(1999/04/29) - For only the second time, I met someone in person on Monday that I initially met on the Internet back in... January (I think). We exchanged a few letters, and then I didn't hear from her for awhile... until a few weeks ago, when after a few more letters, we decided to meet. We met in Shinjuku, and had a good time talking about one thing and another, as two people are wont to do (and is no big deal), but a couple of aspects to the meeting are begging comment.
One is the situation of either meeting someone that you feel you know, who doesn't actually know you very well (or at all), or meeting someone who seems to know you, even though you don't know nearly as much about them. I get this feeling from time to time with some of the people I send the newsletter to, when they'll suddenly ask me about something that I wrote. My first reaction is often "Why do you know that? I didn't tell you!"... and then it sinks in that I wrote about it.... On Monday I felt that in a stronger way, as it was the first time for us to meet. True, we've exchanged letters, but the volume has been heavy on my side with the inclusion of the newsletters, so she knew much more about me than I about her.
It's quite an interesting feeling - a feeling of both wonder and relief. Wonder at how someone you've never met can already know you, and relief at not having to explain yourself. Just at the point where you would usually be feeling either a growing familiarity or a growing discomfort, you realize that the person in front of you already knows... and wouldn't be there if it were a complete mismatch... which leads me to the other thing I want to write about.
I asked her how the reality of me sitting there in front of her compared to the mental picture she had before meeting me, and her answer was perceptive... and enlightening. She said that from reading the newsletter, she had pictured me as being an observer of the places I visit without being a part of them... more of a moody loner than I seemed to be in person.
"Ah... there it is!" thought I. From what some of my e-mail pals write, I get the feeling at times that I'm coming across as being an unhappy loner. Like everyone, I have my good and bad moments, but I'm not fundamentally unhappy.., just frustrated at times, and at those times, I often write about the experience, so....
The sense of not being a part of things... when I go out on one of my expeditions - while I'm standing somewhere and writing about my surroundings, certainly I am not of the place at the moment, not in an active sense in any case. If I were, then I wouldn't have time for writing! In any case, from someone who spent a couple of non-electronic hours with me, I'm not as "lost and alone" as I seem to be sometimes on the electronic screen.
There are both 1990 and 2012 views from Komagome in this batch, although the 2012 views only show the area very near to the station. In 1990 however, I spent most of September 14th, 1990 in the area, recording several areas (Nishigahara, Nakazato, Kaminakazato, etc.), including an interesting old shotengai shopping street. Other 1990 views include Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, Machida, Takadanobaba, Ikebukuro, and of course various train views.
There are a lot (and I do mean *a lot*) of separate views of Kawagoe - primarily in the old section of town with it's Edo style buildings. Then there are morning views of Shinjuku and Ochanomizu; and various views of Ginza, Yurakucho, Kanda, Etc.
This is a good example of how the old shotengai shopping streets used to look. I say "used to" because even the ones that remain are not quite the same as when this was taken in 1990. Even in 1990 - as I note on-tape (in the longer version below) after walking into a fairly large (by shotengai standards) grocery store - the grocery store had a lot of customers, but many of the shotengai stores just down the street had very few. I wondered at the time what would become of the shotengai shopping street, and over the years, a new term has come up, "shutter-gai" meaning not a street of open shops, but a street of closed shutters of former shops. Many shotengai shopping streets soldier on, but business doesn't appear to be very good for them now.
This is a long video - just over an hour and a half, and it includes a fairly detailed look at the area on one side of Komagome Station. (The shotengai clip above this one is a new edit - from the source tape - of part of this longer video.) Time-wise, this includes views from the daytime, the evening, and at night - part of the time walking in the rain.
A lot of 15-car trains come into Ueno and dead-end there, since most platforms in central Tokyo can only accommodate 10-car trains. The Chuo Line is the only major JR line that runs right through central Tokyo (via Shinjuku), and one consequence of that is Chuo Line trains are only 10-cars in length.
The 1914 Tokyo Station building has been renovated/rebuilt - with (from appearances) more reconstruction work than renovation. It looks pretty much like a squeaky-new building, which is slightly disappointing. I think they could have kept a little more of the original structure, but that's just my opinion. In any case, it looks pretty cool and it's styling from another era provides very welcome contrast in the Marunouchi area, which has been almost completely rebuilt with glass and steel high-rise office towers.
