The numbers of railway enthusiasts in Japan are increasing. According to NHK journalist Takeshige Morimoto, there are now over 2 million train fans in Japan today. Their numbers are not just limited to geeky trainspotters (tori tetsu), tetsu (rail) fans include: people who enjoy taking trips on Japans various local lines (nori tetsu), mothers who’ve caught the bug from their kids (mama tetsu) and more recently young women (tetsu chan).
The railboom trend was the subject of Morimoto’s “Railway Boom Spans Generations” program which was aired on 20 Jan. Morimoto, who presented the show, believes that in a digital world where people are feeling more and more disengaged from one another, railways provide a sense of connection to other humans.
Businesses are clearly picking up on this new wave of enthusiasm for railways. According to Nikkei Trendy, from October to December 2010, four new rail-themed stores opened up in Tokyo Station. Nippon Shokudo is our favorite: Modeled on the Cassiopea (Japan’s equivalent of the Orient express, which runs overnight from Ueno to Sapporo), the restaurant is a super-swanky replica of the train’s original dining car.
Packed lunch boxes that are sold at trains stations (ekiben) are also experiencing a surge in popularity. The varieties available have been proliferating, according to Yomiuri Online, and special care is given to utilizing local ingredients that will reflect the area where it was bought. A nationwide ekiben competition just got underway at Osaka’s Hanshin department store. On until the Feb. 1, 260 different packed lunches will be competing for the crown of Japan’s best ekiben. Due to a marketing collaboration with the manga “Ekiben Hitori Tabi” (Solo Packed Lunch Journey), this year’s competition is expected to be even more popular than previous years. The manga is the story of one man who tours the country trying out ekiben in his quest to discover the secret of making delicious ekiben.
The railway boom is also reverberating in the movie industry. In May last year a movie titled “Railways” was released. It’s the story of a 49-year-old elite businessman who quits his job when his mother becomes ill and his colleague dies. The lead, played by Kiichi Nakai, goes back to his hometown and finds solace and redemption by becoming a train driver.
If you want to see just how passionate Japan’s railroad fans get, check out the video of a hardcore tetsu mama above.