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.

Yamanote Crawl23Oct2009 162 TokyoTop25 Nov 2010 160

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.

TF TV Review: Japanorama/Adam & Joe Go Tokyo

Since I got my DivX player a few months back I have been going through some of my dvd downloads and I ended up watching two series’ about Japan. The first was Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama which was tucked away on the BBC3 schedule last year and the other was ‘Adam and Joe Go Tokyo’ which was on the same channel a few years back.
Both series were a bit different to the usual documentary or travel programme and delivered to the UK public in a humurous way which I guess is not too difficult to do given the contents which would be seen as being “bizarre’ by most Brits and that probably includes myself too even though i have been in among it for the last few years.
Many people may think Japan is a homogenous society where people remain on “the inside” not wanting to be “outsiders” or different so that it may upset social harmony. However, if you look beyond the generalisations there are different people as outlined particularly in the second series of Japanorama. Wossy ethusiastically focused on six different parts of Japanese culture (e.g. cool, cute, geeks etc) and he was like a big kid at times. He even used one of the Japanese toys in the last episode of the 2nd Extras series in which he played himself.
Both programmes did overlap at times but thats not too surprising.
Far too many things to mention here but highlights among other things included geek spotting in Akihabara, finger-phones, noodle slurping, robots, maid cafes, cos-play conventions, elvis dancers, loose socks, the yakuza, hard-gay man, fugu, hello kitty, beetle racing and work uniforms which are actually worn with pride, status and a sense of belonging to the company unlike in other countries.
The Adam and Joe show included many off these things too but they got a little more involved in creating situations such as trying to become famous in a city where “any washed up star” can do so! This included wearing strange costumes for the Matrix premier, trying to get stuff for free in a shop and a mock TV interview in Shibuya which saw them mobbed by actors which resulted in more people gathering around. The best part of this over the eight week show was the forming of a band named ‘Gaijin Invasion'(see the video here) who busked in the park in Kichijoji and even got on music station Space Shower TV.
They also went to a cos-play convention dressed as Harry Potter and Wizard, held a speed eating contest and looked at the other wierd and wonderful things in Tokyo like dog petting zoo’s, host bars, capsule hotels and a stack of useless gadgets and inventions. These included a nude bra, a cushion that looks like an arm for those lonely people and a device to let you know what you’re dog is saying called “Bowlingual”. I’m sure you agree that this is all essential stuff!!
One of my highlights from this series was seeing them play finger pointing game “Gets” with Dandy Sakano who is a Japanese comedian from yesteryear and can be seen here. Doing this action to illicit the word ‘get’ or ‘gets’ in class normally guarantees cheap laughs.

Sitting On My A*se For A Few Days

Had a few days off recently and for once didn’t go on a trip as saving for one next month. It was tipping it down with rain anyway so I watched a few dvd’s with Japanese connections as the rental store had a special offer.
Firstly, I watched ‘The Last Samurai’ which I’d still never seen. Was actually better than I’d imagined it would be though far too long for someone with my limited attention span.
Secondly, I watched ‘Pearl Harbour’ which I only knew previously to be a war film best not to be mentioned to most Japanese. I quite enjoyed this overlong Hollywood film full of amazing battle scenes but also overflowing with cliches.
Next up was the 1982 so-called sci-fi classic ‘Blade Runner’ which was set in a Los Angeles perhaps based on a futuristic Tokyo. This was the directors cut so I don’t know whether it’s better or worse than the other version. I enjoyed moments of this but never really got into the story so much.
As I think I’ve mentioned before my ideas about Japan previously came from films like ‘The Karate Kid’ as well as ‘Lost in Translation’, ‘007 You Only Live Twice’, ‘Kill Bill’ , ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember’ and even ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ where Mickey Rooney portrayed a Japanese man in a time when you could get away with such a thing.
‘The Simpsons’ also gave me an insight into the land of the rising sun and my final viewing was their ‘Japan: 30 minutes over Tokyo’ episode (Season 10 Episode 23 for all the geeks out there!) which saw the dysfunctional family go to Japan and run out of money resulting in them appearing on a crazy Japanese game show in order to win tickets back home. Seeing Homer continuously just walking through the thin paper walls was very amusing as was his rude behaviour in such a polite country and it was these images which were stuck in my mind before i came here.
 The Simpsons also advertised a tasty Japanese drink called ‘CC Lemon’ years ago and those adverts are here for anyone interested.