Tuesday, May 27, 2008
There isn't much of anything old left in Tokyo, but you can get at least a taste of industrial decades past by visiting a handful of places in Yarakucho that have somehow survived many decades in old-is-not-tolerated Tokyo. The most picturesque of these is probably the drinking place under the tracks - so over-photographed that you've probably already seen pictures of it a few dozen times... but... here it is again:
After taking that, I wandered over to nearby Hibiya Park and stumbled into a German Beer Festival, where I talked myself into having sausage and beer. The weather was actually perfect for it - not to be taken for granted here, what the rainy season, cold windy winter, hot & humid summer, etc.
"Hibiya Park German Beer Garden"
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
There isn't much of anything old left in Tokyo, but you can get at least a taste of industrial decades past by visiting one of the There isn't much of anything old left in Tokyo, but you can get at least a taste of industrial decades past by visiting one of the places under the tracks in Yarakucho.
"Hibiya Park German Beer Garden"
One of the cool evening events held in Hibiya Park - there was German sausage, German beer, and German music seemingly played by German bipeds. - LHS
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Then, after burning out four cameras taking video from 1990 to 1992 (with a couple of tapes in 1993), I decided I couldn't afford to keep taking Hi8 video, as the (disposable?) video equipment was too expensive for me to buy a new camera/editing controller/editing deck every six to nine months (all four of the cameras I did buy had to be repaired several times within their one-year guarantee period). So, with all the hardware that could play the tapes broken, I boxed the lot of them and sent them to hibernate in the closet.
This is where you might expect to read "... and there they lay forgotten, until..." but they were not forgotten. I had spent too much of my resources and time taking those tapes, so it was a constant thought in the back of my mind that I needed to get them digitized. From time-to-time over the years I would ask around a bit, but the system and storage space requirements were beyond what my computers at the time could handle. After about fifteen years, I began to worry that the tapes would disintegrate from age before I could vacuum the images off of them.
2007 - The power of affordable computers rose to a level sufficient to handle digitizing analogue tapes and I was able to buy what appears to be the last retail-available 8mm playback deck. So - with the necessary equipment finally at hand, I set to work digitizing the tapes. It hasn't always been easy. I was having an increasingly difficult time getting some of the tapes to play, so I bought a second playback deck and it turns out that some of the tapes will play on deck-B, but not deck-A, and - strangely - some of them will play on deck-A, but not on deck-B (I would have thought the newer one would best be able to play all of the tapes). Don't ask me why - both playback decks are the same model, but considering all the trouble I had with all four 8mm cameras and the 8mm editing deck, I'm not particularly surprised. Now, I just want to get everything into digital form so I can stop worrying about it.
In the digitizing process, I came across that early morning crush-rush commuter train material, edited out a piece of it, posted it to Google Video, and mentioned it online. I watched some other sites linking to it with interest, and then after it had been up at Google Video for a few weeks, an e-pal e-mailed me with the unwelcome news that my video had been ripped off and was being posted by others with no attribute to me. Worse, the test introducing the video came in various shades of BS - that the men on the platform were professional pushers (not true - two of them were the drivers of the two stopped trains, the others doing various work at the station), that it was current (no, it was taken in 1991), that it was in China (at least this bit of nonsense was easily pointed out due to the platform men speaking in Japanese in the video), etc. etc.
When I first saw the postings on YouTube saying "Crowded Train in China" etc., I laughed at the ludicrousness of it, but the comments at the foremost copy site (1,104,227 views the last time I checked) have been sobering. Mostly they are people laughing, which is not unexpected, but when they think it's present-day Japan and they start making derogatory remarks about the trains system here, etc., I really wish my video hadn't been copied and used in an idiotic way. I named it "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flextime is a Good Idea)" for a reason. The train system is better now than when the video was taken. New train lines, new rails on existing lines, new train cars, flex time at companies, etc., have improved the morning commute here.
