Struggling rail line sells station naming rights in bid to stay on track

by

Staff Writer

As railways across Japan make efforts to lure more patrons with luxury coaches and gourmet services, a small operator in Chiba Prefecture has fashioned its own tourist draw with a quirky new nickname linked to hair regrowth.

As part of a naming rights initiative for the stations on Choshi Electric Railway Co.’s rail line, Kasagami-Kurohae Station in the city of Choshi was on Dec. 1 officially nicknamed “Kaminoke-kurohae,” the name encouraging the growth of black hair by which Japanese are distinguished.

The nickname was added to official signage and has been used to announce when a train approaches, after Meso Care Plus K.K., a company developing scalp care products, acquired naming rights to the station.

Meso Care Plus President Akira Kato told The Japan Times he found the initiative interesting and believed the play on the station’s name and his company’s products may attract the public.

“I knew of (the railway’s) initiatives, and knew that firms in rural areas struggle to maintain their business,” Kato said.

Meso Care Plus paid ¥1.5 million for the rights in the hope the outlay will help maintain the country’s infrastructure asset.

One hundred train tickets made of konbu (edible kelp) that were issued to promote the name change were sold out in less than a week.

The latter part of the station’s name is derived from the area’s characteristics and described in the city’s records as owing to an abundance of black rocks likely dating back hundreds of millions of years.

The area is also known for roof tiles made from local clay extracted from black walls of mines in the area, according to local legend.

But although the name causes passengers to laugh, the railway, which has only 24 employees and a 6.4-km line, hopes it contributes to fighting the population decrease in the region.

All up, Choshi Electric Railway Co. sold naming rights to seven out of nine stations, raising ¥8.3 million based on one-year deals valued at up to ¥2 million each.

One firm, Okinawa Tourist Service Inc., named a station using a slogan that incorporates a local hot spring.

The railway said the money will go toward maintaining rolling stock so it can continue operations.

Takashi Kurosawa, who is in charge of the company’s corporate strategy, said the railway had financially struggled since 2006, when a former executive embezzled some ¥100 million of the firm’s funds, and following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

“Since 2011, we have been in the red,” Kurosawa said.

To raise funds for operations, the railway has offered various entertainment services for passengers, such as haunted trains, and introduced the sale of local delicacies, such as nure-senbei (rice crackers dipped in soy sauce), at its stations. The annual profit is generated mainly from the sale of rice crackers.

“Most of all, we are aiming to become a company offering services that people will be thankful for,” Kurosawa said.

“We also gained partners that will help us invigorate the region,” he said.