The country of Japan is crisscrossed by railways. A lot of them are memorable and awesome, but for me, one train stands out as really special: the Hankyu train. I’m not alone, it turns out Hideo Kojima agrees.
In his next book, The creative gene, Kojima has a chapter titled “For me, the Hankyu Railway is a time machine that connects memories to my hometown.” The chapter is an essay published in 2011 and includes his review of the 2008 novel Hankyu Densha by Hiro Arikawa.
What would become the Hankyu Railway was originally founded in Minoo, Osaka in 1907. The railway hub is now in Umeda, one of Osaka’s city centers, and s’ stretches as far as Kyoto and Kobe. The train lines are convenient and many stations are quite charming, if not idyllic. But what really sets Hankyu trains apart is their elegance.
Hankyu’s cars have been brown for a century. The color is so distinctive that in Japan it is known as the “Hankyu color”. A hundred years ago, train cars had wooden panels. Nowadays, most don’t, but Hankyu keeps this tradition alive. “Wooden patterns are printed on the interior steel sheets to create a warm atmosphere,” writes the railroad official site. “This commitment to the interior is also our tradition.” This gives the interior of a Hankyu train a warm and retro feel. Faux-wood walls are accented by lush oil-gilded seats made from Angolan sheep wool. The seats are not only fantastic, but pleasant to the touch.
“If anyone asked me what I think of when I imagine a train, it would be these brown cars – the classic Hankyu train that runs through the mountainous Kansai valleys,” writes Kojima. He was born in Setagaya in Tokyo, where the Odakyu train line runs, but moved to Osaka when he was young and has no background memories of the Odakyu lineage. His childhood home was close to Hankyu Ibarakishi Station in Osaka Prefecture, so when he was a kid, every time he went to Kyoto or Osaka, it was on a Hankyu. form.
“To this day, I can visualize the memorable landscapes of the Hankyu Kyoto line from my youth, such as the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery and the Awaji Concrete Factory.
In fifth grade, Kojima’s family moved to Kawanishi in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture. He may have been in a new prefecture, but his house was still near a Hankyu line. Whenever he ventured to Umeda, Kyoto, Itami or Kobe, it all happened on a Hankyu train. Even after college, when he found his first job and his first apartment, Kojima still lived near a Hankyu train line. He could have used the JR line for his trips, but he stayed with the Hankyu train.
“Hankyu trains have been with me for half of my life,” writes Kojima. “For high school, regular school, work, games, dating, movies, shopping, travel, annual New Year’s shrine tours, go to the airport (via the train station Hotarugaike) and visit the house, everything was by Hankyu. “For Kojima, the color brown symbolizes both trains and his youth.
In the chapter, Kojima remembers taking the train for the first time in a year. The exterior landscape had changed, and inside the car things had been modernized and updated. There are small flat screens showing advertisements and showing the metro map, which is common on many Japanese trains. “But even then, the ride was nostalgic amid the comfortable, cradle-like rocking,” he wrote. “For me, the Hankyu Railway is not just a way to get from one place to another, but a time machine connecting my memories to my hometown.”
For years, I lived next to a Hankyu railway line. I stood on my balcony and watched the trains at night. I remember taking the Hankyu train to go on dates with my then girlfriend, now my wife. My oldest son, who is about to enter college, was obsessed with Hankyu trains when he was little, and on my days off we would ride them all over Kansai. I have since moved and unfortunately no longer leave near a Hankyu station. But trains still cause a deep emotional reaction when I see them. I like to watch the cars slam at the bottom of the slopes. I love to ride them and sit in their seats. And so, it turns out, says Hideo Kojima.
The creative gene will be released on October 19. You can read more about the book here.