Photo/Illutration An Odakyu Electric Railway Co. train running in Tokyo in September (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater troupe based in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, was apparently established "out of necessity" by a railroad baron.

Ichizo Kobayashi (1873-1957), the founder of Hankyu Railway, believed that a residential development project along the company's service route was indispensable to increasing ridership.

But he also understood that it would be a long time before the project could bear fruit.

He later recalled, "Until the areas along the route are fully developed to guarantee steady ridership, I was forced to create an amusement facility of some sort to lure as many passengers as possible."

From the late Meiji Era (1868-1912) to the early Taisho Era (1912-1926), Kobayashi built an onsen spa facility in Takarazuka and founded the Takarazuka Revue to provide entertainment to spa visitors.

Kobayashi also took his business of housing development seriously. He invited the citizens of Osaka to "fully enjoy the pleasures of family life" in the lushly treed suburbs.

The strategy of a private railway company luring people to suburban living along its train service route, which started in the Kansai region, became a business model that spread east to the Kanto region.

Perhaps this is the background against which Odakyu Electric Railway Co. announced a new fare structure on Nov. 8.

Starting next spring, the company will charge only a fixed fare of 50 yen (44 cents), regardless of the distance, to children using IC cards. The railway's stated purpose is to promote itself as a "friendly line for families with children" in this age of fewer children. 

The number of businesses that are regaining their pre-pandemic profits is on the rise, but railway companies are still struggling.

Even though ridership has plummeted due to people working from home, railway companies cannot reduce their service frequency.

To make matters worse, a spate of crimes has occurred on trains, but beefing up security would involve extra costs.

Against this backdrop, Odakyu's fare slash is newsworthy.

When I visited a museum in Kobayashi's hometown, I came across the motto he lived by: "Anyone who can see 100 steps ahead is treated as a lunatic; many of the people who can see 50 steps ahead become victims; and the successful people are those who can see 10 steps ahead."

I should imagine Odakyu's latest decision represents an investment made by looking 10 steps ahead.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.