Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Tokyo Station Newly Restored and Open

Tokyo Station’s long restoration is now finally over and the new frontage was unveiled in a big projection mapped light show just last week. It was officially open as of 1st October and is said to include new retail spaces, restaurants and cafes, ‘entertainment’ (but I’m not yet sure what that refers to) and of course, the luxurious Tokyo Station Hotel. If I wasn’t so busy I’d go down there and check it out first hand but it’s just not possible at the moment with all the work I’ve got on, and it’s probably best to wait for the crowds to die down anyway.

If you don’t know about Tokyo Station, it’s a train station in central Tokyo not far from the imperial palace that connects Shinkansen (Bullet Train), JR (Japan Rail) and Metro lines and serves as Tokyo’s main station. It’s not the biggest however, as Shinjuku station beats it in terms of size and sheer volume of passengers, but it’s the biggest in terms of the number of lines and services that converge here. The red brick side of the station has been around since 1914, and that’s the side which has received the renovation treatment. It was damaged by bombing in World War II and has been added to and expanded since then with the Yaesu side being added and modernised around the early 1950’s.

It’s interesting for me to see it finished now, as it’s the first time I’ve done so. Ever since I came to Tokyo in 2008 it’s been undergoing renovation and has been covered with scaffolding and sheeting.


Tokyo Metro Book Share

If you go to Nezu station on the Chiyoda subway line of the Tokyo Metro you will find these unusual bookcases in the shape of metro trains. The books on the shelves can be read whilst sitting in the driver’s compartment of the fist carriage, or you take them with you to read on an actual subway train. It’s things like this that I like most about this city, and that’s the communal nature of the way things work here and how everyone looks out for one another and they aren’t always trying to get one over on someone else, etc. People in Tokyo also don’t feel so desperate that it’s necessary to steal books, and have a great enough sense of civic duty to make sure they return any book they borrow after they’ve finished with it. That’s also why there is no litter on the streets here, I suppose.


Mobile Phone Signal Coming to Tokyo Metro

Like most underground railway systems in the world, on the Tokyo Metro you can often use your phone at the stations along the way, but you can’t use them in the tunnels in between stations. Well all this is slowly set to change by the looks of things as the 3 main mobile phone providers, Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank have announced they are going to gradually introduce service to the tunnels. It’s still a no-no to talk on the phone while on the train but it’s going to make it a lot nicer for browsing the web and using apps that require connection to the internet. It’s certainly good news to me.


Tokyo Metro Staff Using iPad

Tokyo Metro iPad

As part of their Metro Smile initiative, Tokyo Metro are introducing iPads for station staff to use in order to help people navigate the complicated subway system. They can plan routes, zoom and pan an interactive network map, and also access station plans that show the exits and platforms, etc. I think this is aimed at people from out of town, tourists and the elderly. I could never see myself ever needing to use this service. If you’ve got an iPhone, this service is completely redundant, and even if you haven’t, I would say the map above the ticket machine is enough for people who’ve been living in Tokyo for any period of time. The fact that they are using iPads though, shows how the Japanese have really embraced Apple products, since the iPhone and iPad came out especially. In that sense, I’m all for it – regardless of how useless it is to me.

You can see it in action in this follwing clip:

(Sorry, Nihon Television don’t allow embedding.)


Tokyo Metro iPhone App

Tokyo Metro iPhone App

I saw an advertisement on the train for a new iPhone app developed by Tokyo Metro, so I decided to download it. You won’t be able to ditch your Jorudan (Norikae Annai) app just yet, but it’s a worthy addition to your tool set for navigating around Tokyo. You can search for your nearest station (Metro only), explore the map of the Tokyo Metro network, find information about in-station facilities and exits, see a map of the inside of each station, and of course plan your journey from one place to another by Metro.

When you fire up the app, you are presented with a screen showing the symbol for each metro line. From here, clicking on the appropriate icon will give you information on service disruptions. This page is therefore totally useless unless in the event of some huge natural disaster as I’ve never experienced any service disruptions during my journey in the 3+ years I’ve been here. Another word of warning is that you will probably need to read some Japanese to use this app properly. Most of the functions are pretty self-explanatory, but the route planner is somewhat hard to find, but if you tap around you should work it all out.

As I said, this won’t replace your main Tokyo train app, because you can’t get the time of the next train and you can’t get the time of the all-important last train. Also, it doesn’t cover any other lines apart from the Tokyo Metro. It’s still worth downloading though I think, and the design is not too bad (better than Jorudan for sure).


JR Line Watches

JR Line Watches

I picked up these two beauties the other day. The orange one is the Sobu Line watch and the other is for the Yamanote Line. They only cost ¥500 each, and show a list of the station names along the length of the strap. They’re pretty bad quality as they’re so cheap, but I’ve been looking for a brightly coloured plastic watch for ages and being able to check the stations on the JR lines and see the time simultaneously can’t be bad.


