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Japan is in the middle of a luxury train boom, but that doesn’t mean every station in the country is a palace of creature comforts. In the most rural areas, the station is often little more than an unstaffed slab of concrete poured next to the rails.

Things are just a bit more infrastructure-intensive at Tsutsuishi Station, however. That’s because while its above-ground facilities may not be much to look at, the platform is located at the bottom of a stairwell that descends 40 meters (131 feet) into the earth.

The brave men and women of Another Tokyo, the same outfit that recently visited Akihabara’s crazy rail-sandwiched cafe, took a trip out to Niigata Prefecture last July. While there, they stopped by Itoigawa, a seaside town of some 45,000 people. Itoigawa isn’t on most travelers’ itineraries, but it does have at least one place worth checking out in the form of Tsutsuishi Station.

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As you approach the station, there’s a sign pointing the way to the entrance, with the annotation chika eki or “underground station.” That’s not just British English, either, as Tsutsuishi is indeed a train station, just one that happens to be subterranean.

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▼ The station entrance

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The ticket counter is located above ground, and as you pass through the gate, you might notice something unusual. There’s a whiteboard that lists the temperature at the platform, which can be extremely different from that at ground-level. When Another Tokyo stopped by, it was 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) above ground, but only 19 (66 degrees Fahrenheit) on the platform.

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As you can see, the area around the station is wooded and mountainous. So instead of trying to lay tracks in these difficult-to-work-with surroundings, the engineers who designed the JR Hokuriku Main Line dug out the massive 11,353-meter-long Kubiki Tunnel that passes through the region. In order to connect the station’s above-ground facilities with the tunnel, the architects had to build another tunnel.

A very…

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As you descend into the depths, you’ll probably notice condensation forming along the walls. On this day, the in-tunnel humidity was posted at a dripping 85 percent.

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In total, there are 290 steps to travel, and no elevator or escalator. At one point, you may think you’re done when the walkway flattens out, but this is just a prelude to another set of stairs.

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Oh, and all that humidity? It can turn the tunnel dark and foggy, like something out of a horror movie.

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With an average of just 60 passengers a day using the station, you’ve got about as much chance of walking past an escapee from the mole kingdom as another human being on your way down. Actually, it’s amazing that 60 people a day are willing to trek down these stairs, then climb back up them after finishing school or work.

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Once you finally reach the bottom, which is likely to be five minutes or so after you went through the gate, you’ll find what looks like a bomb shelter, with a sturdy door and short bench. Most trains travelling on the line don’t stop at Tsutsuishi Station though, and when they speed past, they create what feels like hurricane-level turbulence in the air currents. Each time a train is scheduled to pass by, an attendant has to come down and make sure the doors are properly secured, and the physical exertion involved in going up and down the stairs so often is why there are five attendants at a station that sees so few passengers.

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▼ Don’t worry, this ominous-looking sign just says “train passing through,” not “zombie outbreak.”

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If the next train is stopping at Tsutsuishi Station, the platform is opened up, and you’ll hear the echoing din of the vehicle long before it comes into view.

▼ There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s way too far away to see from here.

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From Tsutsuishi Station your option are to head northeast towards Naoestsu Station, also in Niigata, or southwest, in the direction of Shiba Prefecture’s Maibara. Or, of course, you could walk back up all 290 steps and leave the way you came in, but somehow we doubt many people make that choice.

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Source, images: Another Tokyo