A Visit to Shibuya Station: Hachiko the Loyal Dog & a Cat Cafe

Tokyo’s Shibuya Station is the fourth busiest commuter rail station in Japan, though it’s claim to fame is in canine form. Across the world many are familiar with the story of the loyal dog, Hachiko, who was a fixture at the station in the 1920’s. Hidesaburo Ueno, a Professor in Agriculture at Tokyo Imperial University used Shibuya Station to commute to work. His young Akita dog, Hachiko, would wait for him at the station every evening after work. In May of 1925 Ueno collapsed while giving a lecture, and died from a cerebral hemorrhage. Despite the fact that his master was gone, and would never return, Hachiko still waited at Shibuya Station every evening. For nine years, until his death, Hachiko waited at the station. Hachiko’s story became popular when a former student of Ueno’s wrote an article about his loyalty, which was published in a Tokyo newspaper.

A year before Hachiko’s death a bronze statue was erected outside Shibuya Station. Unfortunately, During World War Two, the statue was melted down for the war effort. In 1948 a new statue was designed by the son of the original artist, and is on display outside the station. The statue serves as a popular meeting point, and isn’t too hard to find. Just look for the signs in the station that point to the “Hachiko Exit.”

Several movies have told the story of Hachiko, the first being Hachiko Monogatari, in Japanese. This movie was remade in English and titled Hachiko: A Dog’s Story, and starred Richard Gere as Parker Wilson. To make the more palatable for a Western audience, all the Japanese people were removed, and the story was set in Rhode Island. The writers couldn’t seem to figure out how to explain why a white guy would name his dog Hachi (-ko was a suffix added to the name Hachi, which also was not explained by the movie), so they had to include one Japanese character: the stereotypically mystical, wise Japanese colleague of Parker’s. What a rather harsh critique from me. But I won’t lie. The movie made me cry. Shoot, I was crying when it started, as Parker played with Hachiko as a puppy. I kept thinking, “You’re both going to diieeee at the end!”

The poor lighting made a good shot hard. About ten minutes afterward it began raining. You can find better photos on Google. So I figured I might as well try to be unique and show you it in Stereographic 3D!

Not far from the Hachiko Exit of Shibuya Station is a place called HapiNeko. Prior to going to Japan I had heard of a Cat Cafe, and thought it would be fun to visit one. We totally ran into HapiNeko by accident though, outside of the building there was a large sign with a picture of a cat. I can’t read Japanese, so I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what exactly the place was, but we ventured up to the third floor of the building. Thankfully in the suite we found cats, as opposed to creepy old men attempting to entice young schoolgirls so they could steal their panties for used panty vending machines.

In a country where space is an expensive commodity, not everyone has room for a pet, or is allowed to keep one in their apartment. Cat Cafes have opened up across Japan, charging a small fee for patrons to spend time with a cat and relax. The concept is not reserved to cats alone, at the Tokyo Dome Amusement Park, an impromptu animal area was set up with temporary fences. People could pay 500 yen (around $5) to spend time with various animals: dogs, cats, chicks, a goat, and even a rather large tortoise. I love cats just as much as Japan does, so I could not resist entering the cafe, paying around ten dollars for half an hour with the cats, and a cup of apple tea.

Like most Japanese homes, one is required to remove their shoes before entering. The clerk reads you the rules, and explains how to properly hold the cats without hurting them. Once inside there is a sink in which you are required to wash your hands, and then use alcohol. Any bags or luggage you may have is taken and put into a cubby. You place your order for a drink, and then you are permitted to enter the room with the cats.

HapiNeko employs a staff of sixteen cats, most of which are around three years old. Breeds include American shorthairs, a British shorthair, a Russian Blue, Scottish Folds, Bermans, and a Persian. Their names range from typical Japanese: Ryoma and Hinako, to more American: Gigi, Lara, Mimi, Princess, Nina, Marcia and Mocha, to slightly more amusing: Milk, Tofu, and Roll.

As my friend and I left the Cat Cafe and made our way back to the station, it had begun to rain. The massive throngs of people in the world-famous scramble crossing had disappeared. A few braved the pouring rain with their umbrellas, but walking by Hachiko, the massive crowd still remained.

