World’s Busiest Train Station: Shinjuku

Information was released last year detailing the worlds busiest train stations and Japan pretty much monopolised the top 50 list with only five of them not in this country. It’s not until the number 24 position that a non-Japanese station appears by way of Paris’ Gare du Nord! Of course it’s a little uncertain how the data was calculated and how accurate it is as India’s stations are not represented in the chart despite reportedly handling millions of passengers every day.

It was no surprise really that the top spot was held by Shinjuku station and last year there was a documentary on Channel Five in the UK detailing 24 hours in the life of this station. It aired just a couple of days before we took a trip back to England last August. I tried to find it online when I returned to Japan but was unsuccessful and inevitably I forgot all about it. However, my memory was jogged slightly by having a guest to guide round Tokyo recently and when I mentioned the station being the worlds busiest one I went a step further a few days later and found it online.

You can watch it here.

This 45 minute programme offered a fascinating insight into something that I, like millions of others, probably just take for granted. Tokyo is of course a mega sized metropolis and at its heart is this station which is like no other. The narrator bombards the viewer with a barrage of incredible statistics. Three million people pass through at rush hour and a train arrives every three seconds on one of 35 platforms. At peak times there are only two minutes between trains on the same line. 4000 people get off. each train and another 4000 then get on in order to keep everything on track. 25,000 trains go through the overground and underground platforms at Shinjuku every day. The guards only have 30 seconds to load each train and there have of course been some very famous images over the years of brute force pretty much being used to fill the carriages with the commuters squeezed in like sardines in a can. In fact, the trains have double the numbers they were designed to take and I’m so thankful that I only have to ride in such conditions a couple of times a year!

It’s 1.38am at the station as the documentary begins and its all empty and quiet but not for long!! As some expert says “Shinjuku never really closes, it just sleeps” and no sooner has the last train and all its drunken revellers left, and its time for the cleaners to work their magic and clean the place which is the size of 6o football pitches. Only a few hours later and the working day begins again and believe it or not many staff members sleep at the station and even have a special alarm clock; an automatically inflating, rising bed that lifts the sleepers head!

“Only perfection will do” is the staff philosophy and their discipline, dedication and teamwork is second to none. A few seconds late is late in Japan and one guy even says that being late is stealing time from people. Commuters seem to rely (almost too much) on the trains getting them to work exactly on time in a country where people just aren’t late for work. This means that everyone has no choice but to pile on to the trains with the aforementioned guards giving them a helping hand at times. There is supposedly no time to wait for the next train and slow boarding can cause delays which lead to a dangerous numbers of people congregating on the platforms. It’s a situation which can spiral out of control very quickly if the trains don’t run like clock work.

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If it wasn’t difficult enough just maintaining an efficient and reliable service at the best of times then think what its like when you throw into the equation the likes of earthquakes, typhoons, terrorist attacks, suicides and drunken revellers. The greatest fear is total shutdown which, despite the constant relentless pressure, rarely ever happens but of course on the 11th May 2011 that is exactly what happened and that date showed that Tokyo finds it very difficult to function without Shinjuku station.

I’ve seen this mammoth-sized station in a different light since viewing this programme and can appreciate the grand-ness of the place and its dedicated workers. The select few which featured in this documentary showed that there is hardly any time to draw breath as dozens of people pounce on these almost-robotic workers to ask questions galore as soon as they appear on the scene in the parts which are open to the public. It really is crazy and the staff need to know the station inside-out as well as the Shinjuku area which tourists and locals alike enquire about.

Tom Daley Goes Global – Japan

Having seen the opening episode on Thailand I have to admit I wasn’t expecting too much excitement in episode 2 in Japan. Both episodes were mildly interesting for me but I imagine they weren’t too captivating for whoever was tuning in on ITV2 to see them……..if they wanted to see in-depth travel-related matter! However, if they just wanted to see some mindless entertainment and a very pleasant, mild mannered and humble young man experience a bit of actual living then this was the perfect showcase for it!

You can watch the episode here on YouTube

Not much really happened in either the Thailand or Japan episodes and Tom didn’t really have too many words of wisdom to add to the pictures we saw. Of course he’s been training to dive since a very young age so hasn’t had the kind of normal life that most people have had. He’s never been backpacking so this style of travel is all new to him and he can’t be blamed for taking up the opportunity to make this series as ITV continue to do their best to promote him as a TV personality. He wasn’t alone though as he had best friend Sophie with him for support. Of course they’re not an item given Daly’s announcement back in December last year that he was in a relationship with a man. Who knows what everyone was thinking last Summer though when it was filmed!