The more crowded the trains get, the more doors they put in them (to provide quicker loading and unloading). I think this type of Seibu Line train is the last type in Tokyo to have three-doors (per side of each train car) - the standard is four, although there were some six-door train cars on the Yamanote Line before they decided it make it into a kind of horizontal elevator and needed all the train cars to have the same number of doors in order to match them up with platform wall doors (currently only at Ebisu, but platform construction for additional platform walls is evident at several other stations).
If you want to know what it's like riding out into the countryside via regular (not reserved seat, special express) trains, then the first video below has some good scenes/sounds of a trip I took in November 1990, part of the time with the window open, so you can hear all the noises of the old type train I was in very well. From the clack-clack of the segmented rails (they've since gone to long seamless rails) to the high-RPM whine of the motors (newer trains are quieter and sound quite different).
To really get the full effect of what it felt like at the time to ride these trains, try listening with headphones and with the sound loud enough to simulate the level it was at at the time (which you'll just have to guess at of course, but the point is, not too low a sound level, or you'll miss both details and the overall effect). It's a long video at almost 90 minutes, but regarding the sounds I mentioned, the part where I was by an open window is towards the beginning of the video, so that's easy to experience just by starting from the beginning (and if you have time, maybe even take the whole trip with me).
I started off saying "If you want to know what it's like...", but maybe I should have made that past tense. The newer trains only have a few windows that open, and those only open at the top, not the bottom; and people appear to be afraid of fresh air now, so they are almost never opened. There's a world of difference between riding in a sealed box and riding in a cool old train with the windows open. There are still a number of older trains running, but fewer and fewer, and hardly any in central Tokyo.
I've had several people currently in their early twenties who have said they wish they could have experienced the bubble economy years, and I generally tell them that they probably have an overrated image of the era from modern movies/dramas that glamorize the time. I mention how the plans of the time resulted in the current Tokyo with its many new (since that time) high-rise buildings, expanded train system, etc., but it wasn't all sparkling lights and fun at the time.
But in (re)watching this short clip from 1990, I remember the optimism of the time. A lot of new construction was beginning then, and newer things were not just utilitarian, as they had tended to be in the past, but were... I'm not sure "extravagant" is the correct term, but certainly it would apply in some cases. But new things are just new things - the feeling of the country moving steadily forward was powerful and people were optimistic about the future.
Contrasting that with now, there are so many very worrying trends and incidents in the world, it's increasingly difficult to feel very optimistic about the future. And in that regard, the young people I've met who wish they had experienced the late eighties are actually right to feel they missed out on something - although I still think they have a rather different idea in mind than what it was really like.
For anyone who has been to Tateyama Station, this might be interesting - either in a nostalgic way if you have experienced the old station, or in a historical sense if you only know the current rebuilt version of the station. Speaking of the bubble era again though - this is the type of thing I mean when I tell the current twenties crowd that *during* the bubble, there was a lot of old stuff still. It was during the bubble that *plans* for all the new stuff they have now were put in place, but the bubble years themselves were really more the old Showa Era than the new Heisei Era.
This is a very short clip, but it shows (at the beginning) people in a train looking at - no, not cell phone screens - but newspapers. The only people who had cell phones in 1990 were businesses and rich people. The phones themselves were very expensive, and it was very expensive to use them.
This might be of some historical interest. This was the day that Crown Prince Akihito officially became Emperor Akihito, and I walked around on the parade route recording the event. There were just a few seconds when he could be seen, but my purpose in going to the parade route was to see the event of people going to see the event, more than the central focus of it. Looking at it now, the various cameras are interesting to see. Film cameras, large video cameras (which I was using myself), etc. No digital cameras.
I started out in in the suburbs, and took a few trains to the center of Tokyo, and then after the event, took a few trains back to the suburbs. I included the trip there and back to show that it was - by and large - an average day for most of the city. The problem with news reports is that you get only the central issue, and as time passes, it's easy to get the mistaken impression that the entire city was involved in something; but you can't have 30,000,000 people in one part of the city! So, it was a big event of course, but everything didn't stop that day because of it.
This batch of around 80 clips were all taken on September 10th, 2012 - starting with early morning train scenes, and then the morning rush of people walking to work from Shinjuku Station. After that, I visited Nakano, Koenji, Sugamo, Ginza, Hamamatsucho, Tamachi, Shinbashi, and Ginza again. (I had work to do in Ginza in the afternoon and by getting up very early was able to go around to several places.) Incidentally, the first part of the batch below was taken in full-size HD.
