It could be a scene out of a Spaghetti Western film.
An empty train crawls along a single track towards a tired old station, slowing to pick up a lone waiting passenger.
That scenario has been playing out in a remote community on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido for the last three years.
Kana Harada, an 18-year-old high school student, is that lonely commuter.
Harada is picked up every day at 7:04 a.m. to go to school 56 km away, and returns home at 5:08 p.m.
The stops are the only two the Hokkaido Railway Company makes at the Kami-Shirataki train station each day, and the arrival and departure times are scheduled around Kana’s classes.
“I got on and off of this train for the past three years and this station’s presence has become something I have taken for granted,” said Harada.
Now the service to the station is set to end.
In previous years, the Hokkaido Railway Company would stop in the rural town of Engaru four times daily.
But, as the years have gone by, many people have moved from the countryside into Japan’s bustling cities, and the community has shrunk to just 36 residents.
In 2012, the railway planned to shut down service to the 60-year-old station, which was built by local residents for the purpose of sending their children to school.
After learning Harada relied on the train to reach school each day, the company decided to continue operation until 2016.
But, service to the station is slated to end on March 26 – the same day Harada is scheduled to graduate from high school.
Like many people before her, Harada is set to leave the community, as she plans to attend medical school away from home.
When that happens, there will be no one left for the train to pick up.
“I do feel sad to think that it will disappear,” said Harada. “I am now filled with gratitude.”
The train will continue to service other towns along the rail line, but for residents in Engaru, the familiar chime of the train’s bell will soon be a sound of a time gone by.
© 2016 Shaw Media