Print Story "Taking the Seibu Express to Ikebukuro - One Afternoon in 1991"
By lylehsaxon (Sun May 24, 2009 at 07:25:13 AM EST) (all tags)
Another historical video from 1991.  And to think I was talking to the camera to explain modern Japan at the time.....

YouTube link:

The following times are taken from an internal video player application playing the source file, and not from the YouTube posting, but presumably the counts are identical:

00:00 - Narrow lane leading to the north entrance of Hibarigaoka Station.

00:03 - After crossing over the tracks, a left turn leads to the main entrance to the station and the bus stops, with a Seiyu department store on the right.  (In Japanese-English, the word "department" only refers to upscale department stores, so locally, the Seiyu didn't qualify as a "department" store.  I've had arguments about this in the past here, telling people that I understand their position in Japanese but in English, it was certainly a department store.)  Notice the McDonald's on the right.  It was inside a building that (I was told at the time) used to be a grocery store.  Soon after this video was taken, they tore down all the buildings on the right and put up a large combination apartment building / Parco department store (with McDonald's and KFC on the ground floor).  Now everything in this view is in Nishi-Tokyo-shi, but at the time, the right and left were Hoya-shi and the middle section Tanashi-shi (shi = city).

00:05 - The station building was rebuilt, so the area on the left has changed, and the empty sky straight ahead and to the right is now occupied by a huge apartment high-rise building ("mansion" in Japanese-English).

00:10 - Taking video inside an ATM box - I wouldn't do that now, but the world was less obsessed with security in 1991.

00:27 - Inside Hibarigaoka Station.  This is completely different now.  Comparing how it looks now with this video, this scene looks really old.  At the time, I never thought the station was modern, but it didn't strike me as being profoundly old either.  I look at that picture now and have a hard time bringing up a memory of it as something from the present day.

00:28 - Stairs... these have been replaced with escalators.  Sometimes I hate escalators at stations, because they narrow the available space for going up and down and create bottlenecks that can make you miss a tight transfer.

00:41 - The live announcement - made by the conductor.  They now have recorded announcements that are generally irritating to listen to - especially the one-third speed, overly pronounced  & overly intonated English.  I really wish they'd drop the English announcements (a station name is a station name, non-Japanese speakers don't need to hear "The next station is..."), and go back to having a real live human being make the announcements.  Even when the announcement isn't irritating (which it usually is), hearing *exactly* the same recording over and over and over is really... inhumane.

00:55 - Two things - the announcement going on and on for a bit.  Okay - after my rant above, I can see where this would confuse a tourist, but all he's doing is rattling off the many stations that the train (an express) will not be stopping at, and telling people they will need to transfer to a local train at the next station if they are headed to those stations.  A tourist might mistakenly go to the end of the line, but so what?  They can get a train going back the other direction and have an interesting tale to tell of getting lost on the train system when they get back to their home country.  Most importantly, 99.99% of the passengers, who use the train all the time, don't have to have their ears assaulted with inane and endlessly repeating recordings.

The other thing is the farmland.  Until quite recently (and even now somewhat), there have been small plots of land being used as farmland just outside the central area of Tokyo.

01:07 - Billboards.  In 1991, these were full of advertisements.  When I revisited this area a few years ago, most of the billboards were blank.

01:19 - The noise of going over merging rails.  The old trains didn't have any kind of insulation at all, I don't think.  The new ones must have, as they're quite a bit less noisy.  With the old trains, you could hear (and feel - via leaky window frames) everything (which is not necessarily a bad thing - you feel more like you're on a train journey and less like you're locked into a suffocating box awaiting your return to freedom when the stuffy box finally gets to your station).

01:30 - More billboards.  These were looking very forlorn a few years ago when I saw them with no advertisements on them.  And then the view inside.  This was taken in the late afternoon, heading into central Tokyo.  It should go without saying, but obviously (most) lines are not crowded all the time, and it's possible to sit down if you're outside the office-drone routine.  This is the very same line that the "Actually Full Train in 1991" video was taken of.  This very same train car in the morning (or one just like it) was a sardine holder containing something like 300 people-as-sardines (x10 for a ten car train).