Suehirocho Mural

Suehirocho Mural

Looking from the window of the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line subway train on my daily commute to work I noticed this gloriously dated mural in Suehirochou station (which will spit you out in Akihabara, electric town should you take the main exit onto the street). I had to step off the train and get a picture of this retro masterpiece (above).


Train Through Tokyo

Train Through Tokyo II from Stephen Smith on Vimeo.

This is a video I shot during a train ride from the center of Tokyo to the airport (1hr 20mins or so away). It gives a good impression of the Tokyo cityscape, the buildings, logos and colours of the city rushing by. There’s also a few more videos from this series on my Vimeo.


Brrr, this isn’t good.

Brr, this isn't good.

This is what it looks like as you exit Inaricho Sta. at around 5.30am after staying up all night in Shibuya. I’d forgotten I’d taken this picture. I just found it in my camera. The wind is pretty strong in Tokyo at the moment, and it blows into the entrances and exits of the metro stations. As your walking out feeling delicate after not sleeping, or having just woken up after half-an-hour’s sleep on the train, it chills you to the bone. I’ve done a lot of not-sleeping recently, and I’ve also got into the habit of sleeping on trains in the early hours of the morning and riding past my station, out into the suburbs and beyond.


Special Feature: In Search of Street Fighter IV

As promised, I hit the streets of Tokyo to find a video arcade that had the new Street Fighter 4. The obvious choice of starting place was Akihabara, or Electric Town as it is also known, a mecca of otaku culture bristling with pachinko parlours (パチンコ店 / パチンコ屋) and video arcades (ゲームセンター) as well as, of course, the myriad consumer electronics stores.

I first arrived at Taito Station, the most likely place to find the newly released machines.
Taito Station game centre in Akihabara

This place has 6 floors of gaming with a different type of machine on each. On the ground floor (known as the 1st floor in Japan) they had the UFO catchers, and on the floor above they had the photo sticker machines (プリクラ / プリント倶楽部), and above that the dance and music games, and so on.

On the ground floor though, they also had a floor guide at the foot of the escalator.
The floor guide showing SF IV on 5th

So it wasn’t difficult to find (thankfully I knew the location of this flagship game centre because I had been here before). I made my way through the building via two escalators and an elevator from the 3rd floor to reach the 5th, which is easily my favourite floor because it has all the beat-em-ups.

So here they were. A bank of 8 newly released SFIV cabinets.
Street Fighter IV machines

It wasn’t busy because it was in business hours, but there were a few guys in suits on the far side and a couple of guys on my side. The Japanese cabinets only accommodate 1 player per machine, but if a player starts a game on the machine opposite yours, you have to fight against each other in 2 player versus mode! This is a great idea as you can have way more 2 player battles, and against complete strangers. I gave someone the Ken treatment and I could see him out of the corner of my eye afterwards, peering around the machines to get a look at who beat him. This adds a new kind of dynamic to the whole idea of arcade games, and I like it! 2 player bouts are always more enjoyable than fighting the CPU.

The characters were cleared easily, but the end of game boss, Seth, ate a couple of credits. I gave up after that and went home. I wasn’t about to waste any more money, so I made my way back downstairs to the front of the arcade.

Outside, I found this interesting machine facing out onto the street.
Space Invaders 30th anniversary freeplay

This is Taito’s Space Invaders 30th anniversary novelty called ‘The Happy Button’. The idea comes from the playing style adopted by most players of space invaders, one of the few games to feature backing music consisting of only 3 notes, which is to pound the fire button constantly in the hope of hitting an invader. All you have to do is press start and you get the countdown 3,2,1 before you have 10 seconds to hit the button as often as possible. I gave it my best Track n’ Field vibro-arm and got a pretty poor 81 presses. Such a simple idea, but it’s hearing the legendary missile sound FX again that makes it all worth while. After two worse attempts, I cycled home.


Teikyo University Ad

Teikyo University Ad

I find myself in Ikebukuro a lot more now that I live out on the Seibu line, so everyday on my way from the train I see this advert on the station platform and it makes me smile. On the one side of this ad, you have the guys, suited and ready for action in what appears to be an aircraft hangar. Then, on the other side of the same ad you have the girls, in cheerleader outfits. I’m not saying anything.


Stationmaster Cat

Stationmaster Cat

This is possibly akin to the local police department’s tendency to have cute manga-styled creatures as their mascots, but I absolutely love any country where this is possible. In a nutshell, a cat named Tama that hung around the station a lot was appointed stationmaster of Kishi Station in Wakayama Prefecture. After a period of loyal service the railway rewarded the cat with a new office, complete with a ventilation fan and a toilet, and promoted the cat to division chief-level. In a statement, the railway said it recognised the efforts (their words) of the 8-year-old feline and promptly moved the cat up the ranks.

I’m starting to believe that I too can get a job over here now. After all, mine and Tama’s Japanese comprehension are probably on a similar level.

Via Metropolis Mag