Monday, October 26, 2009

"Video Usage & Comment Moderating"

More train video... stuff?, news?, comments?, ..... something. There seems to be some misunderstanding by some people regarding why I would request that an illegal copy of my train video be taken down. First off - I'm not hiding the video, it's freely available for anyone to see. Here:

And while I would prefer that it not be floating around the Internet as an e-mail attachment, someone made an illegal copy of it and has done that. Many of the recipients of that file then posted it on YouTube and elsewhere. And while I would prefer that it not be posted by anyone other than myself, what especially prompted me to ask for some postings to be taken down was rudeness, lies, and inaccuracy in the titles and comment sections. Some examples:

"crazy" - No. No one in the video is crazy. The platform people (including full time workers, part time workers, and the drivers of the two trains (a junkyu and a kyuko) are each just doing their job - which is to get the trains loaded and back in motion according to schedule.

"fail" - There is no "fail" in the video. The people want on the train, and railway employees help them to get on the train. In spite of very difficult conditions, the train departs only about ten seconds late - essentially on time. The overcrowding is not an optimal situation (I rode this line for sixteen years, so I know very well what I'm talking about!), but it's not a "fail" (if anything, it's a "success" in functionality), and the system has been improved since 1991, when the video was taken.

"police" - No. Those are not police or security people helping the passengers get on the train - they are regular railway employees, including the drivers of the two trains at that platform.

"high birthrate" - No. Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Tokyo has around 30,000,000 people (if you include the suburbs of Kanagawa, Saitama, & Chiba), but the population of the country as a whole is not growing right now.

"more trains" - Close to a good suggestion, and in fact they've added more trains since this video was taken. Still, the rails were pretty full of trains even back in 1991, as the bigger problem was no (or very little) flex-time, so everyone crowded onto the system at the same time. There are a lot of people in Tokyo.

"longer trains" - The trains in this video are ten-cars long, and some other lines have fifteen cars. Ten cars fill up the platforms on this line (the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line), so if the trains were to be longer than ten cars, they would have to extend all the platforms. In any case, ten large cars (carriages) is not exactly short for a commuter train.

Etc. etc. etc. Since the comment sections were unmoderated; racist and inappropriate toxic text piled up....

Anyway, if you are interested in that video, here's a longer version, showing people going through the ticket gates, etc:

Now - on to some recent video clips:

"Shibuya 'Scramble' Crosswalk - October 20th, 2009"

Looking around near Shibuya Station, and walking across the "scramble" crosswalk. This crosswalk is a bit odd in how it seems intense when you're there, but it's hard to convey the feeling of crossing the street in a sea of people accurately in a video, including this one, but still - this might give you at least a rough idea of how it feels.

"Harajuku Northbound Trains + Bridge" - October 2009

Looking towards Harajuku Station at night, as a Shinjuku-bound Yamanote Line train pulls into the platform and another northbound train passes to the right of that. Then, pulling back and swinging 90 degrees to the right, a view of the people on the bridge.

Why is the beginning of the video on its side? This scene was begging for vertical composition, so I complied. The problem now is getting it to play back as a vertical image. I'm confident that this will be commonplace viewing functionality someday.

"Kichijoji Evening Shopping - October 22nd, 2009"

Taken around 6:00 p.m. in Kichijoji, as people shop for food on the way home. Naturally, Kichijoji is full of people doing something or other all the time, but at 6:00 p.m. on a weekday (Thursday, October 22nd, 2009, in this case), shops selling prepared food especially do their best business as people go from work to home. The shops used to do better business, but now that people not only have refrigerators, but fairly large refrigerators, they buy more frozen stuff and do same-day shopping (shopping for the coming evening's meal) less often. Also, people who would have bought some pretty great food for the evening at central markets before, often now buy some junk at a nearby convenience store.

"Exploring Narrow Kichijoji Pathways - Oct. 2009"

Walking around on some of the narrowest streets in Kichijoji. Tokyo used to have a lot of streets like this, which have loads of character, but (understandably) newer development replaces these areas with wider roads (fire-fighting equipment access, etc.), and modern buildings.

