Thieves swipe AKB48 shells from tsunami-hit railway

Kyodo

The Sanriku Railway Co. says thieves have stolen scallop shells bearing messages written by entertainers from all-girl pop and dance troupe AKB48.

The company believes the shells disappeared from Koishihama Station in May, where they had been hanging with 10,000 or so other decorative scallop plaques.

The station is on the Minami-Riasu Line in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, which was devastated by the tsunami in 2011.

The shells bore messages written by Mayu Watanabe, 20, Moe Aigasa, 16, and Yuka Tano, 17. In all, six of the AKB48 entertainers wrote messages on shells when they attended the line’s reopening ceremony on April 20.

Tetsu Yoshida, the company’s train operations manager, expressed disappointment at the theft.

“It’s very regrettable,” he said. “I hope that the person who took them will return them to any station on the Minami-Riasu Line.”

A local scallop farmer who helped to organize the event reportedly noticed on May 23 that the three plaques were missing. Ropes holding the shells appeared to be partly burned, he said.

Fearing thieves would strike again, the railway operator has removed all AKB48 shells, Yoshida said.

“We ought to be able to display celebrities’ plaques alongside those written by ordinary people,” he said.

The Sanriku Railway Co.’s Minami-Riasu Line’s Koishihama Station was first decorated with scallop shells in 2009 when it was renamed to celebrate a local brand of farmed scallops, in the hopes of luring more tourists to the area.

The kanji characters used to spell Koishihama were changed from “pebble beach” to “love beach” — and recognizable as the brand name of a popular local seafood producer.

The station’s waiting room acquired ever greater numbers of hanging shells and the walls came to resemble those at Shinto shrines hung with wooden prayer plaques.

There are always blank shells at the station for visitors to write on.