Tokyo Metro

Nakano and Koenji are nowhere in the new Tokyo Metro tourist poster

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外国人の観光客のために、シンプルな東京メトロの新しい地図ができました。観光客は山手線ばかりを使ってしまいます。中野と高円寺が入っていません。

Tokyo Metro, in one of its first large communication efforts for foreigners, has helpfully simplified Tokyo transit for those ready to go beyond the Yamanote JR loop line and the Sobu-Chuo metro commuter lines. Cool Tokyo, Night Life, Metropolitan Luxury, and Cultural Fusion are newly invented geographies with some suggested destinations.

I am secretly glad not to see Nakano and Koenji on the map. We can be “off the radar. I also wonder how well the tiny interactive Journey Planner works. The initial screen looks like the map threw up on itself in four languages. I guess it’s a start.

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What happens after the stations are sealed from the floods?

この東京メトロのポスターとアニメを見ましたか。大きい洪水の場合に、駅を密封します。けれども、出られそうにないです。この後でどうしたらいいのでしょう。イラストもアニメかわいいですが、状況はこわいです。

There are posters in the Metro explaining how prepared they are for floods. There’s an even creepier animation of people moving through Tokyo streets and subway passages, while agents shut the station entrance, air vents are closed, and the tunnels themselves have giant walls to prevent the floods from surging into the station.

I think we’re supposed to feel that the Metro is ready for emergency. Instead, I wonder what type of global warming could cause all that water in the stations. And once we’re all safely sealed inside the stations, then what? Eventually the convenience stores and vending machines will run out! Not to mention the closed air vents.

Elementary school children give pansies to Metro station

小学生はパンジーを東京メトロの駅に寄付しました。 きれいです。
Even though I will be surprised if these pansies can live more than one week in the fluorescent flooded station, it’s lovely to see the flowers with their label identifying the local elementary school. How cool that the students are offering the station something alive.

New bicycle parking at local station

The Sugiyama Koen near Shin Nakano station has just been renovated, with a shiny new playground and some new landscaping. I am glad they kept the old school clock.

They also put in underground bicycle parking. It’s cool but a bit daunting that the system has no staff. What if your bike doesn’t come out? I need to learn to read the instructions before I dare put my bike in there!

It is interesting how Tokyo provides no accommodation on streets for bicycles: no bike lanes and few bike-only paths. Bicyclists range from the elderly to young mothers with children to hipsters on fixed gear bikes, and they generally compete with pedestrians on the sidewalk. A few brave ones take the road. Still, there is a huge bicycle parking infrastructure, which shows perhaps that the government is mostly concerned about storage, especially near the stations which are critical transit and shopping nodes.

Praying mantis on Tokyo Metro platform

Praying mantis on Tokyo Metro platform

On a Tokyo Metro platform, I saw some small children and their mothers gathering around and pointing. On the harsh pavement of the train platform was a praying mantis. The children began screaming and running. I don’t think I had ever seen a praying mantis so far removed from plant life.

Dead space by design

Dead space, Shin Nakano, Tokyo Metro

Tokyo Green Space celebrates the ingenuity of people who create greenery in a city that is often poorly planned, dominated by concrete, and overly paved. However, it is worth pointing out the prevalence of dead spaces by design, often created by local governments and even Tokyo Metro.

Above is a nearly brand new elevator providing access to the Shin Nakano Marunouchi station of Tokyo Metro. The elevator occupies an odd shaped and small space between a road and parking lot, and between a pachinko parlor, a large apartment building and a busy street. Next to the rectilinear elevator and covered entrance is a sizeable triangular area bordered by a brown colored metal fence.

Clearly, the Metro does not want people to park their bikes in this small area, and is probably pleased that they have accomplished this goal. However, the fence has made this centrally located land a dead zone. So many other uses could be made with that space: a tree or two, a bench, a vegetable garden, a food cart, newspaper stand, a bulletin board for community events. Given the amount of local gardeners, I am certain that the Metro would not need to maintain the space with their own staff.

Dead space in Nakano

A similar dead triangle zone was created between a pedestrian path and a small street. Again, the design goal is to prevent vehicles from entering the pedestrian path (in the foreground with white tiles on the ground). Here, too, the brown metal fence creates a triangle of deadness, where the yellow and green poles would have seemed adequate for the job.

If the brown metal fence was not there, the space could also be used for much needed shade, a fruit tree, a community garden, or a bench. The creation of these dead spaces by government authorities suggests a lack of imagination and awareness.

Nakano Honcho dead space

Finally, this space between houses and apartments is filled with concrete, and apparently unused. It is unclear whether the space is public street, individually owned or somehow shared space between neighbors. In any case, it is a wasted opportunity for greenery and community.

Flowers and plants in Tokyo Metro men’s rooms

Plant in Tokyo Metro Iriya station

Recently I noticed plants and (fake) flowers in Tokyo Metro men’s rooms. Who puts them there? Janitors? Passengers? Station agents? I enjoy how an anonymous person has used low-cost greenery to improve these pedestrian spaces. Above is a vine growing out of a 2 liter bottle, sitting on top of tissue paper and “3D” face mask vending machine in Iriya. Below are blue plastic flowers sitting in vases made of small Yakult bottles, with aYakult, in Tsukishima.

Flowers in Tokyo Metro toilet, Tsukishima Flowers in Tokyo Metro toilet, Tsukishima

Transit precision

Tokyo Metro: Transit precision

A green city with lively pedestrian streets requires an excellent public transit system. I have already posted about some simple but effective station signage about the workings of the system and the neighborhoods surrounding the stations. Just recently, a foreign researcher pointed out an ubiquitous chart that I had overlooked and that can be found on every Tokyo Metro platform.

From left to right are the number of minutes to reach the next stations, the names of the next stations, whether the car doors open on the right or left side (in red), and details about which car to board if you are switching to other train lines, needing a bathroom, elevator, escalator, station office, station agent, or wheelchair assistance.

The efficiency and communication is astounding. The contrast with US transit is total. In Japan the transit system treats its riders with courtesy, respect and dignity. In the US, riding transit carries strong feelings of failure, disrespect and lack of care.