01:32 - A new apartment building.  This is a fairly common design, although new apartment buildings being put up in 2009 are usually sleeker looking.

01:40 - Looking over new elevated track construction from the one small bit of elevated track at the time.  The Seibu-Ikebukuro Line was very slow to implement new track construction, which is one reason the morning trains were so vastly overcrowded at the time.

01:52 - Passing through a local station and past small shops near the station.  For the feel of the train, it was more interesting when it ran on the ground.  This part is elevated now and it cuts the train off from the area it passes through.  (That is by no means a call to run them on the ground though.  Putting them overhead separates them from traffic and is safer, faster, etc., not to mention the view is better if the buildings are right up against the railway.)

02:01 - The Seibu-Toshima Line merging with the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line.  All of this is elevated now.

02:25 - Early construction on what was to become the new (large), Nerima Station... I think.  Certainly the current Nerima Station is huge compared to before, but this might have been construction a little further down the line - as a whole section of the railway was elevated.  (Sorry for the imprecision here, but the camera I was using at the time didn't have time code and I took this footage 18 years ago.)

02:37 - Passing over a fairly rare freight train and, in the background on the left, the new Tobu Department Store under construction.  It was a bit of a big deal at the time, as the new construction was to give Tobu Department Store more floor space than its rival on the other side of the station, Seibu Department Store.

02:39 - Wooden ties - rare even in 1991, in Tokyo they are nonexistent on anything except defunct sidings (as this picture is of), although (I think) they still exist out in the countryside on some branch lines.

02:43 - The old three-door Seibu-Ikebukuro Line trains.  These have been almost completely replaced with newer four-door (per side) train cars (carriages).  It should be noted that one cause of the loading problem in the "Actually Full Train in 1991" is that there were only three doors.  The more doors you have per side, the easier loading is.  On the Yamanote Line they have a few cars with six doors per side and seats that are folded up in the morning, making for speedy unloading, loading, and maximum carrying capacity.  (The advantage to three-door trains of course being that more people can sit down per train car.)

03:34 - Manual ticket gate.  One advantage to a manual ticket gate, is that if you've got too small of a ticket (in value that is), you can pay the extra bit right at the ticket gate.  With the machines, you get an error and have to walk over to an Add-Fare machine.  Incidentally, in contrast to what some illegally posted copies of my "Actually Full Train in 1991" video say, this man is *not* a police officer!  This the uniform of the Seibu Railway employees at the time.  (I think they've changed the style a little since then, but I'm not sure - I don't use this line very often any more.)

03:41 - Out into the big city.  Hibarigaoka is also in Tokyo, but in one of its suburbs.  Things are a bit busier around the Yamanote Line hub stations - like Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Ueno, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Tokyo, etc.

Phew!  It's always a bit surprising/irritating to realize how long it takes to explain what's in a video!  Especially when it concerns scenes lasting all of two or three seconds.  Look at all that text above!  But if the calculation of "a picture is worth a thousand words" is taken into account, then a 4:46 video would come to 8,580,000 words (286 seconds x 30-pictures per second = 8,580 pictures x 1,000), so I guess this isn't so long after all?  There's the overlap of many pictures being similar, but on the other hand, there's the sound, which would require another large block of text to properly explain.  So much information in a video....

Ah!  One last comment!  It seems to be standard practice to put in fake sound effects for any "documentary" footage of anything, taken at any time if the real sounds are not recorded, or are unpleasing.  I really abhor this dishonest practice!  In fiction, why not, but for documentary footage, it amounts to bad virus code going into people's minds regarding how things sound, since more often than not, the sounds are inaccurate.  This has come home to me when watching these videos, as not only the sights of Tokyo have changed, but so have the sounds!  Okay.  Mini-rant over.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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