Friday, June 26, 2009

"Shinjuku to Koenji on the Chuo Line + SqClRe" - June 2009

The lazy way to show what's between two points on a rail line, is to aim a motion picture camera out the window. There are three basic ways of doing this: 1) Angle the camera forward, 2) Look straight out perpendicular to the direction of travel, or 3) Angle the camera rearward. When objects are far away, #2 can be nice, but in Tokyo, generally there are buildings quite close to the railway, so looking straight out produces a very ugly effect of blurred jerky boxes, as the camera's 30-images per second isn't nearly fast enough to deal with the speed of objects passing by the lens. That leaves either looking forward or looking rearward (unless you're at the extreme ends of the train, where you can look directly forward or directly rearward). For this video I looked rearward at an angle, since that direction contained the receding skyline of Shinjuku:

This was taken in the early evening on a weekday, just before the evening crush rush got into high gear. The Chuo Line is the (or "one-of-the", but I think "the") most crowded train lines in Japan ("crowded" meaning "high-density of people in each train car"). One reason for this is that other major JR lines heading out of central Tokyo (Tokaido Line, Joban Line, Sobu Line [to Chiba]) have fifteen-car trains, but the Chuo Line is limited to just ten due to the length of its unexpandable platforms within central Tokyo. They try to make up for it by running a lot of trains, but still, the Chuo Line is basically crowded any time of the day or night. There is also the fact that the Chuo Line is a long line, with many stations in highly-populated areas, so it's not only crowded in one direction in the morning (and in the opposite direction in the evening), but rather in both directions - all the time.

"Competition for Misery" might be a good title to describe how Tokyo residents endlessly claim that their own train line is "definitely the most crowded line in Tokyo". I've heard this claim for just about every line here! The Odakyu Line, the Tozai Line, The Seibu-Ikebukuro Line (of "Actually Full Train" fame), the Chuo Line, etc. etc. The thing to keep in mind here is that most people are focusing on the morning rush, and once you're at the point where people have to force their way aboard, the density per train car is only limited by the particular size of the passengers at the time (and place), plus their strength and will to get on. (More diminutive people can fit into a given space, but larger people also push harder, so maximum density would likely be achieved with diminutive people getting on first, and then large, strong people providing compacting power at the doors just before they close.) The Chuo Line is distinctive for having a very high (the highest I think) density *on average* for *the entire day*. A lot of lines will be quite intense in the morning crush-rush, but then have several empty seats just a few hours later.

June, 2009... companies are beginning to cancel flex time!!! This can only mean that the morning trains will be more highly packed. Maybe the scene in "Actually Full Train in 1991 - Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea" isn't just a scene from the past after all! (Shudder!!!)

"Excesses During the Bubble Years"

Just when I was getting used to watching my 1991 videos and thinking: "The 'bubble years'! Not the 'excess-of-everything' that people think!", I stumbled upon myself visiting a new public restroom near Sumida River in July 1991. It was in a building worthy of something nice (not sure what), had a fountain(!) just inside the main entrance, music playing on a PA system, and was squeaky-clean:

I suppose this is probably an example of "bubble-era excess".

4:45 a.m. Ouch. I need to get some sleep!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Sumida River Boats & Prelude to 1991 Full Train"

Another video trip back to 1991 - to July 6th, when I wandered around in an area along the Sumida River that had been recently largely rebuilt with new office buildings. Pleasure boats motor past on the river and there are a couple of old steel bridges from different eras that find their way through the lens. Since it was Saturday, the area was nearly deserted. The new buildings are in the 10-15 story range, a size that took less time, planning, and money to put up than the 50-story high-rises that were planned then (in the bubble years), but not completed for another decade.

This was at the tail end of the bubble economy, and when looking back to that era now, people often fail to realize that while the many 50-story category high-rise buildings now scattered about Tokyo were *planned* in the bubble years, at the time, they were busier knocking down old buildings to make way to the huge new ones. There is always holdover from one era to another, and there was holdover from the wooden era in 1991, as there is holdover from the bubble era in 2009, and yet there is this image of everything being new in the bubble years, which was not the case.

