Akabira is a small town just north of Mt. Sorachi in Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido. Akabira town's railway station, Akabira Station, code named "T23," was established in 1913, and is one of the 69 stations on JR Hokkaido's Nemuro Main Line (Nemuro Honsen).
Together with the nearby town of Ashibetsu, Akabira was a rich source of coal and a busy scene of mining activity until the mid-1960s. The area was divided into three according to the operators of its three mines and their locations: Showa Denko K.K.'s Toyosato, Hokkaido Colliery & Steamship Co., Ltd.'s Akama, and Sumitomo's Akabira. Akabira was distinctive for having three slag heaps, one from each area, behind Akabira Station, which had been established in 1913.
The late-1950s to early-1960s was the period of peak mining activity in Akabira, when Akabira Station was the departure point for rail destinations all over Japan of up to 200 carloads of coal daily. In terms of volume, Akabira Station was second in Japan after Umeda Station in Osaka. Akabira's population at this time was over 50,000 - about five times the present population of what has become a sleepy, not no doubt far more green and pleasant, hollow.
In 1962, national energy policy changed with the liberalization of oil imports, spelling the end of the era of coal, and by the mid-1960s Akabira's importance as a coal town, and therefore Akabira Station's importance as a freight station, was over. The final nail in the station's historical coffin was in 1989 when the last dedicated coal line, the Sumitomo rail freight line, was closed.
Akabira Station was rebuilt in 1999, and is now a 6-floor structure that also houses the Akabira Koryu Senta Mirai ("Akabira Community Center 'Future'"). The new station building makes up in looks what it has lost in importance with its imposing red-brick castle-like design, in the style of the Edwardian architecture typical - at least in Europe - of when the original station was erected in 1913. Red brick is an architectural theme of Hokkaido, and this modern contribution helps keeps the tradition alive.
Akihira is about an hour by train from Sapporo, changing trains at Takikawa, or an hour and a half by Kosoku Furano-go bus.
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