Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Trying to Figure Out What it Means..."

It began with the day (in 1991) that I walked my video camera out to the end of the platform at Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line in Tokyo (there is also a Hibarigaoka Station in Hokkaido) to capture the morning rush ritual of getting to work on time under difficult conditions. I spent about twenty minutes on the platform, taking video of a few different trains, one of which showed more clearly than the others, the pressures of competition for finite space by a very large number of people....

Then, after burning out four cameras taking video from 1990 to 1992 (with a couple of tapes in 1993), I decided I couldn't afford to keep taking Hi8 video, as the (disposable?) video equipment was too expensive for me to buy a new camera/editing controller/editing deck every six to nine months (all four of the cameras I did buy had to be repaired several times within their one-year guarantee period). So, with all the hardware that could play the tapes broken, I boxed the lot of them and sent them to hibernate in the closet.

This is where you might expect to read "... and there they lay forgotten, until..." but they were not forgotten. I had spent too much of my resources and time taking those tapes, so it was a constant thought in the back of my mind that I needed to get them digitized. From time-to-time over the years I would ask around a bit, but the system and storage space requirements were beyond what my computers at the time could handle. After about fifteen years, I began to worry that the tapes would disintegrate from age before I could vacuum the images off of them.

2007 - The power of affordable computers rose to a level sufficient to handle digitizing analogue tapes and I was able to buy what appears to be the last retail-available 8mm playback deck. So - with the necessary equipment finally at hand, I set to work digitizing the tapes. It hasn't always been easy. I was having an increasingly difficult time getting some of the tapes to play, so I bought a second playback deck and it turns out that some of the tapes will play on deck-B, but not deck-A, and - strangely - some of them will play on deck-A, but not on deck-B (I would have thought the newer one would best be able to play all of the tapes). Don't ask me why - both playback decks are the same model, but considering all the trouble I had with all four 8mm cameras and the 8mm editing deck, I'm not particularly surprised. Now, I just want to get everything into digital form so I can stop worrying about it.

In the digitizing process, I came across that early morning crush-rush commuter train material, edited out a piece of it, posted it to Google Video, and mentioned it online. I watched some other sites linking to it with interest, and then after it had been up at Google Video for a few weeks, an e-pal e-mailed me with the unwelcome news that my video had been ripped off and was being posted by others with no attribute to me. Worse, the test introducing the video came in various shades of BS - that the men on the platform were professional pushers (not true - two of them were the drivers of the two stopped trains, the others doing various work at the station), that it was current (no, it was taken in 1991), that it was in China (at least this bit of nonsense was easily pointed out due to the platform men speaking in Japanese in the video), etc. etc.

When I first saw the postings on YouTube saying "Crowded Train in China" etc., I laughed at the ludicrousness of it, but the comments at the foremost copy site (1,104,227 views the last time I checked) have been sobering. Mostly they are people laughing, which is not unexpected, but when they think it's present-day Japan and they start making derogatory remarks about the trains system here, etc., I really wish my video hadn't been copied and used in an idiotic way. I named it "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flextime is a Good Idea)" for a reason. The train system is better now than when the video was taken. New train lines, new rails on existing lines, new train cars, flex time at companies, etc., have improved the morning commute here.

Numbers - I don't think there is any train system in the world that carries more passengers into a central area than the extensive network of trains in Tokyo. The system is nearly overwhelmed at times, but that it carries the number of people it does, nearly always on time, is an extraordinary feat.

In any case, to do something specific about my vague statement that the system is better now, I went back to the same station, on the same train line, at the same time, and stood in the same spot on the same platform, where I took a new video of the same (in the schedule) express train. There was still a two or three second push needed from the two drivers to get the first door closed, but only there, not at the other doors. Have a look at the video here to see for yourself - remember, this one is current, it was taken less than a week ago:

Now... for the part that feels really weird. I read the comments and see people saying "It's fake", "I've seen real videos of crowded Japanese trains, and this one is fake", "That's not Japan, that's China" etc. etc. and it's really bizarre. Up until now, I've believed one thing or another based on books, conversations with people who know (or seem to know) what they're talking about, and even when I'm feeling quite certain about something, there's still the possibility in the background, however small, that I've got it wrong - that there's some crucial evidence that I'm unaware of. But this time, I'm thinking "Hey! Wait a minute! I was there! I took that video! I rode that line all the bloody time! I KNOW what's what here folks, I KNOW. I didn't get it on good athority, I f***ing KNOW. I mean... I wish I could put that in stronger terms, but all caps for "know" and the all-purpose "F" word is all that comes to mind right now. Maybe I could scream or break something? Naw, nobody could take that seriously. See? I KNOW, but how to convey that?

Anyway, to round out the commuting picture, here is another 2008 view of that same station - Hibarigaoka, on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line:

See? It's all quite civilized. Crowded, yes, but working very well.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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