Just Another Day in February 1991

The train video - again! I'm almost embarrassed to post yet another variation of this, but it has been stolen and copied all over the Internet with lying titles, and so I wanted to show the normalcy of people going through the ticket barrier, walking down the stairs to the platform, walking along the platform, waiting for the train, etc. Certainly the moment of loading is pretty intense, but many people misunderstand the overall situation and the context of the whole thing, or the fact that it was taken in 1991 - it's not nearly as crowded in 2009 (increased number of trains, increased connections with the subway system, etc.). Also the population of Tokyo should never be forgotten - 30,000,000 people if you include the suburbs of Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba. Anyway, here is the video, a longer version of the many-million-seen copied-everywhere train video currently all over the Internet:

Some facts about the video. Taken in February 1991 at around 7:50 a.m., at Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line. The train on the right is a "junkyu" ("limited express" in US English), and the train on the left is a "kyuko" ("express" in any kind of English that I'm aware of). Notice how I walk (with the video camera rolling) to the very front of the platform? The front of the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line trains is closest to connections with other train lines, so that's where people need to be if they're going to make tight connections, and they can't afford to waste any time. The next station (that the express stops at) is Shakuji-koen, and then the train goes all the way to the terminus at Ikebukuro, where everyone gets off.

And... that's basically it.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Togoshi-Ginza & the Grocery Store Under Hachiko"

The name Togoshi-Ginza can be confusing, as it is not in Ginza, or even near Ginza, but rather one of the old-style shopping streets that used to be all over Tokyo and its surrounding suburbs. They are in decline now, with more people shopping at large discount stores, but some of these old style shopping streets are still doing relatively well, with locals happy for the convenience of being able to shop a few minutes (on foot) from home. As "Ginza" was synonymous with "shopping" (now "fashion" and "art" would be better key words), some shopping streets used the name - thus "Warabi-Ginza", "Togoshi-Ginza", etc. This video was taken around 5:00 p.m., still a little early - it gets more crowded around 6:00 p.m.

Under Hachiko?

Department stores in Tokyo typically have a grocery store and/or food section on the B1 level underground (usually there is both a section selling prepared food and another section more like a regular grocery store). Shibuya is "Tokyu Town" (spelled with a "u" on the end, not "Tokyo"), with Tokyu Department stores (plural), Tokyu Inn (hotel), Tokyu trains, Tokyu buses, Tokyu Taxis, etc. So there's no surprise that the Department stores built over and around Shibuya Station are Tokyu department stores, and it's no surprise that they have food sections in the basement. What surprised me (for what reason, I'm not sure), is that part of the food section is beneath (part of ) the Hachiko Plaza. I guess I've visualized building basements as staying within the walls of the building above, but when you've got underground shopping malls and underground trains, it's easy enough to connect things underground.

This video starts with a view of an old Tokyu train car that is now sitting in Hachiko Plaza not far from the famous Hachiko dog statue. There is a brief view of a Yamanote Line train passing, some people waiting, leaning against one of the round sort-of-seats that are part of the large planters for the trees in the plaza, and then the trip through the crowd to the department store, down an escalator, and into the food section. The last scene is back out on the street on the other side of the overhead(!) Ginza subway tracks. (The Ginza Line runs below ground level everywhere but in Shibuya.)

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Roaring Office Voices & Whispering Trains..."

An amazing thing I've noticed at some offices I've worked at in Japan (is this similar elsewhere, or peculiar to this country?) is how there seems to be a general awareness and appreciation of a graphic artist's need for a relatively quiet workspace in which to properly concentrate on their work, but this professional courtesy does not extend to writing and translating! And so you will find a special floor with quiet music and no talking where a group of graphic artists go about their work - some with earphones in to listen to something other than the quiet background music - and on another floor of the same building, the same company will seat a translator and/or writer next to sales and service people, who are constantly talking on the phone or to each other (or to themselves - I wish I were making this up) in very loud voices. If said writer/translator attempts to block out the extraordinarily irritating surrounding noises by plugging in earphones with noise-blocking music or wildlife sounds, more often than not they will receive a reprimand from their supervisor and possible threat of being thrown out on the street for being unprofessional! (Keep in mind that most offices here have no partitions, so everyone can see everyone else.)

