Takashimaya offering chance to drive special train in Tohoku

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

For anyone who has ever wanted to drive a train, there’s a “fukubukuro” lucky bag going on sale this New Year’s season which can make that dream come true.

Major department store chain Takashimaya Co. announced on Wednesday it will sell 20 of the unique lucky bags that give buyers the opportunity to operate a special train during a package tour in the Tohoku region.

Traditionally, New Year’s lucky bags contain miscellaneous items unknown to the buyer, but this one by Takashimaya reflects the growing trend for shoppers to buy an experience rather than goods.

“Customers these days tend to find value in experience, rather than physical items,” Takashimaya spokesman Toshinao Kuwahara said.

Takashimaya has been selling unique experiences through lucky bags for several years, but this will be the first to offer a chance to be a train motorman, Kuwahara said.

“We’d like to fulfill a dream of adults who wished (as a child) to someday run a train,” he said.

The offer is being made in collaboration with the Sanriku Railway Co. in Iwate Prefecture. The special train will run on a 50-meter track in the rail yard for the South Riasu Line in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture.

The purchasers will be able to operate the train a total of four times under the direction of professional drivers. But before that, they will be given lectures on how to operate the train and will undergo practice.

The two-night, three-day tour from April 17 to 19 will include a get-together party with staff members of the railway firm and sightseeing in the prefecture, Takashimaya said.

People who want to purchase the bag have to drop an application form into boxes placed in 17 Takashimaya department stores nationwide and other outlets. Applicants must be at least 20 years old and the successful 20 applications will be selected by lottery.

Kuwahara said the department store chain has been trying to help Tohoku recover from the 2011 disasters by featuring products from the region at various events.

Sanriku Railway, which operates the South Riasu and North Riasu lines in Iwate’s coastal area, restored full operations in April this year after suffering heavy damage from the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami.