Skip to content

Light Railway


Remains of the turntable of the light railway Naha Station near Yui Rail Asahibashi Station
Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Okinawa is the only prefecture in Japan without a railway.

However, three prefectural railways had existed around Naha on the main island of Okinawa before the War: Yonabaru line, Kadena line, and Itoman line, with a total length of 46.8 kilometers. All three were light railways with a narrow gauge of 762 millimeters wide, and a small steam locomotive to lead the wooden passenger cars. According to a timetable from around 1935, each line made 10~14 roundtrips a day, and some of them ran on gasoline. The girl students who passed away so young1 also attended school by this train. 

All of the railways were lost during the Battle of Okinawa, and only a few traces of bridges and other constructions remain today. Countless bullet holes can be seen on the abutment.

We can appreciate those bygone days only in photographs, but it was a delight to hear that a phonograph record of “Keibin-Tetsudō-bushi” (Light Railway Tune) still remained. 

 Keibin kisha nutwi Mākaiga

 Nāfwa nu machi gwanu Tarugāyā

 Kōtwi mudoyai Sātādē

 Datēn moukitwi Yā fuchun

 Shitai! Ahigwa Chibariyō

 Nayuru kitekin Afī! Afī!

 On the light railway Where do you go

 To the town of Naha At the sugar shop

 Buy and bring back The sugar penny

 Earn a lot And get a home

 Hooray! Boy Go for it 

 The whistle blows Afī! Darling, Afī!

Roughly translated: “Trade sugar and earn money to build a home, good luck boy.” The sentimental tune of the scale unique to Okinawan folksongs and the railway-like rhythm join together to create this charming railway song. The song goes up to four verses; the above is the first. The lyrics were written by Tokuda Anshu and the song was composed by Mita Shinichi (RBC Records.) 

Fifty years after the loss of the light railways in the war, today, a monorail system2 is being built3 from the Naha Airport to Shuri. Restoration of Okinawan railways seems not to be so far away.

Editor’s Note:

  1. The Himeyuri students were a group of 222 students and 18 students from a woman’s school in Naha mobilized for the Battle of Okinawa, among which 226 passed away in this War.
  2. The Okinawan Urban Monorail, Yui Rail was opened to traffic in August 2003, from the Naha Airport Station to Shuri Station. In October 2019, the monorail was extended to Tedako Uranishi Station in Urasoe City.
  3. The official website of Yui Rail (english) :