Thursday, May 07, 2009

"Dashboards & Platforms"

Always on a journey from Point-A to Point-B, it's easy to forget that a huge part of the total experience of life is in the transition between Point-A and Point-B. Sitting at stoplights back in car-culture California, I can still recall the details of the dashboards of the various cars I owned - and even recall sounds and smells somewhat. The time in motion was a feeling of freedom of motion, but stoplight time enabled contemplation of the immediate surroundings. I spent a lot of time behind the wheel, getting everywhere I went by car (until I moved to San Francisco, where I first experienced getting almost everywhere by public transportation).

Now I don't have a car, but even when I owned a car in Tokyo, I only drove it once a week or so (to keep the battery charged) and went on trips only once every month or two. Nevertheless, I still remember the details of that car (a 1984 Honda Prelude) in great detail.

All hum-drum stuff, but it just occurred to me recently that in the same way I used to be tuned into the sound of the engine, the location of various gauges (lots of attention focused on the tachometer), etc. now the time waiting on station platforms (the public transportation equivalent of waiting at stoplights) has me tuned into the conditions in train stations in general, such as which spot of the train is nearest to the stairs for the next transfer (when you have 30 seconds to make a connection, every second saved helps!), which passengers look like they should be avoided (it's always a gamble riding public transportation, but if you pay attention, certain things can be avoided), platform construction details (in spite of the law requiring that anything old in Tokyo be demolished and smashed into bits [sarcasm here folks], some small bits and pieces of the past have managed to somehow exist for [gasp!] several decades! And so close scrutiny of structures that have been modified 79 times sometimes reveals unmodified surviving bits), etc.

This video of the two Yamanote Line tracks at Shinjuku Station (among many other lines) is both uniquely Shinjuku and generic Tokyo train system. What's unique about Shinjuku Station? That's hard to pin down, and come to think of it, it might have more to do with knowing that Shinjuku Station handles the largest number of passengers in the country and knowing what's around the station as you get off... and maybe being tuned into the vibration of the place after coming to know it. So, maybe it doesn't seem unique if you blow through as a tourist, but it's definitely unique if you live here. As for the term generic, that's easy - look at the platforms, look at the roofs over the platforms, etc. - all standard JR Tokyo train system (the private lines often have their own feel).

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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