Numbers - I don't think there is any train system in the world that carries more passengers into a central area than the extensive network of trains in Tokyo. The system is nearly overwhelmed at times, but that it carries the number of people it does, nearly always on time, is an extraordinary feat.
In any case, to do something specific about my vague statement that the system is better now, I went back to the same station, on the same train line, at the same time, and stood in the same spot on the same platform, where I took a new video of the same (in the schedule) express train. There was still a two or three second push needed from the two drivers to get the first door closed, but only there, not at the other doors. Have a look at the video here to see for yourself - remember, this one is current, it was taken less than a week ago:
Now... for the part that feels really weird. I read the comments and see people saying "It's fake", "I've seen real videos of crowded Japanese trains, and this one is fake", "That's not Japan, that's China" etc. etc. and it's really bizarre. Up until now, I've believed one thing or another based on books, conversations with people who know (or seem to know) what they're talking about, and even when I'm feeling quite certain about something, there's still the possibility in the background, however small, that I've got it wrong - that there's some crucial evidence that I'm unaware of. But this time, I'm thinking "Hey! Wait a minute! I was there! I took that video! I rode that line all the bloody time! I KNOW what's what here folks, I KNOW. I didn't get it on good athority, I f***ing KNOW. I mean... I wish I could put that in stronger terms, but all caps for "know" and the all-purpose "F" word is all that comes to mind right now. Maybe I could scream or break something? Naw, nobody could take that seriously. See? I KNOW, but how to convey that?
Anyway, to round out the commuting picture, here is another 2008 view of that same station - Hibarigaoka, on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line:
See? It's all quite civilized. Crowded, yes, but working very well.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Fast forward a couple of decades, and there are several new train lines, increased tracks on existing lines, new trains, and (very important) flextime. It's still crowded and there are still times when some pushing from the platform is necessary to get people on, but it's usually not quite like in the video clip, and not at most doors. So... people are beginning to forget how it used to be (plus the newest generation of train riders has never really had to go through much of the daily, high-intensity sardine run anyway), so there are increasing numbers of people who start to huff & puff when someone makes physical contact with them when the passenger density is high. Also, when the passenger density is very high, several people don't even attempt to force their way onto the train! Shocking! Where's their "fighting spirit"? (I'm sort of ashamed to admit here that I'm not entirely joking about this - I'll get on a train and find myself looking back at a group on the platform just before the doors close, and I see this look on their faces sometimes that seems to be saying "That's amazing - look how hard he pushed to get on... where is that masked man from?!".)
And so it was this morning - I was getting on a train in a spot that a lot of other people also liked, and the train car was probably at 90% capacity (on a scale with the train in "Actually Full Train in 1991" being 100% full), and as I forced my way on just as the doors were closing, I found someone fairly blatantly kicking my lower legs! Feeling both shocked that this was happening (it's never happened before, not quite so blatantly anyway) and angry (due to someone putting their bloody feet on my clothing), I raised up a foot and pushed back on the offending legs... or maybe I should say "what I thought were the offending legs", as in typing this out and calmly thinking about it, I suddenly realize that someone may have been kicking me from behind the person who was between us (on either side of or maybe even between that person's legs), but in any case, after the doors closed, I had this person behind me acting like being smashed between strangers was the most horrible thing that had ever happened to them. I ended up thinking - as I was being poked and elbowed - "If you can't stand the heat of the Yamanote Line, then just stay home! Or at least get on the train in a less popular spot! Or better yet, contribute to reducing crowding by moving out of Tokyo!"
So there we are, just one step away from an open confrontation & brawl, and we've gotten there with far less pressure than the people in the video had to put up with, who rode that ultra-high-pressure train to work every day.
And then there's the regular everyday deal where you've *almost* got enough space to stand without someone touching you, so when they do, you don't know whether to shrug it off as an accident or raise the hair on the back of your neck and bare your fangs in a "Grrrrr!! Get away from me, you!" snarl (done more with radio waves than actual fangs bared, to be more precise about it).
