Posts Tagged ‘trains’

Today’s J-blip: Virtual Japanese trainspotting

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Obsessed with watching Japanese trains go by? Now you can indulge your hobby regardless of bad weather or friends who just don’t get your hobby — whether you’re in Japan or not.

The website Tetsudonow (“railroads now”) has elevated trainspotting to a new level by allowing viewers to watch virtual trains zip around the major cities of Japan on a Google map mash-up.  Twitter users in Japan were bubbling with excitement yesterday, with some tweeting that the illustrated trains move in real-time. If only. The site’s explanation says that the trains actually move in accordance with their weekday timetables, so the map doesn’t reflect delays, stoppages or weekend schedules.

The navigation tools do, however, let you see the routes of most major railways in Japan at any time of day. To hobbyists’ delight, the trains are all labeled with their actual line colors and approximate shapes, so you can tell a green Yamanote train from a snub-nosed shinkansen at a glance. Click on any moving train to see where it’s coming from and where it’s headed.

Now you can trainspot with a bag of popcorn in one hand and a Coke in the other from the comfort of your swivel chair with no one jostling or judging you. Us? We wouldn’t judge you.

Today’s J-blip: Name the Tokyu train mascot

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

He’s got a big, goofy grin and a funky headpiece, but one thing the Tokyu train line’s newest mascot doesn’t have is a name. The little guy’s purpose in life is to raise awareness — and “get children excited about” — the Tokyu-Toyoko line’s Fukutoshin extension, which is set to open in March of next year.

Word is that he’s a playful 10-year-old from Kanagawa Prefecture who is secretly on a diet. (What’s that all about? Every yurukyara needs a little bit of a backstory, and this one is a reference to the new trains running on less electricity.) The contest’s entry form has spots for writing the name in Japanese or English. The name should be accompanied by an explanation in Japanese. The winning entry, which will become the character’s official name, will get a ¥50,000 Tokyu gift certificate. Fifty runners-up will get Tokyu swag. The contest ends on Sept. 28. Think we’ve got a chance with “Stripey?”

Photo courtesy of J.L. Gatewood, aka @StarrWulfe.

Today’s J-blip: Tokyo train gets the Olympic treatment

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Commuters, on your marks!

Tokyo train conductors are always warning riders not to run for trains. Nobody ever said anything about running in trains. Japanese sporting goods maker Asics has “train jacked” a train on the Yamanote loop line, with a 200-meter track running through all 11 cars of the train. How to spot it? Keep an eye out for the train that has photos of Japanese Olympic runner Chisato Fukushima running along the outside.

Pulsations (06.15.12)

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

  • You had me at “sumimasen…” (from Loco in Yokohama): Some foreigners enjoy the extra space they get on trains, when Japanese commuters are hesistant to sit by them. Others are offended, feel judged, and call it racism. In this personal anecdote, the author dives into the complexity of seat dynamics.
  • Former Yamaguchi-gumi member arrested for attempted extortion of Yoshimoto Kogyo celebrity (from The Tokyo Reporter): While news of a gangster’s high bail made headlines this week, Tokyo Reporter found a more interesting story in the pages of Shukan Asahi Geino. It would appear that Kozo Hattori, a former member of the Yamaguchi-gumi, was arrested for blackmailing Hazama Kanpei, an entertainer who claimed he never knew of Hattori’s gang affiliation. Taking a closer look at both parties, Asahi Geino reports that there’s more than meets the eye.
  • Deaf Net News (From Touching Sounds of Hands): Many deaf people were left out of the loop during the 3.11 disaster, as most news bulletins lacked sign language or subtitles. Enter Deaf Net News, an emergency channel specifically for the hearing impaired.
  • Tokyo police give shoeshines the boot (from Japan Subculture Research Center): With the new anti-organized crime laws, Tokyo police have been harassing and removing street side shoeshiners based on “public complaints.”  Often thought to be protected by organized crime, shoeshiners have been struggling in recent years as the old generation is replaced with the new. As such, street-side shoeshiners, whose high prices cannot compete with more established services, may soon become a rare breed.
  • Microaggresions or Icebreakers? (From Gakuranman): If you’ve been keeping up with the firestorm sparked by Debito Arudo’s column on microaggresions, you may have had enough of it all. But if you’ve still keen for more, here’s an analytical work that dives very deeply into the details. So pull up a zabuton and prove your Zen-like focus by reading every word. You might just be able to use chopsticks when you’re finished.

Ekitame — coming to a station near you soon?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

 

Will shops like Glicoya Kitchen in First Avenue, in Tokyo Station, become destinations in their own right?

Running for the train? Not so fast. According to a trend report released by @Press, Japanese people are spending more time browsing in train stations instead of bolting through them. PR flacks are calling this shopping experience “ekitame,”  combining the words eki (station) and entame (entertainment), to refer to the station shopping mall as an entertaining destination in its own right. Focusing on the continuing success of Tokyo Station’s First Avenue mall, the report hints that this shopping complex may be the shape of things to come.

