Several trips back to 1990 (Ichigaya, Waseda, Ikebukuro, Takadanobaba, Hibarigaoka Bonodori, etc.) a few back to 1991 (drives to places in the country, a ride on a mini-steam locomotive, etc.), and views from this month - August 2012. I've written at some length under some of the videos regarding a few things, so scroll down for more text. Mostly the titles sum up the theme of each video though.
In this video, just as the Yamanote Line is about to depart from Shinjuku Station, the emergency buzzer goes off. I don't know what the cause was - someone may have dropped a bag onto the tracks, or maybe it was a prank. After three people died on Friday, January 26th, 2001 [article] at Shin-Okubo Station, JR installed emergency stop buttons at all the stations (I think *all* - it certainly seems that way) so anyone can stop the trains from the platform now. For emergencies, this is great, but the problem is that people often press the platform emergency stop buttons for frivolous reasons. I don't know exactly what happened on this evening, but they got the trains moving quickly enough that I suspect there wasn't an actual emergency.
Platform walls (with a pair of electric doors for each place there's a door on the train) are another thing they're installing for safety reasons, but while making the platforms safer is of course a great thing, I also see that they're not repainting bridges. If they let the bridges rot to the point where they have to shut down train lines because they spent maintenance money on the very expensive doors, you have to wonder if people are looking properly at the total picture. If it's doable, it should be done, but if they're sabotaging the long-term viability of the rail system through unbalanced spending....
I don't know. But think of the energy cost for one thing. On the trains, the doors are opened and closed pneumatically, so you don't need electricity beyond the power used for the air compressors. Now imagine the situation for one ten-car train. (Many trains are 15 cars, but let's use 10 for the sake of simplicity.) Each train car has four doors per side, so that's 40 doors x2 (while there are a few trains that use a single large door, the vast majority use two halves that slide together and close in the middle). So you have 80 doors per side. For platform walls with matching doors, this is matched by 80 electric motor powered doors per track (generally on both sides of a platform). For a simple station, with one train line stopping on both sides of the platform, you then need 160 electric motor powered doors. Many stations have multiple platforms, so for a four-platform station (eight tracks), you would need 640 electric motor powered doors. One article I read indicated that there is a push to install platform walls at approximately 2,800 stations. Again, many have more than one platform, but even if there were only one platform (with two tracks) per station, that would be 448,000 electric motor powered doors.
Aside from the huge power requirements for that many motors, there's the cost of installing them and maintaining them. There are some branch lines that are barely holding on already, since rural Japan has become very much a car culture. Being forced to shoulder this much expense would probably lead to several lines just being shut down. I like safety, but I also like rail transport. If you shut down much of the rail system in the quest for "zero railway deaths" (of course shutting down a railway is one way to eliminate any deaths that could happen in a rare accident!), and people then take to the road because there are no trains in their area, there will be many more deaths due to traffic accidents. So here's a question - is exchanging a rare railway death now and then for scores of people killed in the carnage that is the internal combustion engine free-for-all of the open road really a good idea? Kill 2,000 people to save 15? Why don't people look at the whole picture?
This is a fairly long walk I took across one of those parts of central Tokyo that you usually don't think about and seldom see. Starting with two points on a map and simply aiming towards one from the other, I found myself in a residential neighborhood that you might expect to be on the edge of the city somewhere, but it's right in central Tokyo, within the Yamanote loop line. I took this back in 1990, back when I was wandering around discovering the different areas of Tokyo, but I don't think I would go there now. There's nothing amazing about the content, but it is a view of a part of central Tokyo you may well not have imagined.
It's hard to pin down exactly what has changed, but when I watch this clip, I remember the feeling of the trains back then and the urgency of the daily commute. Superficially, nothing much (except hair styles and clothes) has changed, and yet the old intensity seems dulled now. The stress of commuting during peak hours is just the same, but there seems to be a less intense focus on getting to somewhere in the fastest possible time, and so it ends up feeling a little different. Another component of this is that the train that roars into the station in this clip is manually controlled, whereas nearly all trains are at least partially computer controlled now. With the manually controlled trains, you get a feeling of human beings at work, with a very real connection between the operator and the machine, but with the computer controlled trains, it feels something like an elevator. Someone pushes a button, but other than that, the machine runs itself.
It's been a while since I've walked down Takeshita-dori in Harajuku. It seemed about the same as I remember, although back when I first went down the street in the eighties, it wasn't a specific tourist destination. Now the street has always got a lot of tourists there to see the street itself rather than to go to its shops. Over the years, I've noticed more and more of this. The Ameyokocho area in Ueno at New Years is pretty close to full-out insane! A couple of years back (or was it three?) I went there and it seemed like easily 90% of the people there were there just to experience the event of being on the crowded street.