Another issue - Japan passed an anti-groping law a few years back, which is good, except in densely packed trains, you can't always accurately tell who has done something to you, and there have been cases where people have been wrongly accused and sent to jail. It's been in the news, there was a movie made about it, and now men on the trains are basically afraid of women. One "He grabbed me!" and their life could be ruined (sent to jail, fired from their jobs, divorced from their spouses, alienated from their friends, etc.). Mind you, if the guy is guilty of it, then screw him! He deserves it, but if a pervert reaches around a normal guy and grabs a woman, and the woman mistakenly thinks the normal guy right behind her did it, basically he's done for. So men try hard to keep their right arms up in the air (grabbing an overhead strap or bar, even when that means they're jabbing their elbows into someone (grrrr....), and when women are near the door or in a corner, often they get a no-touch zone, because a man standing next to them forces himself forcefully back into the people behind him and stays several centimeters away from the woman. I guess that's fine - I don't mind suffering a little more (I'll typically count around six people touching my body simultaneously at the same time a woman is standing by the door in a no-touch zone happily reading a book), but then some of these women get used to being in no-touch zones and they freak out a bit when they get into a car with a density high enough that everyone in the space is a sardine and no one could give any one a no-touch zone, even if their lives depended on it.
Trains-trains-trains... what can I say? over twenty-four years, I think I've averaged about two and a half hours per day on them, so that's... ah... (it's late) I don't feel like doing the math. In any case, it amounts to a huge part of my timeline of my life, so I end up talking about it more than I should.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Monday, May 19, 2008
And born of this theft, and helped along by bad titles like "Crazy Japanese Train Loaders" (over one million viewings!!), "Crowded Chinese Train"(!!), etc., there have arisen many questions, misunderstandings, heated arguments, and even one death threat (directed at an entire nation). And this is what makes me the most angry about the current situation of about one view of my posted material per 20 views of copies with bad titles and missing information. My title "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)" alone would have eliminated something like 30% of the questions, maybe more. But since there is a sea of misunderstanding arisen over the theft (many times over) of my material, I'll do what I can to answer some of the questions I saw in the comments section at that over-a-million-viewings site.
They're Not Crazy!
The title of the over-a-million site - "Crazy Japanese Train Loaders" is wrong and dangerous. There were (correctly I feel) some complaints in the comments section over this. Nobody on the receiving end of the shoves was complaining - and I've been there myself. Notice the three people at the second door who were told to give it up by the man trying to help people aboard there. They look quite unhappy at not being able to get onto the train. Being shoved for no reason is one thing, but being given added force to get onto a train you really want to get onto (for time, not because there's anything pleasant about it) is another. There's nothing crazy about the men doing the shoving - what would be better? To stand around on the platform and do nothing while the passengers fight it out along and the train sits there for ten minutes or more because the doors won't close? Take a close look at the time - the video begins the moment the doors open (a little before that in my recent and belated post to YouTube), everyone is aboard with all the doors closed in 70 seconds (within 60 is probably the goal), and the train is on its way in 80 seconds. In spite of this, there were comments saying that the time spent getting people aboard would be better spent in getting the train on its way quickly and bringing in another train! Ha-ha! Idiocy! Time any train at any station, and 70 seconds is not exactly glacially slow - and they got everyone (save three) aboard! No, while I think the management of the Seibu Corporation leaves much to be desired, and they should have invested more in track and train expansion much sooner than they did (they are notorious feet draggers when it comes to spending money), the railway employs are doing a good job of keeping the trains running on time - even when grossly overcrowded.
People Want to get to Work on Time!
Basically covered above under "They're Not Crazy!", the people being shoved aboard are not being abused - they're being assisted in getting on the train. The train on the opposite side of the platform was going in the same direction, so anyone not up for the high pressure express train, could have walked across the platform and gotten on the lower pressure Junkyu (next fastest to the express that had just left), and if they're not up for that, they could wait for a local train.