Why this respect for hand-drawn visual images, and yet complete lack of respect for quality text? I suppose that since the sales and service people couldn't draw a passable picture to save their lives, but can write (very badly, generally, but certainly they are not stone-dead illiterate), they equate their own mindless, sloppy writing with the work the professional writers/translators are doing? Or is it just a failure of management to find humane seating for people who actually need to concentrate on their work, as opposed to people who need to play office games and back-stabbing office jungle warfare?

And so a poor soul can be suffering appalling audio conditions at work while writing - struggling through secretaries who talk needlessly to themselves, service/sales people who talk so loudly on the phone that you wonder if they think their voice needs to carry over to the next city (or country) on the strength of loudness alone, without the electronic aid of the newfangled devices known as microphones and speakers in the communication device they have in their hands - and when said writer goes out and waits for a train with a stress level that is likely to kill their overstressed heart, the train comes in not with a roar, but a whisper. How loud that vapid secretary's muttering! How quiet the roaring/rushing train!

Of course none of this has anything to do with my own work environment, which is wonderful-wonderful-wonderful, but here's a video of a whispering, not roaring train:

Details: This video is of a Shinjuku/Ikebukuro-bound Yamanote Line train coming into Shibuya Station. It looks like a subway, but the entire Yamanote Line is an elevated system, and this effect is created at stations where they have built large buildings over the station, in this case a Tokyu Department Store. So you can get off of this train in the middle, walk straight out the ticket gates (there are stairs going up or down to other exits as well), and then walk over and get in a department store elevator at the second floor. (This only works for the Shinjuku/Ikebukuro-bound trains however - the Shinagawa/Tokyo-bound trains require going up or down to get around the intervening rails.)

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, June 08, 2009

"Often Not Subtle"

What prompts this title? 1) Think "Subtle Japan" - if you've read a few books on Japan, you've probably run into that concept somewhere. 2) Think Canadian/Hokkaido winter temperatures in the summer - via overusing air-conditioners in the late 1980's. 3) Think Sub-Saharan heat in the winter - via overuse of heating and windows that are never opened in the years 2008 & 2009.

Now, before I get into high gear with my rant against wild misuse (& non-use) of thermostats in this city, allow me to say that there are indeed subtle aspects to the culture (as there are anywhere, really). Okay - here goes:

There is almost always some context for the way people behave/misbehave, and the background to common overuse of air-conditioning in the late eighties here was that a lot of people had grown up with no air-conditioning, and had unpleasant memories of hot sticky days in August wishing it were cooler. Along came air-conditioning, and suddenly those August dreams of winter Hokkaido breezes were realizable by dialing the temperature way (or all) the way down.

Into this environment I flew in 1984, and I listened in sympathy to women office workers saying how they suffered in the cold - how it was unfair that the men stayed in suits and cooled the air to the point where it was cool with a suit jacket still on.

Jump forward to 2008 & 2009 and - based on the offices I've been spending some time in - things have come full circle. A generation has grown up disliking overuse of air-conditioning; and recently, instead of the offices always being cool, now they tend to always be hot. For the past couple of years, I have found myself nodding in sympathy with people in thin clothing (of both genders, but most often male) fanning themselves in 29C/85F heat, bemoaning the fact that a handful of sickly people (of both genders, but most often female) in the office have hijacked the thermostats and there is nothing to do but suffer the daily purgatory of working in a constant 29C/85F heat - all year round, in winter and summer.

In winter, when questioned why company policy about not wasting energy is being violated to overheat the office, the excuse is that "Some people are cold", meaning that if it drops down to about 27C, some sickly people begin to complain of imminent frostbite. Come summer, suddenly the energy savings is very important - never mind that a majority of the people in the office are baking in the 29C/85F heat.

The thing that's quite irritating about how this issue is discussed here, is that people only say what their perceptions are, and the science of monitoring the actual temperature of the room to ascertain what temperatures are producing what reactions in what percentage of people, is almost completely ignored. Wanting to know exactly what's happening myself, I've been using thermometers (more than one, so I know the device isn't broken) to monitor the temperatures of some of the purgatories I visit, and that 29C/85F temperature is no joke - it's actually that hot.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this situation, except to shake my head in wonder and think "There's nothing subtle about this! These are fairly radical group reactions to something that should be dealt with incrementally!".

Rant... um... over for now.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon