Monday, November 17, 2008

"Visiting the Tokyo Motor Show in 1991"

Watching a video I took of my trip out to the Chiba convention center Makuhari Messe in October 1991, the number of changes between then and now is striking in some ways. If you rent a historical CD of documentary footage taken decades ago, you expect things to be different and it just seems natural that a different era had people wearing funny clothes ("Ha-ha! Look at those people in those ridiculous clothes! And they don't even realize how silly they look! Ha-ha!"), but when you take a video of modern life, today, right now, you have the current situation in hand to show people living in different parts of the world how things are where you are, currently.

So.... when you put that video in a box in your closet, let 17 years pass, and then have another look, you know it's not going to look modern any more, but the degree and depth of changes in the video can be a bit shocking. Having been through all the time between then and now, one day at a time, it's disconcerting to see how nearly everything has changed. ("Wait a minute... when did that change so much anyway? I've been here the whole time... how could this happen without noticing it?").

And with that preamble out of the way, let's have a look at some of the things that have changed in Tokyo since this video was taken (comments preceded by the time where a comment topic appears):

00:01 - A few things right from the start in the first second of the video: Women wearing long hair and long skirts. Not exactly non-existent now, but there was a fashion trend back then with very long skirts and very long hair. That's definitely changed.

Painted trains. There are still some trains on the Seibu line like in the video with that same paint scheme, but new trains are nearly always some combination of unpainted steel and aluminum, with a colored stripe along the side.

00:05 - Old type train station. This specific station - Hibarigaoka Station (on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line) has been completely rebuilt (although those narrow stairs leading to the station are still basically the same). The old stations were practical. They often used old rails as a construction material (which makes sense - rails are I-beams after all) and were typically open on the sides, so they were cold in the winter, but nice in other seasons since you could look out on the world from them easily. New stations typically force you to look through glass, and while they are larger and have higher ceilings, they sometimes feel more confining somehow.

00:07 - Manually punched tickets. The ticket gates of Tokyo train stations were just beginning to go automatic in 1991. Some other cities in Japan (Nagoya for one I think) had already gone automatic, but the vastness and complexity of Tokyo's train system made it much more difficult to automate.

00:10 - A view through an open window at the old roofs over the two platforms at Hibarigaoka Station. There is now Plexiglas there that keeps out cold wind in the winter, but I liked being able to look through clear free air before. The Plexiglas isn't kept clean and there's that early 21st century claustrophobic sealed-in-a-box feeling that ruins atmosphere and photos.

00:25 - It's hard to see, but if you look closely, you can see what look like square steel boxes on the roof of the train that is passed over. These are air intakes for openable vents on the inside. Trains used to always have these - a way of getting ventilation inside when the windows are closed (for rainy weather, etc.). On new trains, they've stopped making these and made most of the windows unopenable. There are some improvements to the new trains, but doing away with the roof vents was a very bad idea I think. In the past, there have been many times when I was stuck as a sardine in the middle of the train, unable to reach the windows (which were nearly all openable before), but the stuffy uncomfortable atmosphere was easily remedied by reaching up and opening one of the roof vents. But alas, now they are gone from new trains, and in a similar situation, I just stand there suffering, with no way of alleviating the bad situation. Admittedly, they do seem to make a point of running the circulation system more, but mostly that is just recirculating the same air - better than nothing, but the vents for outside air were a vastly superior idea.

00:41 - That "Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!-Bee!!" ("Hurry!-Hurry!-Hurry!) sound used to be used at all the JR (formerly JNR) stations, but they've since changed over to using melodies instead, using a different melody for each station. This change corresponded with signs saying "Don't run for the train!", flex-time, and a less industrial approach to life in general.

00:47 - Painted trains - you see less and less of them as they are replaced with stainless steel and aluminum ones.