There are options... (sort of)
There are options, and people who can't take the pressure of the sardine runs often escape the situation in one way or another. Number one on the list is moving within walking distance of school or work. At the company I'm at there is one guy there who moved specifically for that reason. He hates the sardine runs, so he moved within a ten minute walk of work. I get off of four trains (90 minutes), feeling like I've just come back from war, and I'll see him come ambling up to the company yawning - having gotten up fifteen minutes before.... My walking distance from the nearest station is further than his walking distance from home to the company! He automatically has an extra three hours per day (15 hours per week, 60 hours per month) to enjoy life in. Other options are coming to work very early (not allowed in my case as security is very tight and contract workers can't just come at any time), or take a local train (losing something like 30 minutes every morning - 150 minutes a week, etc.). The final option - and final in every sense - is to take the Express Checkout via the rails in front of a speeding train, but that route is definitely not recommended.
1991 Folks - It's Better Now... Mostly
The video was taken in 1991. Around 1986 or so, the private lines were all given permission to raise their fares in order to pay for rail expansion to cope with overcrowding. Some of them honestly and forthrightly set to work and improved their services - such as the Keio Line, which added more express stops (all the lines already had full-time double tracks, but having four tracks at more stations enables fast trains to stay fast, getting around more trains at more stations) and then lowered their fares after they had finished construction. The bloody Seibu Line, by contrast, did almost nothing at all for ten years. They just took the extra money people were paying. This fact still makes me angry when I remember riding trains like the one in the video every day - suffering for the greed of bad management. I used to be in one of those trains, smashed in there like a sardine, thinking "they should force the management of this railway to ride this train every day until something is done to increase capacity!". Finally they actually did invest in some construction and even that line was improved. It's better today (but still crowded of course).
Ten-Car Trains (Some are Fifteen...)
Many people said "Why don't they add more railway cars?" The trains are already ten-cars long and the platforms have to match the length of the trains - you can't just send people out on the rails and gravel and expect them to climb up into cars with ladders or something - that's insane. Some of JR's main routes have fifteen cars per train. Fifteen cars is a lot for a commuter train! The platforms for these lines are quite long already and it's not really practical to have more than fifteen cars I don't think....
People are Usually Considerate of People Getting Off
One of the most persistent questions was "How do people get off?". This is a simple matter in my mind because I've been living with & on the system for 24 years, but I realize it's sort of complicated when I have to explain it. Number one - when the density is very high at sardine-run times, you need to know which stations are main ones (large numbers of people get off and it's not too difficult to get off with them), and which are minor stations that will be difficult to get off at if you're too far into the train. If you have to get off at a minor station, you expend effort (sometimes a *lot* of effort) in making sure you're reasonably near a door. Generally this is done either by getting into the corner by the door and clinging to the bars there fiercely, or by getting off at one of the major stations before the one you need to get off at, and then getting behind the people getting on there - last on, first off. Often there's competition to be the last one on. Not only do you get a window... spot, but you only have people pressed up against you on only one side, instead of all sides. And best of all (aside from being able to get off whenever you want), you become the front-runner in the race for the platform stairs, so you can run and get on the next sardine run (I get on eight trains per day - four in each direction).
And I almost forgot - even when you're away from the doors, generally if you say "Orimasu! Orimasu! Orimasu!" ("I'm getting off! I'm getting off! I"m getting off!) and start pushing towards the door, people will either lean far enough in one direction or another, enabling you to squeeze past, or the group by the door will get off, enabling escape to the outside (after which they get back on). Sometimes it pays to get off at each and every station on the journey, just to keep yourself near the door. In the case of the train in the video, its next stop was Shakujikoen, where likely very few people could get on, and after that Ikebukuro, the last stop, where everyone gets off. One final detail being that the doors at Shakujikoen open on the other side, so anyone "lucky" enough to get on that express is guaranteed a ride all the way to Ikebukuro once they're on. The thing that's rough if you're the last one on, is the shoving procedure at Shakujikoen can be pretty intense. As you can see in the video, people really want to get on! I can remember being pushed up against the door with such force that I was afraid I would end up with cracked ribs, so I tensed up my muscles to help take pressure off of the bones.