"Koiwa Yakitori Street - October 23rd, 2009"

A walk into the narrow street near Koiwa Station with several yakitori drinking places. Near this street, there are several shotengai (shopping streets), but they seemed to have hardly any customers when I went by at around 6:00 p.m. on Friday, October 23rd, 2009. Also several places had closed shutters - indicating either that those shops are simply closed, or maybe not in business any longer.

Probably the shotengai shops are busiest on weekends, but still, the trend away from traditional shotengai seems to be continuing, with people more often shopping at larger discount stores, or having things delivered directly to their homes, etc. (If I lived a little nearer to Koiwa, I'd go by there today (Saturday) and have a look, but it's a bit of a journey from where I live....)

"Asakusabashi to Akihabara at Night - October 2009"

Looking out a right side (open) window on a train between Asakusabashi and Akihabara. Lots of buildings, some reflections of the train in windows as it passes, etc.

"Accelerating Down Platform" - October 2009

Accelerating down the platform of a station somewhere between Koiwa and Akihabara. With the glass out of the way, it's a clear view, and there are a couple of trains in the background as well. The trains would be so much more enjoyable if the windows were all open when the weather is not too cold....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Too Many Frequencies..."

I met a British friend and a Japanese friend of his on Friday, and over drinks tried to alternately tune into UK frequencies and Japan frequencies, adjusting from my NA frequencies. It was awkward... I sort of felt like we should have just made the whole conversation in Japanese, but instead, I and the UK man talked to each other in English, and then took turns translating things into Japanese for his friend. I'm not sure how it would have gone had everything been in Japanese, but it was very tiring as it was.

If I'm in that situation again, I think I'll just do the whole thing in Japanese. Actually, that's just the polite thing to do - if there's a common language among three people meeting, then it should be used. Trouble was, all parties knew some English and all parties knew some Japanese, but it was two-to-one regarding which language was most fluently spoken, and the local representative on Friday apparently didn't have very strong English skills.

Anyway - on to video clips:

"Old Type Chuo Line Train (201 Series)" - October 2009

A view of an old type Chuo Line train (all orange) leaving Kokubunji Station in October 2009. There are very few of these still on the rails, since they've been phasing them out gradually for about two years now. (I think this older type is known as the "Series 201".) Notice how there is only one window open, but nearly every window on the train is openable, and also there are vents in the ceiling that can be opened to let in air from the roof of the train. Unfortunately, the new train cars don't have this feature and half of the windows don't open at all (and the ones that *do* open people seem afraid to open).

It seems as though the new trains (and their passengers) are suffering from "closed box syndrome", I miss old trains and old buildings - they provided vastly better air to breathe....

"Walking Down Stairwell in Okuno Building" - October 2009A

Walking down one of the cool stairwells in the Okuno Building, which used to be an apartment building, but is now used for office space and art galleries. There are very few 1930's era concrete buildings left in Tokyo, and this one may well be the best in terms of character, which radiates from the walls, ceilings, and floors....

"Down Escalator, Onto Platform at Shinjuku" - October 15th, 2009

Walking down escalator and arriving on the platform just as a Chuo Line train is pulling out of the station. Missing a train usually isn't a big deal on most lines in Tokyo though, since the next train usually arrives in just a few minutes.

"Odakyu 1957 'Romance Car' Super Express - Oct. 1990"

This ten-minute video shows the trip I took (from Shinjuku to Machida) via Odakyu "Romance Car" (super express) on October 5th, 1990 - from watching the train pulling in at Shinjuku, to boarding, watching the driver operate the train, views out the front of the train (with many trains passing in the opposite direction), passing local trains, pulling into Machida Station, and getting off the train while a woman from the train (standing on the platform beside the door) bows to departing passengers.

At the time I took this, I was sort of disappointed that it wasn't a newer type, but in retrospect, I was probably lucky to get on the oldest type, since they scrapped this type a few years ago, which makes this video historical. The plaque at the front of the train indicated it was built in 1957 (Showa-32) and refurbished in 1984 (Showa-59).