Beforehand I was expecting yet another typical UK television programme following the same old tired format and while its not wildly different or life-changing at least this programme did feature a few things I’ve not seen on TV in the past and amazingly the ‘Turning Japanese‘ song never featured once!!

Kumamoto appears in the final half which took me greatly surprise, and as we’re going there next month I was delighted to see some scenes of a place I know very little about. Tom and Sophie went there to join in with a lantern festival where Tom held the mikoshi(portable shrine) during a parade which to be fair wasn’t particularly interesting to watch and almost makes you realise why producers crave the crazy stuff most of the time.

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In episode one we had tension supposedly building up ahead of Tom’s big charity skydive in Bangkok and the threat of whether he would or wouldn’t be able to do it due to the quite dramatic thunderstorms. What symmetry in this Japan episode then as a very similar situation occurred at Mount Kuratake (originally intended to be at Mount Aso but changed due to the weather) with his paragliding venture. Can’t say I was on the edge of my seat! With a bungy jump coming up in New Zealand for episode 3 this series is perhaps closer to Jack Osbourne’s ‘Adrenaline Junkie series than his sister Kelly’s ‘Turning Japanese‘ one, both of which were also on ITV2!

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Long before that, the pair arrived in Tokyo and started off in the electric town of Akihabara where they spent the night at a manga cafe. These places are everywhere in Tokyo and used as hotels by some people who want cheap shelter for the night….and some wi-fi action. There are also usually manga comics galore, video games, drinks, snacks and communal bathrooms but there are no beds! This seemed to bemuse Tom and his trusted companion who seemed to think they were staying at some kind of hostel. It’s basically just a place to crash for the night and once realised they start to embrace the idea a bit more.

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What followed thereafter was more of the usual tried and tested formula of portraying the whacky side of Tokyo as they did some cosplay and karaoke supposedly with some people they just met. Actually there were quite a few obviously set-up situations throughout which were made to appear like they were just chance encounters.

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I really ought to make a Bingo game of stereotypical Japan references on UK TV (sushi, robots, toilets, sumo, maid cafes, sumo etc) for viewers to play whilst watching these shows and this one included the ubiquitous mention of bullet trains and geisha!

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Tom and Sophie take the former from Tokyo station to the Gion district of Kyoto where they meet a maiko and get invited to a teahouse for some traditional food and a dance.

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Tom Daley is of course a bit of a British icon and for someone who is only 19 he has a wise head on such young shoulders. He’s nothing but likeable and it’s not his fault that the programme comes across, in terms of content, as being a little grey at times. It’s just that its yet more typically tacky fodder from ITV2 where little thought has really gone into the show beyond the “oh lets just send this popular young celebrity to some far flung places and see what happens” type attitude.

Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day!

The idea of this cycling venture then was to ride the route (supposedly) taken in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) which tends to zig-zag its way across the capital without too much respect for distance and time. For Tokyo residents the geography in this sixth film of the X-Men franchise is quite bewildering at times as the film edit makes it seem like such a vast city is easily walkable when in reality the distance between places is quite far. In its defence, geography has rarely ever been a strong point in movies. What do those who criticise it really expect? A painstakingly long scene shot in real time?!! Of course Wolverine/Logan could have used public transport to get around but that doesn’t seem to exist in the X-Men universe! To follow in the footsteps of the Wolverine meant taking in seven places with one of them repeated and yes I really did go there twice.

Themed cycling tours of Tokyo have taken a bit of a backseat in recent times on this site so it was nice to get back in the saddle for a few hours on a nice warm Spring day. The first Tokyo location appears 19 minutes in and thankfully it’s only a five minute ride away from the my place! It’s the classic shot of Yasukuni dori in Shinjuku which has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess it’s become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores. I get to travel under the same bridge half a dozen times a week so I probably take it for granted. The photo’s below show the screenshots, the ones taken on the day of this tour and a bonus couple taken only the night before to show how it looks at night.