No, That's not Fake! It's Real Dude!
One of the comments posters repeatedly posted a "It's Fake!" blurb. Many people who know the Tokyo train system repeatedly told the guy it was not fake, but he persisted. I am in the best position to know - since I was there and I rode on that line every day. Dude! It's real! It's very real! That's no movie set and those are not actors!
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Saturday, May 17, 2008
This video has been relentlessly copied from my Google posting. Some posts even say it's China! I really can't quite believe that some people still think that Japan and China are the same country!
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
- without even mentioning where it came from. This is dirty and foul behavior, as if they wanted to display it, they could have (and should have!) linked to the video's proper home, which is here:
Does anyone know anything about www.snotr.com? Is this typical behavior for them? I've just posted this comment there:
Reading the other comments - I can answer all the questions. Why am I able to do this? Because I took the video! It was stolen and posted here without my permission, name or website. Check out "Actually Full Train" to see where it was stolen from.
Nevertheless - a couple of answers:
The video was taken in 1991, as its original title makes very clear: "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex Time is a Good Idea)".
No, it was not an unusual situation - it was like that every day! I know because I was usually one of those sardines myself! (Some spots of the train tended to be slightly less crowded but you still had to force your way on).
To whoever posted the video. Please don't steal other people's material! You're welcome to post it by using the code provided, which directs viewers to the site with the proper title, my name, and my website. Just stealing it and posting it this way is wrong.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
To add insult to injury, there is this bit of fiction posted at the site (under the inane title "Crowded Japanese train"):
"So you think your train or subway is often crowded? In Japan it's even worse, check out this video of a train departing during rush hour (6:30 AM)."
It wasn't taken at 6:30 - it was taken about an hour later than that, around 7:30 a.m. The 6:30 trains were not nearly that crowded. Remember, the *reason* it was so crowded is that it was before flex time and everyone *needed* to get to work by 9:00 a.m. Of the course the thief wasn't there that day, or any other day, and doesn't care about accuracy....
And it gets worse - after stealing it from me, they have the gall to embed their bloody logo in it! And then that stolen version is posted at this site:
I also e-mailed them this message:
Subject: Stolen Video "Actually Full Train"
Date: Friday, May 16, 2008
My video was stolen from this exact site:
- and is now being displayed with no mention of where it came from at this site:
I would like it either removed or linked to the proper site.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Images Through Glass
Mattaku!!! Have you seen my material popping up in other places without being attributed to me? I'd appreciate any info.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
This makes me wonder if there would have been less of a generation gap in the sixties if those children of Technicolor realized that their parents hadn't inhabited a black & white world in the past, but had actually lived among color as vibrant as at any time. Naturally there were far larger causes for the rift of the day, but the pictures representing the young period of those who came before me being mostly black & white didn't help. They had the effect of making the past look boring and - figuratively and literally - gray. With my own pictures, when I've taken things in black & white and I know what the scene looked like in color, still it's hard to imagine the scene in color when looking at the black & white print - even though it is something I saw in color with my own eyes. "Seeing is believing" even if it's an illusion?
Speaking of black & white film. My first several years of photography were mainly with black and white film for financial reasons. Color film was a bit more expensive than B&W and processing was a lot more expensive, so color was saved for special occasions. In San Francisco I also liked the effect of black & white, but still there was that financial thing hanging over me. If color had been the same cost, I'm sure I would have done some things at least in color.
