By Ryo Sumikawa
Iron Bridges: Monuments Stamped With Lost Memories
At 1:24 on the afternoon of Dec. 28, 1986, a strong wind blew across the rails of the iron bridge, causing the Miyabi passenger train, on its way back to the yard, to crank its emergency brake. When the engineer turned to check his line of cars, he saw nothing on the tracks. The passenger cars had derailed and crushed a crab-packing plant below. Five plant workers and one train conductor died in the accident. This terrible tragedy occurred on the Amarube Iron Bridge, at 41.45 meters, renowned as “The Far East’s Tallest Trestle Bridge.”
(The historic Iron Bridge will be replaced by a new concrete bridge to be completed in 2010.)
In the latest issue of the BE-PAL’s email magazine, I wrote of the final curtain call for the Amarube Iron Bridge, and soon after received a letter from a reader. The reader’s home was near the Amarube Iron Bridge, and recently a long letter arrived from his father still living there.
The story occurred the year before Japan National Railways became JR. The main line of the San-in Railway had made the switch to electric up to Miyazaki Station. At Kazumi Station a concessionaire and a conductor boarded a special “New Year’s Shopping Tour” car. The father wrote:
“The man serving as executive director of Japan Foods at the time had just finished an extended medical treatment and was returning to his hometown to assume a position as head of a restaurant at a golf course where I worked. We ended up working together for three years—one of life’s chance meetings, I guess.”
Some had survived the 41-meter fall.
The father ended his letter by mentioning the death of his youngest child in the same year as the accident. The elder son was moved by this reference and continued on.
“Our youngest sibling passed away about 20 years ago—the same year as the Amarube Iron Bridge accident. My father felt an even deeper connection with the railway, and now one of our family’s monuments is disappearing. Thank you for making me aware of that.”
This is one of the perks of being an editor. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and personally recalled first seeing news of the accident at my grandmother’s house at age 13. My first trip to the bridge was at 19 on a solo motorcycle tour, followed by a second trip passing over the bridge with a girlfriend on the Izumo sleeper-car when I was 25. The third time was in fall at 32-years-old for a cover shoot for BEPAL.
“Time flows like a river” is a common figure of speech but, in reality, we forget many events. We often relive moments when something comes to an end—break-ups, incidents, accidents and death. We gather together memories like points and draw them together to make a line to remember the road we have traveled. But our lives aren’t represented by the line. Rather, by those long-forgotten things that lie between the points.