Nearly everyone is using IC type cards to ride the train system, so there are fewer and fewer of the ticket gates that take magnetic tickets. I was using a magnetic ticket this day, so I had to use the older type machines. For some reason, the first machine I tired didn't like my ticket, but when I tried again with another machine, it worked okay.
Ah... this one. I got a comment complaining about the theme and I realized the title could be read as one of those (unfortunately) popular videos that poke fun of someone attempting to do something. Actually I began taking the video just to show the bus, and then a man on crutches came up and - with just the first low step - got on board, so I thought "Ah! Here we go! This is the whole point of the low-rider buses - that they are easy to board for people who would have had trouble with the steps!". So - to avoid confusion, I changed the name at YouTube to: "Low-Rider Bus Easy to Board with Crutches (120910)".
Speaking of this type of bus - which is low to the ground and doesn't have any steps in the front section - is the same type design being used for buses in other countries as well?
They were publicizing the helicopter (medical) rescue service and they actually brought a helicopter to the plaza for the event. I asked a guard at the site later that night if they had actually flown it there, and he told me no, it had been brought there by truck.
This batch of clips begins with a couple of trips back to 1990; one showing a ride on the Ginza Line and the other a look at a few of some very popular (at the time) pachinko parlors. Then there are a a few views from 1991, all taken in the East-Shinagawa area - one featuring a walk down an overgrown sidewalk that seemed to be almost completely unused; another a look at a shipping container-handling monster machine that I found very interesting at the time (and still think is fascinating, but only if you like machines I guess). The third clip is a (nearly) hour-long video of my wanderings in East-Shinagawa on that August 24th, 1991 summer day (including the overgrown street and the shipping container footage).
From this year - 2012 - feeling a bit nostalgic about it as I walked around - I did what I used to do back in my 1990-93 video days: I went to places specifically to record the moving sights and sounds of the area as I walked around. I spent most of the time in Kamata and in Akabane, but also spent some time in Ueno - in and around Ueno Station. Both Kamata Station and Akabane Station have changed radically (been almost completely rebuilt basically) - the rail platforms haven't changed much, but now the upper part of Kamata (and the lower part of elevated Akabane) are basically shopping malls.
In 1990, they had mostly replaced the old fully orange trains on the Ginza Line (maybe the 2000 Series?) with the newer aluminum type (with an orange stripe), but there were still a few of the old trains on the rails. For some reason, in spite of their rarity, I didn't feel a particular need to document them as I went about Tokyo taking video. Nonetheless, I did get some video footage of the old type - one example being this clip.
I had gotten the impression that the number of pachinko parlors in Japan had been decreasing since 1990, but according to a statistics site I checked on-line, they went on increasing until 2000 and have been decreasing since then. Looking at a graph, it looks as though the total number is about the same now as when this video was taken. However, I don't seem to see them as often - maybe the ones that remain are in more out-of-the-way places than before?
I've been venturing off my usual beaten paths and visiting a few places I haven't been to in awhile. The biggest surprises have been how radically some train stations have been changed/rebuilt. Someone recently told me that the JR railway company makes most of its money from renting out retail space - not from running its trains (which I didn't believe at first, but I do now!), so it stands to reason that former utilitarian train stations (with a shop or two in a few of them) have been converted into retail shopping malls that also have ("What's that noise?") trains running through them ("Oh yeah! This is actually a train station!").
Shin-Okubo hasn't changed much - and it was reassuring in a way to see it the way I remember it from the early eighties. The first shock was Otsuka. I came down the stairs and thought I had gotten off at the wrong station! Since then (at places not in this batch of video clips) I've had similar feelings of shock/disorientation at a few other stations. But that's the charm/hazard of living in Tokyo. If you stay away from any area for awhile that you used to know well, chances are that when you go back, it will have changed. You get used to gradual change, but the shock comes when the change has come about by eradicating 100% of what was there before and building something entirely different in its place. (If you don't live in Tokyo, you probably think that's an exaggeration - long-term Tokyo residents know better!) You would think it couldn't be 100% changed and maybe it isn't actually (there must be *something* left from before?!), but I've been to areas and looked around and not discovered anything at all of what was there before. With some redevelopment, they bulldoze over an area and build the entire area anew, so I think 100% is probably accurate.
Anyway - in addition to typical scenes of Shinjuku, Ginza, Kyobashi, Yurakucho, etc., there are views of Shin-Okubo, Takadanobaba, Mejiro, Ikebukuro, and Otsuka.