The other thing that was a constant barrier to just doing what I would have liked to do, was the limitation of typically going out with three rolls of 36-exposure film, so once my 111 pictures (I always got 37 pictures per 36-exposure roll of film) were taken, I had to stop for the day. I drooled when I read about 300-exposure film packs, and then, when I finally got my mitts on a digital camera with a large memory card, it was as though I'd found a genie in a bottle who had granted me unlimited photo-taking ability. It's great to be able to get going in the morning on a photo-acquisition day, and be able to take around 1,500 pictures in a single day.
And so now - when I see people who have never experienced the day when black & white was the cheap film and almost no-one used it instead of color because they wanted to; and film is seen as artistic, instead of a limitation to free image making... I half shake my head and half reassess the advantages of black and white film taken with an old camera. The main advantage is just that you try harder with each individual image with film and then place a higher value on any given image (double exposures and some other technical things can also be nice). But if I assign a percentage to which I prefer - analog photography or digital photography, I would say 99 for digital and 1 for film (if that). For the film enthusiasts, I would say do whatever you like, but I have a difficult time sharing your enthusiasm for chemical photography. To use an expression I generally despise - "Been there - done that".
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Next issue. The movie theater! It was one of those new ones where they pack 8-16 theaters into a spiffy new building, and in the case of the theater I went to last night, they double up movies in the same space (making sure to kick everyone out after each showing, so you can't see two movies), with one movie playing around noon, another movie playing once or twice after that, and the noon movie showing again in the evening. So with 10 theaters, you can pack in 20 movies. Just the sort of thing that would look great in a suit-driven PowerPoint presentation, but the genba result is pretty bad. At the same time home TV's and sound systems are getting larger and better, movie theater screens are getting smaller and sound quality is getting worse.
Details of the theater I went to last night:
- The theater had a nearly flat floor, and to help people see, they had very uncomfortable seats that force you to slouch (tall people no longer get in the way - they just ruin their backs while suffering through the movie in an uncomfortable position) - although there was enough leg room (there had to be - otherwise the forced slouch wouldn't work).
-The smallish screen wasn't so small as to call it tiny, but as I looked at it from the pain of the uncomfortable seat I was in, I thought "This isn't vastly different than watching a large screen high-definition television hooked up to a decent sound system - what's the point in going to a movie theater to suffer in bad seats when you could actually enjoy the movie at home from a rented DVD?"
- There was no surround sound, but at least the from-the-front-only sound quality wasn't bad. It should have been much louder for that movie though, but they have to keep the volume down in order not to disturb the other theaters packed onto the same floor.
So I'm left with my thought originally generated by the badly designed seats and the small screen - what's the point in going to a movie theater? I certainly never again want to visit that one I went to last night! I'm willing to go to some expense, time and trouble to see a movie from a comfortable seat, with a huge screen, and surround quality sound played at the proper volume, but otherwise, I'd just as soon they shut down movie theaters altogether.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon
Saturday, May 03, 2008
My friend had shown up late that evening (he was pretty habitually late, come to think of it), and then we ended up staying past the last train, so we walked over to his place (he lived nearby, fortunately) and I slept there for a few hours and then I took the first train (5:00 a.m.) towards home in the morning.
How can I remember those details after seventeen years? I can't! Or more precisely, I couldn't, until I saw those parts again - in the video. There is a scene looking across a train station platform. My arm appears in the frame as I and the camera look at the time on my wristwatch as my friend walks up late & apologizing. Later on, there are video clips of going to a convenience store on the way to my friend's place; me looking very tired there before catching a few hours of sleep on the tatami; me half-asleep in the morning when I got up (I actually went to the trouble in the morning of setting the camera on a bookshelf, aiming it at myself, and videotaping myself sitting sitting on the tatami, half-nodding off to sleep for a minute before finally getting up); the early morning streets; the trains back... I used to videotape everything. While watching the tapes, the memories are roused.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon