Posts Tagged ‘railways’

Plenty of room for passions to grow

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Though Japan is a nation of passionate hobbyists, it’s also a country in which space is at a premium. This poses a dilemma for otaku who spend years amassing huge toy collections, gearheads who want to work on their greasy motors, or arty types who want room in which to slap around some paint without ruining the tatami. Rather than renting out a cheap apartment or storage space, a new solution has been supplied by Reise Hobby, a company that offers versatile units for hobbyists to rent.

Founded in 2006 as a subsidiary of Reise Box storage company, Reise Hobby now own 30 buildings in Kanto and Kansai that house more than 200 “loft” or “maisonette type” spaces. Each space has two floors with private access via a garage door; the lower garage area serves as a workspace, while the upper area can be used as a storage space. This style has proved extremely popular, according to Nikkei Trendy: When the company opened up their new Tama Center in December 2011, half the units were snapped up on the first day they were first offered for sale.

Though users are generally male, the kinds of hobbies they pursue are diverse, ranging from those who want to store bikes or cars to artistic types to avid collectors. Some people rent units just to have a private space of their own, sort of like a secret club house. Units do not come cheap: A 41-sq.-meter unit at their Tama Center, for instance, costs ¥84,000 a month. However, on the plus side, these spaces are well-equipped with toilet, water supply, air conditioner, 50 kw electricity supply a month, electrical outlets and free Internet access. Add to this the freedom to customize the space as you please and these units look increasingly attractive.

If the rental fee still seems steep,  there are places where you can rent time in a shared space. The increased interest in railways, for example, has resulted in a number of businesses offering track rental time on train dioramas. Models IMON, for instance, offer track time in locations across Tokyo, in Harajuku, their rental layout costs¥2,100 for just under two hours and rental of trains comes extra. Since 2010, the Akihabra Washington Hotel even has a special room for densha otaku (train geeks) who can bring along their own trains and whizz them round a diorama of Akihabara for a rather pricy ¥23,000 a night.

The rent-a-space entrepreneurs are also amateur seamstresses. As we mentioned a few years back, there’s been a surge of interest in “remake” fashion (restyling second-hand clothes) and some stores like Sewing Machine Cafe & Lounge Nico, which opened in Setagaya in September 2011, have caught on to this and are offering sewing machine time for budding clothes designers for a small fee.

For some, hiring a space in which to practice their craft becomes the step from being merely an enthusiast to becoming a full-fledged professional. In our next post, we’ll take a look at how new kinds of shared rental spaces are cutting down costs and helping budding entrepreneurs build connections.

Going choo choo for Japanese railways

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The numbers of railway enthusiasts in Japan are increasing. According to NHK journalist Takeshige Morimoto, there are now over 2 million train fans in Japan today. Their numbers are not just limited to geeky trainspotters (tori tetsu), tetsu (rail) fans include: people who enjoy taking trips on Japans various local lines (nori tetsu), mothers who’ve caught the bug from their kids (mama tetsu) and more recently young women (tetsu chan).

The railboom trend was the subject of Morimoto’s “Railway Boom Spans Generations” program which was aired on 20 Jan. Morimoto, who presented the show, believes that in a digital world where people are feeling more and more disengaged from one another, railways provide a sense of connection to other humans.

Businesses are clearly picking up on this new wave of enthusiasm for railways. According to Nikkei Trendy, from October to December 2010, four new rail-themed stores opened up in Tokyo Station. Nippon Shokudo is our favorite: Modeled on the Cassiopea (Japan’s equivalent of the Orient express, which runs overnight from Ueno to Sapporo), the restaurant is a super-swanky replica of the train’s original dining car.

Packed lunch boxes that are sold at trains stations (ekiben) are also experiencing a surge in popularity. The varieties available have been proliferating, according to Yomiuri Online, and special care is given to utilizing local ingredients that will reflect the area where it was bought. A nationwide ekiben competition just got underway at Osaka’s Hanshin department store. On until the Feb. 1, 260 different packed lunches will be competing for the crown of Japan’s best ekiben. Due to a marketing collaboration with the manga “Ekiben Hitori Tabi” (Solo Packed Lunch Journey), this year’s competition is expected to be even more popular than previous years. The manga is the story of one man who tours the country trying out ekiben in his quest to discover the secret of making delicious ekiben.

The railway boom is also reverberating in the movie industry. In May last year a movie titled “Railways” was released. It’s the story of a 49-year-old elite businessman who quits his job when his mother becomes ill and his colleague dies. The lead, played by Kiichi Nakai, goes back to his hometown and finds solace and redemption by becoming a train driver.

If you want to see just how passionate Japan’s railroad fans get, check out the video of a hardcore tetsu mama above.

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