This area is home to the most well-know "Koreatown" (or "Little Korea") in Tokyo. According to a Wikipedia page regarding Koreatowns in the world:
"Unlike other Japanese Koreatowns, the Korean-oriented commercial district around Shin-Okubo Station in Shinjuku Ward developed after World War II, and is dominated by "new-comers" - recent immigrants from South Korea who have retained their ethnic and cultural identity, as can be seen from the ubiquitous signs written in Hangul. Other immigrants from China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and various other nationalities makes this one of the most colorful and multicultural areas in Tokyo."
What I remember about Shin-Okubo is the multicultural (from various countries in Southeast Asia) aspect to it, but when I went there last week, it seemed like it was overwhelmingly Korean. I didn't really think of it as "Koreatown" before, but after walking around on both sides of the main street there on August 31st, I do now!
Takadanobaba hasn't changed much - come to think of it. Naturally, the tenants and (especially restaurants) in buildings have changed a bit, but there hasn't been much construction there and it feels pretty much as I remember it from the past few decades.
Maybe I just didn't appreciate it because I passed though it nearly every day, but Ikebukuro seems like it's become a more popular place with the young crowd than I remember. But... I suspect that memory is wrong. When I was in my twenties and walking around with other people in their twenties, I didn't think about it - it was just... Ikebukuro. Now that I'm three decades past my twenties, the crowds of young people really stand out to me? I'm not sure. In any case, my perception of Ikebukuro is that it's become a more hip place, but it was probably just as hip - for its time - in the early eighties as now?
The east side of Ikebukuro Station has movie theaters (or had - I noticed a large empty lot where a couple of movie theaters were before), restaurants, shopping, the Sunshine City complex, etc. The west side has Nakayama, clubs, and whatnot. The east side is where you see all the students and couples.
There was a large festival scheduled for the next day, so this group - in normal clothing - appeared to be practicing the day before. The following day (September 1st) there were a lot of short, but heavy rainstorms. Actually, that's a topic all its own - the rain would suddenly pour down really hard, then there would be no rain, it would pour down hard again, etc. Naturally I've seen on-again and off-again rain before, but never such heavy rain on and off so suddenly and for such a prolonged period. Every time it rained, I wondered if this group would get to perform on the festival day or not. Hopefully they were able to do so between the many sudden downpours.
About the strange way it rained - in talking with various people about that later, everyone told me that they also thought it was very strange and that they didn't remember it ever raining quite like that before....
This is as it was before, although I don't remember quite so many people standing about in front of the station. That's either just a timing issue (a large number of people just happened to be waiting to meet someone there) or it's become a popular place to meet. Different places in Tokyo tend to end up as kind of official meeting spots: Hachiko in Shinjuku, Studio Alta in Shinjuku, etc.
Mejiro Station has also changed pretty radically, but it's never been a station I went to often, so I had before, and still have, neutral feelings about it. Never having gotten used to it, it's not in the least disturbing that it has changed.
In walking around there for bit (on the west side of the station only), I was struck with how high-price the suburbs off of the main street appear to be (see following several clips - most of which are on the main street, but at least one shows a little of an expensive area).
Shinjuku Station now has the largest number of people passing through it every day, but apparently that distinction used to belong to Ikebukuro (probably before they extended the Akabane Line [renamed the Saikyo Line when they did] to Shinjuku, and then on to Ebisu), but Ikebukuro still has a very large number of people using it every day.
"Stand bars" (also translated as "standing bars") seem to be coming back into favor big time. The prolonged bad economy means people are cutting back on expenses, and one way to profitably run an izakaya with lower prices is to have everyone stand (more people fit into a small space and tend to linger less since they're standing the whole time).
Maybe "coming back into favor big time" is an overstatement, but I'm seeing more and more of them as the months roll past....
It's only when the weather is warm that there are so many tables out in the open like this. Spring is the best time - when visiting one of these izakayas is a kind of celebration of the warming weather.
Surface train travel in Tokyo is almost never boring - since you get constantly changing scenery, and and since Tokyo is constantly being rebuilt, you look out and kind of idly watch for new things you haven't seen before (either because you didn't notice them, or because they weren't there).
Speaking of "stand bars", there's one in this clip towards the beginning. I walk past it, and then look back (vertically) into the open door. I think this a new one, but I'm not sure. After passing a couple of asphalt deserts (for the internal combustion machines), I walk into Tokyo Station....