00:52 - A real live human being making the announcement that the train is arriving at Tokyo Station, not a recording. Also, the announcement is in Japanese only, without a secondary English announcement. If the announcement is always the same anyway, then why not use a recording? Because after you've heard the very same recording for about 20,000 times (if you travel ten stops on a line, you'll hear it twenty times a day for a round-trip - they only change the station name part of the recording, otherwise there is only one recording), you start to go insane! People need variety! Also, while the Japanese announcement isn't too bad, the English one is really irritating! It's too loud, too slow, robotic like, and just... horrible! And what's the point? Shinjuku is Shinjuku, Yotsuya is Yotsuya, Ochanomizu is Ochanomizu.... so in Japanese: "Tsugi no eki wa, Shinjuku desu" and in English: "The next station is Shinjuku" - either way, the important part of that: "Shinjuku" is the same, so torturing commuters with a myopically spoken "The next station is..." is really uncalled for. Not only could tourists catch the station name within the Japanese, but there are displays over the doors in both English and Japanese. JR - please - drop those horrible English announcements on the commuter lines, they are unneeded, unwanted, unpleasant, and unnecessary.

01:07 - This passageway over to the Keiyo Line was new at the time. In fact, the Makuhari Messe conversion center was new at the time as well. The Tokyo Motor Show used to be held at the Harumi convention grounds.

01:58 - Tokyo Disneyland. At the time this was taken, there were a lot of amusement parks in Japan, but since then, I've seen news reports about one after another of them going bankrupt. Through it all - good times and bad - Tokyo Disneyland is crowded with expensive ticket holders, day after day, year after year, rain, shine, and in hot and cold weather. I've talked to people who go there several times a year, year after year! And people actually fly in from foreign countries (in Asia primarily) to go there! It's amazingly successful....

02:16 - Chiba would qualify as a bed town, in that most of the people living in these houses and apartments travel into Tokyo to work. It's the same with Saitama and (to a lessor extent due to Yokohama) Kanagawa. The only thing that's changed here, is that they have since built a lot of luxury high-rise apartment towers in central Tokyo, and people who can afford to live in them, are happy to escape the purgatory of the morning crush-rush sardine-run trains.

02:18 - The big green netted box is most likely a golf driving range. Those are scattered about the city - providing golfers without the time or money to visit a real golf course, someplace to practice their swings by hitting real golf balls (as opposed to the people I've seen practicing in their yards or in parks with sponge or light plastic balls).

03:25 - Crowds of people heading for the Tokyo Motor Show. The shows are always crowded, but the last couple I've been to seem to have been a little less crowded than they used to be - like this time in 1991.

04:20 - I'm not even exactly sure what it is that makes these two women look so retro - but they seem quite different from women their age in the year 2008. It's probably some combination of hair color (so many women dye their hair now, that black hair is actually unusual), eyebrows (it's common to more radically thin them now), eye size (it seems that a lot of women are having their eyes surgically enlarged now - a terrible mistake I think, as the women here look much better with their original eyes), clothes, attitude, radio waves, etc.

05:07 - It's a strange thing about mini-skirts. You didn't actually see so many of them in 1991, but when you did, they were often really short. Mini-skirts tend to be a little longer now, but they're everywhere! The biggest change is that high school girls used to be required to have skirts that went below their knees and to not wear make up, but then a few private schools started allowing mini-skirt uniforms and now a majority of high school girls are marching around Tokyo in mini-skirt uniforms and many of them also have thick layers of paint on their faces (in their prime physically, why they think they need to hide their face is a mystery).

05:10 - Definitely a retro look from a 2008 perspective. Three things stand out as reasons - 1) existence of eyebrows, 2) black hair, and 3) that hat!

05:41 - Live narration about the cars. They used to have the models (the human models I mean) memorize long and complicated presentation speeches about the cars, but the last time I went, more often they just played recordings and had the models walk around in front of the cars, acting like... models! I did see one presentation just like in the old days though, with the model flawlessly (seemingly anyway, I didn't see the script!) giving a long presentation about the car's technical details.

05:58 - Four-wheel steering was a big deal at that time. It seems to be have been completely abandoned. Have you heard of any current production cars having four-wheel steering?

07:21 - Large crowds around the Ferrari cars....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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