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Last Sento Painter - Redux"

First the reason for this post: There is to be a second, live, sento-style painting of Mt. Fuji to be painted by Maruyama Kiyoto at Gallery Serikawa in the Okuno Building in Ginza on November 21st, 2009, starting at 1:00 p.m. Why this is of historical interest, I will now attempt to explain:

There are two historical issues to deal with - the history of the painter, and the history of the building in which the painting demonstration is to take place. The building predates the painter by a few years, so I'll start with that:

1932 - The Okuno Building begins its long existence (long for Tokyo anyway, where most buildings are destroyed after a few decades) as an apartment building in the 1-chome area of Ginza, in Tokyo.

The building was modern at the time, with steam heat & running water in each room, beds that folded out from the wall, wooden closets, (with wooden floors in some rooms, tatami mats in others) an elevator, a lounge on the sixth floor, and a sento (public bath) in the basement. There are planters in front of the front windows, which looked out over a river (since rerouted), and probably out to Tokyo Bay (although I haven't been able to confirm this aspect yet - certainly there have been a lot of newer and taller buildings constructed in front of the Okuno Building since then, and new landfill in Tokyo Bay).

Actually the building consists of two nearly identical buildings built side-by-side, with the one on the left constructed first. They are internally joined, but each has its own staircase, complete with a window between the two staircases, possibly to prevent people from missing people who take the other staircase from the one they are on. Whatever the reason, I don't think I've ever seen that design anywhere else before. Each building also has its own basement, and one of the basements has a well - which apparently supplied the bath water and maybe the drinking water, and water for the boiler to feed the steam heating. And - getting back to the sento in one of the basements - it is now being used as an art gallery, and this is where Maruyama Kiyoto painted one of his Mt. Fuji paintings on September 5th in front of a live audience. It was quite fitting for a sento-style painting to be painted in a former sento, now being used to display art. This event was so well received, that another has been scheduled for November (see the top and/or bottom of this posting for details).

The early thirties being before the implementation of that curse on humankind - air-conditioning - ventilation was provided by large (by today's standards anyway) vents over the (open-able) windows (or beside the windows in one half of the building), and close-able ventilation slats in the doors at the bottom and the top. Some of these are still functional, but unfortunately most of the remaining original doors (many doors have been replaced), have had these painted - freezing them in place.

(Incidentally - what do I have against air-conditioning? Thanks to air-conditioning, I suffer in 28-degree heat at work year-round thanks to there being no open-able windows and extremely inadequate ventilation - a design made possible by bloody air conditioning. Think about it - I suffer in heat thanks to the designers of buildings thinking that the automated air system can supply all oxygen and temperature needs for the people sealed in the box. And it almost could - if it were used correctly! Thanks to a few people who have extreme phobias of moving air, they leave the system off except for brief periods in the morning and the late afternoon. It's mind-boggling that management doesn't realize how unhealthy the air is! I suppose the only thing that would get their attention is if three or four people keeled over concrete-cold dead on the floor from lack of oxygen.)

Back to the Okuno Building. The rooms are quite small, but for a single person, it must have been good to live there. There aren't many residence buildings in Ginza, so just to be able to have a Ginza address would have been fun - and convenient.

In any case, the usage of the building has changed over the decades, and it is now being used by many small art galleries and also by small companies for office space. It's been a practical working building all along, and there have been many modifications to the building and most of its rooms over time. The last resident tenant died earlier this year at 100 years old. Apparently she had lived there since the building was new - all those long decades ago.

1935 - Maruyama Kiyoto was born in Koenji. His family moved away from Tokyo during the wartime years and then he moved back after the war when he was eighteen. Currently he is one of only two people in the entire country who are professional sento painters, and he has been painting sento wall murals for over fifty years now.

I should write more, but it's nearly 2:00 a.m., and I need to get some sleep, so I'll leave it as this and just put the gallery and event information below:

"Last Sento Painter - Redux"
Saturday, November 21st, 2009
Gallery Serikawa
1-9-8 Okuno Bldg., B1 (right-side basement)
Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tel & Fax - 03-3535-2007

会場:銀座 芹川画廊

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"GR-III Video Clips (+1935/1990 Haunted Hotel)"

This batch of videos were all taken with a Ricoh GR-III camera (except for one that was taken in 1990), which works well for medium-range resolution videos, with the caveat that something in the processing for YouTube leaves them with very poor sound, so I'll probably not be using that camera much for video (unless I need to take video when I don't have a proper video camera on me).

