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Struggling railway in Chiba launches ‘foul-tasting’ snack to boost revenue

Kyodo

A small railway in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, has turned to a stick-shaped snack with a funny name in an attempt to boost its business, which has been battered by a decline in ridership.

Choshi Electric Railway Co., which runs a 6.4-km line in the city, began selling the Mazui Bo, meaning “foul-tasting stick,” on Friday.

“Actually, it is tasty,” its official website says of the snack, which has a corn potage flavor. A phrase on the packaging says the only thing going bad is its own business.

Mazui Bo isn’t the company’s first foray into the snack industry. The railway has been selling chewy wet rice crackers called Nuresembei for more than 20 years to help offset losses from the decline in ridership caused by depopulation in the surrounding areas.

The crackers accounted for 70 percent of the company’s revenue in fiscal 2017, with rail enthusiasts eagerly buying them to support the company, which was established in 1923.

Mazui Bo are sold at Inubo Station for ¥50 each. A set of 15 is available for ¥600. The company said it also plans to start selling the product online.

“By trying new things, we want to appeal to people nationwide that Choshi Electric is still working in good spirits,” said President Katsunori Takemoto.

The company is not the only railway operator in the country facing a harsh business environment caused by Japan’s graying population and low birthrate.

Japan has seen dozens of railways scrapped since 2000, and many of the survivors are shifting their businesses to sectors outside of transportation.