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After that I cycled on to Zojoji temple (below) in the Shiba neighbourhood of Minato-ku which is about 8km away and a route I’ve taken a few times now not that stops me from ever doing it smoothly! The funeral procession takes place at this temple on 35 minutes; locations which Tokyo Fox premiered back in April 2013 following the release of the trailer. However, not all the funeral scenes took place at Zojoji as pretty soon the action moves to the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney which previously featured in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ (1994). The real action scenes were filmed at this Australian location as the two places are blended together. There are no ponds or water features at Zojoji so it’s the Sydney gardens which you see prominently around the 37 minute mark. Posing as the Wolverine with three chopsticks poking out from between my fingers was pretty embarrassing and they’re not even that visible in the pictures!

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Tokyo Tower does loom large over Zojoji temple and is in the background of a selection of the screenshots and my pictures. In ‘The Wolverine‘ though this tower seems to be prominent quite a lot whereas in reality it can hardly be seen at the best of times in Tokyo due to the many skyscrapers in the city.

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During the funeral at Zojoji, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Mariko but Logan helps her to escape which is done in reality is done in a very roundabout way taking in Darling Harbour (Sydney!) and Zojoji itself with a chase going on through the two-storied sanmon (below) which was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo.

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Within seconds the action is in Takadanobaba (below) which is about 10km away! We only get to see the briefest of rooftop chases and arrow shots outside this station which  also appeared in the Jackie Chan movie ‘The Shinjuku Incident‘ (2009). Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote, Tozai and Seibu Shinjuku lines. Sadly I was unable to get on the rooftop of an eikiawa to get an identical match to that seen on 44 minutes.

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The action quickly moves on to Akihabara on 45 minutes where they take a brief respite in Big Apple Slot & Pachinko parlour (1-16-1 Soto-kanda) opposite Sega Gigo

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Photography is forbidden in panchinko parlours but mobile phone camera’s always allow for a sneaky one! After exiting this place Logan and Mariko walk across the bridge over the Kanda River in the direction of Mansei Akihabara Youshoku (2-21-4F Kanda-Sudacho). If they had any sense they would’ve stopped for one of their famous deliciouskatsu-sando as I did on a previous themed cycling trip.

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JR Ueno Station is the next location and this is easy and quick to get to as it’s just down the road from Akihabara. It appears after 46 minutes and is where Mariko and Logan take the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to “Nagasaki” even though these super-fast trains only go north from Ueno. If they had wanted to go south then they may as well have just gone a bit further south to Tokyo station which probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for them and no doubt they’d have ran or walked it!

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The station has many exits but its outside the Central exit on Jewellery Bridge where Mariko thanks Logan for saving her, says she’s fine (twice) meaning that she doesn’t need his help and then advises him to see a doctor before walking off to catch her train.

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I then had to cycle back the way I’d just came and so passed through Akihabara again (as well as the subsequent stop in Ginza) as I returned to Zojoji temple for a second time. In the film it’s a brief return to the temple on 47 minutes as one of the baddies gives an impromptu interview to the waiting media and paparazzi. Yukio is still there and looks on at the interview before Mariko’s father asks her where her gaijin friend is. Quite a bit of set dressing was added by the production team when they were filming at this temple which explains why some of the match-ups may not be so easy to notice as being the same!

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I was pretty much sick of the sight of this temple by the time I returned and I didn’t hang about for too long. Having been here only a week prior for the cherry blossoms I knew the angles I needed and was happy that the place was quite empty.

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On 52 minutes Logan and Mariko disembark from the Shinkansen and are in Fukuyama for a few seconds before it switches back to Ginza where the Nakagin Capsule Tower (8-10-6 Ginza) appears as a love hotel which they check into. In reality this place is not a place for couples to get it on but is home to many unmarried salarymen wanting to stay in a small place. The interior of these tiny apartments could be seen in episode four of the BBC documentary ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ (2006). The building is a fine example of Tokyo modern architecture and was one of my favourite examples of architecture in this article from July 2012. I can only assume that digital wizardry was used for this scene as the road they are seen walking down is not the one that’s actually next to the building. IMDb says that this street was Brisbane Street, Surry Hills in Sydney!

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So that was it for my day of following in the footsteps of the Wolverine. I managed to avoid getting hit or wounded but the 53.59km ride did no favours for my left knee which I smashed a few days earlier. For the record I paused the Runkeeper app at each of the seven locations (yes, I really did go to Zojoji twice!) so my time of 3 hours 38 minutes, give or take a short stop here and there, is pure riding time.

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