I suppose YouTube and the Internet have a lot to do with this kind of progression. In the old days, you would get information about tourist things to check out in a city by reading guide books, magazines, and whatnot, or having a friend show you around. A friend would know some non-touristy things/places to show you and a back streets place could maintain its status as an area for locals, visited only rarely by foreign tourists. Now everyone is falling over themselves to find (and publish stories about) interesting places "off the beaten track" and - lo-and-behold - once they post text, photos, and videos on-line, the places become the beaten track in a remarkably short time.
Of course, Takeshita-dori was never an unknown off-the-beaten-track place, but it didn't used to be a "must see!" tourist destination. As for changes, I saw a fairly large section that's been torn down and appears to be in the foundation stages of some new construction. Probably another steel and glass box with a sealed air system. (I wonder how long it will be before people rediscover how to properly ventilate buildings?)
That Tokyo crows are noisy is just a given, but what was strange about this one, is how it was down low at people-level, with people all around. I cautiously walked up to it and recorded this video. It seemed to be about as nervous of me as I was of it, and after continuing to to make its racket for me and my camera while eying me suspiciously from time-to-time, it flew off a few feet - I followed - and it flew off a few more feet, at which point I decided to leave it alone. I'm still pondering what it was doing down so low like that. Hoping someone would give it food? At least one young woman was frightened by it and ran off.
Crows are famous for being clever birds, and they have tended to appear clever to me from a distance, so I was mildly surprised to notice how the bird looked primitive and not very cleaver when observed at close range. Maybe it was just a stupid (or crazy?) crow, and others look different? Still, the "primitive beast" appearance of it was grotesquely fascinating to observe at close range.
This miniature steam powered train was surprisingly fun to ride! I'm not sure what the exact reason for it is, but there's something fun and fascinating about steam engines - maybe it's the basic simplicity of the technology. You can imagine the whole process pretty well, unlike with a computer-controlled electrically powered machine. Or maybe there's something about the basic elements of water, fire, and steam. In any case, it was a lot of fun and the steam whistle sure sounded good!
This is actually a continuation (on a different tape) of a video I posted in June of a festival I stumbled upon while driving around in the countryside in 1991 in a 1991 Honda Beat. Here is the first part of the video (with the same explanatory text I posted before):
A look at Narai 奈良井 (or Naraijuku 奈良井宿) on August 12th, 1991. Narai is a traditional town on the old Kisokaido 木曽街道 (or Nakasendo 中山道) road. This is the 34th (or 35th, there seems to be some dispute about this) stage of the 69 Stages of the Nakasendo series of woodblock prints (中山道六十九次).
Another batch mixing current Tokyo views with trips back to 1990. Going back to 1990, there are walkabout views of Hibarigaoka (north side of Hibarigaoka Station) and Tanashi, a 30-minute visit to the natsu-matsuri in Koenji and a few other things.
In 2012, I visit Nakano and walk around on back streets and through the Broadway building with its many small shops (books, movie memorabilia, etc.). There is also a walk-around view of a whole section of former drinking places that have mostly been torn down to (most probably) make way for yet another high-rise. The old wooden back-street areas of Tokyo disappear year-by-year - in the future, one hopes at least a few rustic areas will be preserved. The contrasts of Tokyo are a large part of its attraction. When everything is new, you lose that element.
There are also views of art exhibitions and train views from various lines - including some long clips from the Keio and Chuo Lines.
This batch jumps back and forth between 1990 and 2012 (with one video from 1993, which references a video from 1991). The opening scene is of a 1990 rooftop beer garden in Shinjuku, then a 1990 udon shop in a train station, followed by a 1993 look at an archaeological dig where the Shiodome office towers now stand. There are also art exhibition views, a couple of long Yamanote Line rides, and glimpses of other train lines in Tokyo.
I'll comment after some of the video titles and links below.
There are still rooftop beer gardens in Tokyo, but not nearly as many as there used to be. Regarding a difference between then and now (to a degree anyway), as a viewer commented, just about all the men are wearing white shirts. It was in the bubble years (of which this is the tail end, when things were just beginning to slide), that some people began to wear colored shirts, but even now, probably there are more people wearing white shirts here than in many countries.
Before the many office towers went up in Shiodome, this was undeveloped land. It used to be a rail freight yard, after which the rails were ripped out and it was used for model homes, a circus, a small amusement park, etc. I visited it during this time period in 1991:
But going back to the 1993 view - this is what it looked like just prior to beginning construction of the office towers, when they were carefully digging out old ruins. Presumably they carted the rocks and whatnot off and reconstructed them somewhere else, but I don't know where.
The everything-old-must-be-destroyed Godzilla monster is busy tearing down old buildings in Kyobashi and Nihonbashi, but a few old buildings are still left. This two-story old wooden building is the type of structure the city used to be full of.
A quick warning about the next two video clips - I've not had very good luck with playing them, so be forewarned. Hopefully they'll play for you if you try the links. The original files are fine - it's just the uploaded versions I'm having trouble getting to play - I think it's just congested network conditions or something, but thought I should mention it nevertheless (if it's happened repeatedly to me, presumably it could happen to someone else as well).
