Minami Daito Village to revive sugarcane train

September 22, 2013 Shogaku Umeda of the Ryukyu Shimpo

Minami Daito Village Office plans to revive the train that until 1983 was used to transport sugarcane on Minami Daito Island.

The office hopes to increase the number of tourists visiting the island, which is located approximately 360 kilometers east of the main island of Okinawa. They will use state subsidies to start the project this fiscal year. The office is currently considering the extent of the route, the number of trains and the points of arrival and departure. Once they have decided the route, they will start work on the project in fiscal 2014 and complete it the following fiscal year. If the office succeeds in setting it up, it will be the only railroad on the remote islands of Okinawa and also the southernmost in Japan.

Since 1900, people who migrated to the island worked mainly in the sugarcane industry. About 30 kilometer of railway tracks was laid to carry sugarcane to the port and to sugar factories.

Minami Daito Village Mayor Kensho Nakada said, “The sugarcane train contributed to the industrial development of the island. We want to preserve it as part of our historical legacy and to help promote tourism.”

The village introduced a steam train in 1916. This continued to operate after the Battle of Okinawa but they switched to diesel in 1978. The sugarcane train used to have a passenger carriage and through the years it gradually became part of the lives of local residents. When transport by truck came to the fore the office discontinued the sugarcane train in the 1983 season, removing most of the track.
Essayist Hazime Yutaka, who is familiar with the railroad, has ridden on the sugarcane train. He said, “I am glad to hear about the project, but it will be difficult to carry out just through tourism. The sugarcane industry is facing a crisis in the village, but I hope that the villagers will use this opportunity to come up with something completely new.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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