By Tsuyoshi Yoshioka / Yomiuri Shimbun PhotographerAfter school and kindergarten, children gather at a yellow train car resting in the corner of a Tokyo housing complex in the Misumicho area of Higashimurayama, Tokyo. The old Seibu Railway Co. train carriage, which once ran along an important railway line for local residents, is the home of the Kumegawa train library, which mainly targets children.
The carriage, which holds about 5,000 books and is operated by 25 volunteers, is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Noriko Munemura, 46, visited with her second son Taishiro, 6. “He can concentrate on reading here more than at home,” she said with a smile. The library also serves as a place for parents and locals to talk and interact.
The train library first opened in 1967. Before then, there was no public library in the city. Seibu Railway offered to donate a train car upon hearing that local parents wanted to create a place where children could gain more exposure to books.
The train library became a familiar place in the community. But the train car was removed when the housing complex underwent rebuilding. The library then operated out of a prefabricated building. About 10 years later, in 2001, the library reopened in another train — also donated by Seibu.
However, the train car has fallen into a state of disrepair since then. Although the costs for purchasing books are covered by city government subsidies, the community has to find the funds to repair the train car itself, such as by holding flea markets and collecting recyclable waste in exchange for money.
“Maintaining the car is the biggest problem,” said Yuko Ogura, 62, a representative of the library’s support group.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary since the first train library opened. On Nov. 25 and 26, the city held a commemorative event with storytelling sessions and an exhibition of original drawings printed in a community publication. Donations were collected to raise repair funds.