Instead of just being a convenient place for commuters to kill time,  this station mall exploits the fact that tourists from all around the country pass through Tokyo Station. Two areas of First Avenue are particularly adept at attracting tourists: One is Tokyo Ramen Street,  which has eight outlets operated by famous Tokyo ramen shops; and the other is Tokyo Character Street, which houses over 20 big-name character goods stores.

Over the years, speciality food theme parks have proved popular in other shopping malls in Japan, such as Gyoza Stadium, Ice Cream City and Dessert Republic in Sunshine City Ikebukuro. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that  Ramen Street has proved a hit since it opened in April last year. It is attractive to  Tokyo day-trippers who might not have the time to trek out to these famous ramen stalls, and long queues regularly form outside the shops. But it’s Tokyo Character Street that’s proved the biggest hit. Since it opened in 2008, around 5 million visitors have checked out the array of character stores, which include Hello Kitty Land and the NHK Character Shop, and this March three more stores opened here.

Looking to raise its profile as a tourist destination, First Avenue will launch a new area called  Tokyo Okashi (Snack) Land on April 14. Comprised of  three “antenna shops” (outlets used by companies to gauge public reaction to trial products) from major Japanese food brands Calbee, Glico and Morinaga, the area will entice visitors with limited edition souvenir sweets and the chance to see confectionery being made in the store.

We think the idea of ekitame might just catch on at other major transport hubs where tourists passing through have the spare time to enjoy browsing in specialty stores. And adding the station to the sightseeing itinerary is certainly an attractive option to the footsore tourist.

Tough commute? Let these apps ease the pain

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

It’s a fact of life in the big cities of Japan that the morning commuter trains will be jammed packed. There’s really no way around it for bedtown residents but luckily for the country’s million of 9-to-5 salaried workers,  this summer saw the launch of three new apps that can quite literally help commuters out of a jam, or at least make it a bit more bearable.

Komirepo: The name says it all, komi, meaning crowded and repo, a contraction of the loanword report, this app lets you know which routes are most crowded. Each route is given a rating from one through six – one  meaning you’ve got plenty of space to sit down in and six meaning get ready to go bumper to bumper with a bunch of strangers – allowing you the option to switch to a less congested line. The information is updated by users in realtime, making it a largely reliable service. Made by Navitime, a software provider that already provides a huge range of apps to help with navigating your way around Japan, Komirepo is free of charge, but unfortunately not available in English.

Densha de Suwaru: Though Komirepo is great for those who suffer from claustrophobia, it’s not a surefire solution for those who really need a seat, especially in Tokyo where virtually all routes are busy during rush hour. Users of this app form alliances with other commuters, letting each other know what route they’re riding, which carriage they’re on and when they’re about to vacate a seat. This requires sacrificing a certain amount of privacy as you have to let others know what you look like, but it does it in such a cute way that it seems churlish to object. To let that seat-hungry member of your group know who you are, you simply create and dress up a cute little avatar of yourself, letting them know your age group, hair style and choice of clothing. Once they’ve spotted you they can simply sidle up and wait for you to leave the train.

Densha de Go! Yamanote Sen: Once you’ve got yourself seated, you’ll need something to pass the time. Why not pretend that you’re in control of driving the train (see video above). This Yamanote Line version is the latest release in a series of games by Taito that realistically simulate the experience of driving a train on actual routes within Japan. Excitement within the game is somewhat sacrificed to realism, as goals include things like keeping to the timetable, but it’s pretty much a must for train geeks.

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.

Densha otacool pulls into Akihabara Station

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

An artist's rendition of Trainiart, due to open mid-November at Atre Akihabara

An artist’s rendition of Trainiart, due to open mid-November at Atre Akihabara

More chic than geek, a new shop selling train-themed items is set to open in the middle of next month in Akihabara Station. Up-and-coming new designers such as Toshio Tamura and Hitoshi Takayama have been recruited to give the goods on sale a sleek, modern look, making the store appealing not just to unashamed train nerds but also to trendier customers who harbor a secret passion for anything railroad related.

Tamura has designed the Line & Number Series, which includes a hip black shoulder bag with a glossy finish. The bag’s white line motif represents the junction of two rail tracks, while the numerous zips also recall rail tracks. If you can’t stretch to the bag, which costs ¥1,680, then a wallet or pass case with the same design will do very nicely.

The K-4 ki Series by Hitoshi Takayama celebrates the various famous rail routes of Tokyo, including of course Tokyo’s most famous circular route, the Yamanote line. The Yamanote Line theme folder comes in the line’s distinctive green color and bears the number of the train line’s rolling stock.

It wouldn’t be a Japanese store without something cute on sale, and kawaii aficionados can get their fix by buying cute railroad-themed cookies that come in a variety of shapes including train fronts, station stops and, my favorite, train ticket stubs. Reflecting the fact that this is Akihabara, there’s also a maid dress cookie that’s a little more otaku than cool.

The shop will also stock postcards, train-related literature and photography books. If you’re planning a visit, you can find it in the Artre Akihabara Building at the Electric Street entrance from mid-November. If you can’t make it to Akihabara to get your fix of railroad merchandise, try visiting JR’s online store, which sells all manner of goodies from Suica Penguin rubik’s cube clocks to old school station master’s watches.

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