.

For the first time, in 2020, none of the families attended the memorial ceremony on the anniversary. Only 6 people attended. Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused some impact, it seems that the activities of families are coming to an end as the group responsible for the memorial stone above has also disbanded. I think it is very unlikely that without co-ordination, on of the key factors identified in my article about modifications are made to public transportation accidents, that we will see any further significant changes to the memorial site.

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