I'm still reading (bit by bit, as I have time) "A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World" by Charles Darwin, M.A., F.R.S. (relating his 1831-36 voyage around the world on the Beagle). The following paragraph brings to mind a scale not usually contemplated. And to think how quickly bipeds are damaging the planet....
"It required little geological practice to interpret the marvellous story which this scene at once unfolded; though I confess I was at first so much astonished that I could scarcely believe the plainest evidence. I saw the spot where a cluster of fine trees once waved their branches on the shores of the Atlantic, when that ocean (now driven back 700 miles) came to the foot of the Andes. I saw that they had sprung from a volcanic soil which had been raised above the level of the sea, and that subsequently this dry land, with its upright trees, had been let down into the depths of the ocean. In these depths, the formerly dry land was covered by sedimentary beds, and these again by enormous streams of submarine lava—one such mass attaining the thickness of a thousand feet; and these deluges of molten stone and aqueous deposits five times alternately had been spread out. The ocean which received such thick masses must have been profoundly deep; but again the subterranean forces exerted themselves, and I now beheld the bed of that ocean, forming a chain of mountains more than seven thousand feet in height. Nor had those antagonistic forces been dormant, which are always at work wearing down the surface of the land; the great piles of strata had been intersected by many wide valleys, and the trees, now changed into silex, were exposed projecting from the volcanic soil, now changed into rock, whence formerly, in a green and budding state, they had raised their lofty heads. Now, all is utterly irreclaimable and desert; even the lichen cannot adhere to the stony casts of former trees. Vast, and scarcely comprehensible as such changes must ever appear, yet they have all occurred within a period, recent when compared with the history of the Cordillera; and the Cordillera itself is absolutely modern as compared with many of the fossiliferous strata of Europe and America."
Lot's of time traveling in this batch of video clips, from 1990 in a few clips taken on August 3rd, 1990, when I walked from Ebisu over to the other side of the Yamanote Line, to 1992 when I visited Sydney Australia, to 1993 when I drove up to Sendai and Ichinoseki, and of course 2012, which consists of modern Tokyo train scenes and visits to art galleries in Kyobashi and Ginza. There is such a wide range of material this time, I'll skip attempting to say much of anything at the top here and make some comments underneath titles I feel are deserving of some explanation.
Having heard that there is a famous version of the Tanabata Festival in Sendai, I rented a Honda Civic (just a basic model without frills and with something like a 1400cc engine, but a great car!) and drove up from Tokyo. The drive was interesting. One thing that really surprised me along the way was discovering (when I got lost) that there were two parallel highways with exactly the same name!! Route-4, it turns out, splits at one point, and since it rejoins (eventually, after many kilometers), it was apparently thought a great idea to name both versions of the spit with the exact same name! (I would think something like Route-4a and Route-4b would have been nice...)
In any event, I eventually arrived in Sendai, found somewhere to park the car, and walked around for awhile to see the festival. They had impressively large displays hanging from the two-story roofs of roofed shopping malls, which is certainly practical, but the combination of being basically inside a building (enclosed except on the ends - like a tunnel) and the fact that there were hordes of other tourists there (for the same reason as I...), made it a bit stressful, so I didn't stay long and headed up further north. Later in the day, I arrived at Ichinoseki just before evening (see next video).
After not being happy under a roof and in mainly enclosed spaces in Sendai, once I got to Ichinoseki, parked the car, and found myself on an outdoor street which was set up to celebrate the Tanabata Festival, I found myself quite energized and happy to be out in the open, under the sky, in the wind, walking through the hanging decorations suspended from bamboo poles on either side of the street. It only partly shows in the video, but the total effect of having direct contact with the sky and wind - and walking through the hanging decorations blowing in the wind - was magical. As it got dark, they announced that there would be a fireworks display nearby, so I went to that (which is contained in the "Ichinoseki Tanabata-Matsuri" video, and also isolated as an individual clip via the following link).
I was glad to find this material, as I had forgotten that I had ever ventured out from the east side exit of Ebisu Station. I'd see (in old pictures and video material) the old bridge over the tracks and think "I wish I'd gone over there before this area was developed - while that bridge was still there", and so when I looked at one of my old tapes from August 1990, I was quite happy to suddenly see myself walking over the bridge and out the east side exit! Much more so than with still photographs, old videos really do sometimes feel just like a time machine - especially when it's material that you've taken yourself! Since you really have been there, but didn't remember - it's about as close to having a time machine as you can get without actually having a time machine I suppose!
A big surprise for me in (re)watching/visiting the side of HIro closest to Ebisu in this 1990 material, was discovering/remembering that there were old wooden houses with small metalworks factories in them - the last remnants of the postwar economy that supported so many small parts-makers like this. It was also surprising, as Hiro is now known as an exclusive area, so seeing old wooden houses very similar to the ones in old shitamachi seemed strange when seen in Hiro. (Well - more to the point, seemed strange under the brand name "Hiro"!)