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The Coolest (or at least the Cutest) Train Car in the World: Wakayama Electric Railway’s Tama Densha Cat Train

One of my more crazy missions when I was in Japan was to see the feline Station Master Cat, Tama. Everybody pretty much loves Tama. When Wakayama Electric Railway was on the verge of bankruptcy, Station Master positions were eliminated, and the stations left unmanned. The decision to make a stray calico cat the honorary Station Master may have been the best decision the company ever made. Tama gained quite a following of fans. Many folks began taking the train: to see her! A study by Osaka University was conducted, which found that Tama brought at least one billion Japanese Yen into the local economy… or around 10.8 million US Dollars. The Wakayama Electric Railway is now thriving, and in her honor a special train car was designed. It is called the Tama Densha. Densha is a Japanese word for train.

The Tama Densha operates on Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa Line, running from Wakayama Station to Kishi Station over a track of 8.89 miles. It is a narrow gauge railway, powered by overhead catenary. The train car was designed by Eiji Mitooka (picture at left), an Industrial Designer and Illustrator from Okayama, Japan. He has designed many trains in Japan, including the 800 Series Shinkansen. Mitooka is the Design Advisor for Japan Rail (JR) in Kyushu. The train car is a 2270 Series EMU, originally in service on the Nankai Electric Railway, which underwent an overhaul, interior redesign and exterior repaint in 2009. The cost of the whole redesign cost about 35 million yen, or around 380 thousand US dollars.

Concept sketches for the Tama Densha, by Eiji Mitooka

In order to lure tourists, many local railways have resorted to decorating train cars. When designing cars Mitooka especially considers children, and whether they would enjoy seeing and riding the train. As a child himself, he always drew the trains the passed by his home, and dreamed of being a train designer. Considering the number of trains he’s designed, it seems Mitooka has achieved that dream, and has become quite famous at it. While waiting for the train to Kishi, I rode on one of the normal undecorated trains (in addition to the Tama Densha, there is also the Omoden, or Toy Train, as well as a Strawberry-themed train, all were designed by Mitooka). Several children were in front of me in line to buy tickets, and we left them behind on the platform as the train departed. They wanted to ride the Tama Densha, and waited for the next train. I suppose that is evidence that Mitooka has also succeeded in the part of getting children to enjoy trains. Most children tend not to be patient… yet here they were, waiting to ride a special train!

When riding the Tama Densha on the way back to Wakayama, I figured out why the children wanted to ride it so much. The absolutely gorgeous train is completed with a library full of children’s books and manga. The whole train is truly unique, seats take the form of benches, cat backed chairs, and plush sofas. Cat and calico patterns cover the seats, walls, and curtains. The sideways seat arrangement, with various rings in which extra passengers can hold on, is subway-style and typical of Japanese trains that run short distances. Most surfaces, from the grasp rings to the floor, is made of wood. Not only does it look classy, it creates a warm and welcoming environment for passengers. For the youngest passengers, the also train includes a circular playpen, next to the cage that was created for Tama when she rides.

A short video tour of the Tama Densha can be viewed below. Note that most of the footage was taken at Kishi Station, which is undergoing construction. So if you hear construction equipment in the background, that would be why.

Anyways, that tour was an absolute joy to ride. I was a bit bummed that Tama pretty much slept the whole time I was there, but riding this train certainly made up for it. If I didn’t have places to be, I certainly would have rode that train back and forth up the Kishigawa Line. I just wish we had something like this back in the states!!

Sources for information about Mitooka: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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Cool Decorated Trains in Japan

There were a lot of cool trains that I got to ride in Japan. Some were amazingly fast, others had decorated outsides. I put together a little gallery of some of the cooler trains that I enjoyed riding, or seeing on the platform. Enjoy the photos!

Train ID:
Thomas the Tank Engine Train: Keihan Railways (I think), Kyoto, Japan
World of Peter Rabbit Train: Japan Railways, Osaka, Japan
Flowered Train: Nankai Railways, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan
Universal Studios Train: Japan Railways, Osaka, Japan
Purple Nature Motif Train: Japan Railways, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Although these may be pretty on the outside, they were nothing in comparison to one particular train that I saw in Japan. I am fairly certain that particular train is the coolest, or at least the cutest, in the world. I’ll have a photo gallery and video tour of that train later on this week. Here’s a little sneak peek:

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