I'm a bit disappointed about this, since the picture quality was pretty good (for its range of definition - 640x480), I was thinking of using it fairly often, but if the sound is bad, then it would be better to use an HD video camera with good stereo sound.

"'Burbs Bound - September 2009"

Looking out the window of a Suburbia-bound commuter train one evening in September 2009.

The new trains don't have shades that pull down in front of the windows (good, so I can see outside!), but in place of that, they have green tinting in (or on?) the glass which can look kind of ghoulish at night sometimes. Also, a coating on the glass makes it so there is a sort of double reflection sometimes, often ruining what can be a very cool scene-overlay effect with clear glass when the lighting is right.

"The Hallway" - September 2009

Exploring a mysterious path in an old Tokyo building....

Taken in an old wooden apartment building most likely not long for this world, as it's not full, and the owner is probably waiting for the last tenants to leave so they can tear the building down.

"Nishi-Ogikubo Nostalgia Street" - September 2009

Walking down an old street in Nishi-Ogikubo (in September 2009) that has become something like "Nostalgia Street" - since old streets like this in Tokyo are becoming quite rare. It used to be just that they were just older areas with character, but now some areas like this are almost becoming tourist attractions - sort of like theme parks. Lots of people (cough-cough) taking pictures, etc....

"Cruising Tokyo in a 1955 Chevy Bel Air" - September 30th, 2009

Going for a cruise in central Tokyo in a 1955 Chevy Bel Air, followed by Mr. Racer. Also featuring the Yurakucho SB (at the beginning of the clip). Taken on September 30th, 2009.

My parents had a 1955 Chevy when I was a little kid, so it was great to see and ride in this car - as though it had come back from the past as a sort of time machine.

"Watching Clouds, Taxis & Trains - October 2nd, 2009"

Standing in front of the "Shokuan Stand Bar" in Yurakucho, which is across from the Denki Building. Just like the title indicates, I was watching the low clouds blowing by overhead, the taxis driving by, and the overhead Keihin-Tohoku Line trains coming into Yurakucho Station. The temperature was just about right on the evening of October 2nd, 2009, but cold weather is on the horizon....

Probably not very interesting for most people to see, but it shows to some extent the type of motion and scenery that is part of life in Tokyo, with the overhead Yamanote loop line defining and giving character to the central part of the city.

"Couple in Evening Yurakucho" - October 2nd, 2009

A couple walks off down a wet sidewalk in Yurakucho in-between rain showers beneath speeding clouds. It was a nice evening, with clean air, comfortable temperatures, and a romantic/dramatic atmosphere.

"Old 1935 Ryogoku Hotel - Haunted in 1990"

I was walking around recording images & sounds of the area along the river, and soon after crossing over a bridge and arriving in the Ryogoku Station area, I noticed unusual-looking doors in an old building. Taking a closer look, I peered through the glass doors and saw what looked like a hotel front desk, although there was no one in sight and it was clearly not being used as a hotel as I stood there, in September 1990. I pushed one of the door - it was open! So I walked in (not something I would do now, in the security-conscious 21st century, but at the time, it wasn't so outrageous).

After looking around the halls a little, and seeing what I thought were vacant apartment rooms on the top floor, I ran into a tenant who told me that it had been a luxury hotel when it was built in 1935, with nice views of the river (now obscured by the expressway). He went on to explain that the building had been requisitioned by the US military following the end of WW-II, and used as a residence for US military women. It used to have high-ceilinged hallways, but fake ceilings had been put in (probably to mount the curse of the 20th century - florescent tube lighting). There were plans to tear the building down, but the last ten (or so) tenants were resisting. Apparently the building had been used in some old movies as well. He told me it was alright to take pictures in the halls, but to be careful of the second floor, as a few people lived there. That building is long gone now, and I'm not seeing info about it under "old Ryogoku Hotel" or "Chiyoda Heights Building", so more research is in order.

"Ebisu Station View & Yamanote Platform" - October 6th, 2009

Starting with a look out on city buildings from the east side of Ebisu Station, then continuing with a walk through the ticket barrier, down an escalator to the platform, and a view of the platform announcer with his wifeless microphone, followed by a Yamanote Line train coming in.

