Doai Station on the JR Joetsu Line is like an underground fortress with 462 stairs to the platform, and is the deepest “mole” station in Japan. The station is located in the middle of the Shin-Shimizu Tunnel (13,500m), which runs through the mountainous area on the border between Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. With no escalators or elevators, visitors will need to crawl out of this dungeon on foot to the escape into the sun from the damp mist swirling underworld.
The World of Biohazard
The scary-looking unmanned Doai Station in Minakami Town, Gunma Prefecture is a paradise for zombie fans. The station is located near the base of Mount Tanigawa and mainly used by intensive hikers. Literally, there is not much to do around the station, aside from hiking. It's so peaceful above ground that it's hard to believe that there's another world below ground that's so evil-looking.
However, the entrance warns the visitors that this station is the deepest station and familiarly known as the “mole” station. Some may wonder, “why mole?” however, visitors will shortly notice its reasons. As soon as entering the station, the unmanned station already unleashed a retro yet eerie atmosphere. Time seems to have stopped here and you have stepped into another world.
The dimly lit 143merters long passage on the left takes the visitors to another world towards the center of the earth. The old tunnel is connected to another tunnel that goes deep down the earth. Even during the daytime, there are hardly any lights coming in creating the space even more ghostly. Water is dripping from the ceiling and the sound of the droplets in the silence adds creepiness.
As visitors go through the entrance door to the next tunnel, the tunnel suddenly disappears. This tunnel is 13,500 meters long and runs deep into the ground to penetrate the mountainous region on the Gunma-Niigata border and there are 462 steps from the station building to the platform. There are additional 24 steps before exiting the station. These seemingly endless flights of steps look like an entrance to the underworld but only take roughly about five minutes to get down.
The underground platform serves as the out-bound line for the JR Joetsu Line. This current station opened in 1931 uses a combination of loop lines (a spiral staircase-like circle to cope with the height difference) and multiple tunnels to overcome the gradient. However, in the 1960s, when civil engineering technology advanced, it was possible to connect the two lines (in-bound and out-bound) in the shortest possible distance using a single Shin-Shimizu tunnel. For this reason, when the in-bound and out-bound lines of the Joetsu Line were separated, such an underground platform at Doai Station was built in the middle of the Shin-Shimizu Tunnel. Hence, it got its new name, “mole” station.
The platform only has a small waiting room with scattered pens and random books with a tiny squat toilet.
The dampness in the tunnel caused green moss to grow on the walls and aside from the neon lights, there seems to have no activity, as there are only 5 to 8 trains per day that stop here. Keep in mind that each train is several hours apart so if you miss it, you’ll be stuck waiting in the dark underground for ages. The entire underground platform seems like a nest for zombies or a scene from a horror movie. The cold and dark platform can give you chills or amazement to be able to see this off-the-beaten-path fortress.
Coming down to explore the station may sound fun. But, since there are no escalators or elevators, going up is the difficult part of the journey. Looking up, just like coming down the stairs, it seems never-ending. One way to cheer your trip back out might be to count the number of stairs. There are numbers on the steps to help you as people can easily lose count when you are concentrating hard climbing up to escape this hell.
Besides just the fans of the railroads, the unusual, massive underground tunnel is an interesting sight for many people. Once hiking up the 462 stairs and back through the passenger bridge to the main building, visitors will surely be relieved to be back under the sun.
In this unmanned station with roughly about 20 to 30 passengers per day, a cafe, Mogura (literally translated as mole) opened in August 2020. Renovating the actual station office, cafe Mogura is located on the right side of the entrance to the station.In cooperation with JR East Startup Corporation, Village Inc, a Japanese company that aims to “craft next local by village” has opened this cafe in hope that a new value for unmanned stations to be created. From coffee to craft beer to tea to other drinks and food, this cafe is a great place to sit back and chill while waiting for the next train to come.