Sites of the Rail Regiment of the Former Imperial Japanese Army

by Justin Aukema
February 25, 2014

Scattered throughout Chiba City and Tsudanuma Wardin the adjacent Narashino City are the remains of the Rail Regiment (tetsudōrentai) of the former Imperial Japanese Army [1]. Due to the large size of the area once used by the regiment, much has now been built up, and the artifacts or markers that remain are in various states of preservation. At the same time, some of the more iconic reminders of the regiment remain very visible.

The Rail Regiment was created in 1896 (Meiji 29), and it eventually came to be comprised of two units – one with a training ground where the current Chiba Park now stands, and the other in the nearbyTsudanuma Ward [2]. It was a special division of the army that was formed withthe express purpose of handling jobs associated with rail construction and maintenance on the battlefield. During the years it was active (1896 – 1945), railways were an important weapon of wartime strategy, and nearly all the major powers maintained such units [3].

In its early years, the Rail Regiment played anactive part in the Boxer Rebellion (1899 – 1901) and the Russo-Japanese War(1904 – 1905). Moreover, the regiment (literally) stood at the “front lines” of Japanese aggression and expansion abroad, especially in Japanese-occupied China[4]. One of the more notorious episodes that the Rail Regiment was involved in was the 1942-43 construction of the Burma Railway during World War II. Many Allied POW and local citizens were forced by the Japanese army to build the more-than-400km long railway which linked Burma and Thailand. Some estimate that as many as 100,000 people lost their lives during the construction of the railway,which earned it the nickname Death Railway [5].

Although there is no resource center directly offering information on the history of the Rail Regiment, nor any official maps to any of the locations of remaining sites and artifacts, Iida Norio gives the following map in his book Nihon no gunji iseki (Former Military War Sites Around Japan).
According to Iida"a monument commemorating the battalion can be found at the former site ofthe officer club's headquarters near Tsubakimura Park" marked"A" on the map (my addition). However, although I easily found thepark, I was unable to find any monument at this location [6].
On the other hand,the sites located within Chiba Park were clearly marked on the park maps and, thus, were quite easy to find. In fact, the remains from the Rail Regiment seemed to be a major attraction for the park. The park's main pathways, for instance, led directly by the three largest sites, and signposts marked the way to each of the remains.
About a minute walk from the park's East entrance was the first site, which a nearby sign explained as "concrete blocks used as winch stands."
The next site - a section of concrete tunnel used for training exercises - was even larger, and much more noticeable. However, its location on the edge of the park and in whatappeared to be a park recreation officer's backyard made for a bit of an oddcontrast. Near the tunnel section was yet a more detailed placard that offered information on the formation ofthe Rail Regiment and its connection to the area where Chiba Park now stands.The sign also included photographs of the regiment doing training exercises.
On the way to the third main site within the park - a large, concrete bridge support - I came across a group of mostly older students from Hōsō University who had come as a class specifically to learn about the Rail Regiment and view the remnants of its training grounds.
While these three spots are all that remain within Chiba Park, there are still many others located outside the park and in the direction of Tsudanuma. One of these was abuilding that had once been used by the regiment as a materials storage shedand rail repair shop. The site is located about a 15 minute walk from Chiba Park, within he grounds of Chiba Keizai University, which now owns the property.

The 54-meter-longbrick building, with its tall, arched roof, was built in 1908 and remained inuse until 1984. Today, the building is an example of Meiji architecture, and is preserved by Chiba Prefecture as a cultural heritage.
However, it is not immediately apparent where the building is located on the Chiba Keizai campus. In fact, the site is at the far end of the campus, but there are no signs indicating the spot. Moreover, despite being designated by the prefecture as acultural heritage site, the building is entirely roped off and surrounded by"Do not enter" signs. There is also no sign indicating the building's history or background. Despite these setbacks, I was able to snap the following photos through the window of the building.

Apart from the building on the Chiba Keizai campus, there are at least two more notable sites associated with the Rail Regiment in Tsudanuma. However, it is also worth mentioning that many of the lines, including the JR Sobu Line and Keisei Lines,running from Chiba City to Tsudanuma were also built or used by the Rail Unit.This was also the case for other lines throughout Chiba. Although privately owned, the respective companies which built such lines often hired the Rail Regiment as a source of inexpensive labor, and the regiment, eager for training opportunities, readily obliged [7].

The last two stops onmy search - the old gate entrance to the regiment's number two unit and one ofthe actual rail cars used at that time - are both located in very publicplaces. First, the gate, which is located just a short distance from JR station, was inherited by the Chiba Institute of Technology when they moved to the grounds after the war. Moreover, the university kept the gate, and even turned it into the main gate for the school.

A short distance from this spot is a park where the train engine, a K2-type no. 134, used by the regiment is kept.
A plaque marks the clearly visible engine. The plaque reads:

"This steam engine was once used by the Second Unit of the Army's Rail Regiment, whose headquarters were here in Tsudanuma. The engine was used on the Army's training exercise line, in an area that is now the Keisei Line. The engine was proudly displayed in the Seibu Rail Company's Unesco-mura (former theme park) before being moved here to Tsudanuma Icchōme Park, a place with a strong connection to the Rail Unit."

[1] Noria, Iida, Nihonno gunji iseki, Tokyo: Kawade shobo shinsha (2004), p.48
[2] Ibid., 48.
[3] Ibid. 48.
[4] Ibid., 48.
[5] David McNeill, “Building Bridges Over Hate: Thai-Burma Railroad Legacy,” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 24 September 2005.
[6] Iida, 48.
[7] Ibid., 48.

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