This is a raw clip from the camera and should have had some of the boring walking scenes in the middle cut out. The beginning and end are (in my opinion) not too bad however.

"Tokyo-Iroiro - October 2009A"

Various scenes taken in Tokyo, with many train and train station views, including on a Seibu Railways branch line, the Yamanote Line, The Ikegami Line, the Chuo Line, and some scenes from Yurakucho (both the station and the area).

Note: My usual video editing software won't play the files from my Ricoh-GR camera, so I tried using different software, which worked, but the conversion into YouTube's format seems to have ruined the sound....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Saturday, October 03, 2009

"Tokyo LHS Videos from September 1990, 2008, & 2009"

"Rainy Day In Tokyo - August 1990"

Taking the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line from Hibarigaoka to Ikebukuro in the afternoon, getting on the train at about 4:11 p.m. After arriving at Ikebukuro Station (the first station on the line, although the last station on the line from the standpoint of this video), there's a view of people getting on the train, with people walking on calmly at first, and then some people rushing for the last open seats before the loading process calms down again (since all the remaining people will be standing, there's no point in rushing). Walking towards the exit gates, there's a view of the man making platform announcements with a wired microphone from a fixed location (in 1990, most stations hadn't converted to wireless mic systems yet).

From there, a transfer to the Saikyo Line, for a trip to Shinjuku (which was the terminal stop for the Saikyo Line then, this being before it was extended to Ebisu and beyond).

Looking out the right side of the Saikyo Line (which runs parallel to the Yamanote Line tracks here), it's apparent how busy the lines are, as several trains are passed going in both directions. The Yamanote Line trains seen out the window of the Saikyo Line train are of the previous generation, not the ones currently in use. There is a long and detailed announcement about connecting trains in Shinjuku (made by a real live human being - not a robot-like bloody recording) as the train zooms along towards its terminal stop in Shinjuku.

Getting off the train in Shinjuku, I walk through the middle passage to the west side of Shinjuku Station, where a man is standing on top of a van ranting about politics at the passersby through very loud horn speakers.

Walking along the area in front of the station, there is a jumbled pile of bicycles. People most likely parked them one after another until they were blocking part of the area in front of the sidewalk, at which point someone tossed them in a pile to get them out of the way. What would happen back then in 1990 (and still happens sometimes, although much less frequently now - what with flex time and all), is some people who usually walked to the station would be running late, so they would ride their bicycles to the station, hurriedly park them somewhere (typically where parking is not allowed), and jump on a train, hoping that their bikes would still be there late in the evening when they returned. If someone came back and discovered that their bike was on the bottom of a pile like this, or had been hauled away, they would give up on it and buy another one.

This may sound strange, but people very rarely buy expensive bikes here, so it's not such a financial burden to replace them from time to time. Since then, when you buy a bicycle, the stores push you to register it with your name and address, which they explain is so police can help you track it down if it's stolen, but it may be more about stopping people from abandoning bicycles and enabling police to enforce fines against illegal parking (if an abandoned bicycle can have its owner identified by a registration sticker, then that owner can be fined and billed for storage when the bike has been hauled away).

"Weeknight Trip Home - September 1990"

Typical Tokyo Street scenes, walking around in this mega-city of lights, and then the stations and trains encountered on the way home. On the trains, more actual live human voice announcements (instead of the bloody recordings that are increasingly used these days). Interesting city this, but with all the constant lights & noise, one ends up dreaming of trees, grass, light breezes, rustling leaves, and a place free of machines and concrete.... (Trains in video: Saikyo Line & Seibu-Ikebukuro Line).

"Seibu Branch Lines - September 2008"

Super boring video. Late evening views of a few different Seibu Railways branch lines. The main two Seibu lines are the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line and the Seibu-Shinjuku Line, and then there are several short branch Seibu lines out in the 'burbs. The trains in this video are mostly 'burbs branch lines. Taken in September of 2008.

"Yurakucho Evening - September 2009"

A rough look at a couple of areas near Yurakucho Station, taken one evening in September 2009. A Shinkansen super express passes by on one side of the station, and a Keihin-Tohoku Line train on the other.

I like this video compositionally, but it's distressing in that the resolution is horribly low. Of all the days, it would have been nice to have been using a proper video camera when I took these images.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon