Japan’s Beautiful Shinkansen

I have a bit of a problem when it comes to focusing on things. My mind is always in a million places at once. I am notorious for starting things and never finishing them… in addition to having a whole bunch of awesome ideas that I never end up acting on. Over a year ago I rode my first high-speed “bullet train” in Japan… and I never posted anything about it. As I started posting things from my most recent trip, I figured it was probably about time to go through some of my even older photos, and actually get them posted.

Japan’s shinkansen is beautiful, at least in my opinion. The front is is long, sleek, and aerodynamic… at least on the N700 Series, which is the one I took. The Nozomi (“super high speed”) service took 2 hours and 20 minutes to go from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Tokaido Line, a distance of nearly 300 miles. The train’s top speed is 186 miles per hour. Part of the beauty of the high speed system in Japan is that the shinkansen has dedicated tracks, and no grade crossings. The ride is rather scenic, but because the train never intersects with roads there occasionally periods where the train will run in tunnels completely underground. I was amused, because it felt like every time I started recording the view on my video camera, we went through tunnels.


At the beginning of the video is a little jingle… this is another awesome thing about the trains in Japan. Sometimes there are so many different train lines that converge at one point, and it is hard to know which train is which. All you really have to do is listen though. Trains of different lines have different jingles, which allows you to audibly distinguish between the trains. Though I do wonder sometimes how anyone who actually works on those trains and hears the jingles all day long doesn’t go postal. I certainly heard those jingles in my dreams!


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Train Station Levitation

There are some wonderful photographs that have been circulating around the internet lately that I loved so much I just had to share. A young Japanese woman, Natsumi Hayashi, has done a series of “levitation” photos, some of which are at various Tokyo train stations. The effect is created using her camera on a timer, and the camera captures her in the middle of motion, frozen in mid-jump. It is a technique that she very obviously excels at, as her photos are so natural she really does appear to be floating. On the technique she says:

I am actually jumping, but if all goes well, I will appear to be levitating the moment the shutter goes off. But if my facial expression appears to look forced then it will only appear as though I’m jumping. That is why the moment I take off I try to appear as calm as I possibly can.

I exert force just at the start of the jump, then I drain all strength from my body. But this method is quite dangerous. As I come back to the ground I have lost my balance and fallen. But that is fine by me. That’s because the photographs only reflect the moments I’m suspended in the air.

I do have a feeling like I need to copycat this, as it looks like it would be incredibly fun to do. Perhaps the new goal for the Tour of the New Haven Line should be to not only get a panorama at each station, but also a levitation photo at each station. On second thought, maybe it isn’t such a great idea – I’ve had the cops called on me for just taking normal pictures… imagine me taking pictures and jumping around like an idiot. But this too is a sentiment that Hayashi is familiar with:

I get very nervous when I shoot in public places. When I am shooting on a subway platform or famous signt-seeing place and jump over 200 times in a row, nearby people start to whisper. No one speaks directly to me, but in a small voice they will say things like, “Is that girl mentally ill?” or “Should we call the police?”

Anyways, enjoy some of Natsumi Hayashi’s levitation photographs, some of my favorites which are posted below. You can find many more on her blog here. You’ll find photography, trains, and cats… hey, that sorta sounds like me!


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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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