JR is now offering free wi-fi for the passengers of the new Tohoku Shinkansen. We thank JR for its kindness as it is still not easy to find places with open wi-fi networks in Japan. However lately it seems the situation is improving a bit in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
In addition to the free wi-fi in some train lines, stations and airports, you can also get wi-fi in 7-Eleven shops, Dennys restaurants and Starbucks. You will have to register in the service the first time you go online but once you do it you can seamlessly connect at any Starbucks/7-Eleven/Dennys.
In trains in Japan it is very usual to see girls putting on their makeup with mirrors and all kinds of “gadgets” as if the train was an extension of their bathroom. However seeing a salary man shaving on the train was something new to me. I can now truly say that trains are like a second home for the people that live in Tokyo…
One of the coolest things about Yurikamome line is that because it is automatized you can sit down in the driver seat and enjoy the nice views. The following video is composed of several photos taken with 1 second exposure while using a tripod on a seat on the first row of Yurikamome line. Darwinfish used a Panasonic DMC-GH3 and an OLYMPUS M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 lens. For the post-production he used Premiere.
The other day I had to use the Yamanote line and found a little nice surprise. The whole line has been decorated with Mario themes as part of a campaign to promote the collaboration between Nintendo and Suica by JR. Nintendo eShop users can now use the e-money of their Suicas on the Wii U to buy games and other items.
Some of the trains in Tokyo that belong to the private company Odakyu have recently been decorated with Doraemon characters. The Odakyu line is one of the best options if you want to visit the Hakone area.
Ikusuki’s scooter and my bicycle broke down, better said, we broke them down; so we had to go to work every day by train for a while. We both used the Yamanote line, which every morning is so packed that it makes you feel like you are inside a sardine can. Ikusuki started to take a daily picture inside or outside the train and called it the “Daily Yamanote Moment”, I liked the idea and I started taking some “Daily Yamanote Moment” photos as well. These are some of the pictures that we took:
On March 12th, the day after the terrible earthquake hit Japan, the Shinkansen line in Kyushu whose construction was started in 2008 started to operate. It was one of the Shinkansen lines yet to be inaugurated to “complete” the Japanese bullet train network, which has been under development since 1964 when the first high speed commercial rail line in the world connected Tokyo and Osaka. The technology behind high speed trains is a symbol of progress and national pride for the Japanese people.
The inauguration of this new Shinkansen line couldn’t be celebrated at the time, to keep respect to the victims in Tohoku. Almost a month and a half later, JR (Japan Railways) decided that it was time to celebrate and show the world that the Japanese people when united can achieve almost anything.
“They took special efforts to film it, and 10,000+ people showed up at various places along the route, hoping to be in the commercial. They filmed 3 hours of tape, and edited it down to 3 minutes, which the director said was extremely difficult, because everything was so good that they didn’t want to leave anything out. It aired maybe a dozen times, and then the disaster struck, and the commercial was pulled, as it was thought that it was bad to show people happy and having a good time in such a difficult time. Recently though, people have begun to wish for the commercial to be shown again, as it’s a good example of how Japan can do anything when people work together, and people can and will strive again.”
The researchers put some oat flakes as if they were places in the Tokyo metropolitan area where most of the people are accumulated. Then they put a slime mold cell in the middle of the oat flakes and let it grow. As slime mold loves oat flakes, it soon started to spread and in some hours it had reached all of the flakes. As the time went by the slime mold erased “connections” between some small oat flakes and strengthen the connections between bigger and central flakes. The most impressive thing is that it was “intelligent” (slime mold doesn’t have a brain) enough to maintain redundant connections between the most “important” flakes, something that allows the slime mold to keep the connection to an important flake even if an “accident” happens. The slime mold really created a really good communication network between the oat flakes, in fact the network is very similar to Tokyo’s rail network designed by engineers. For example, in Tokyo there are many redundant lines to make sure that if something unexpected happens in some part of the city, like an earthquake, it will not affect the rest of the network.
After analyzing the slime mold growth pattern, the researchers created a mathematical model that describes the expansion of the network and when simulating it on a computer the algorithm ends up finding a quite optimum solution in which the most robust connections are established between the most important/central nodes and the redundant connections slowly disappear. Moreover, the slime mold tries to find the shortest path to each location (a classical problem of computing science). We can simulate this using software, in fact there are many algorithms to design networks, but… how did slime molds learn how to grow optimally to reach the maximum amount of food/energy? how does the slime mold “know” how to solve the problem? where is that behavior programmed if the slime mold doesn’t have a brain? in the genes? small rules that create a complex behavior? cellular automatons?
Why would we want to make very complex calculations and build algorithms to design networks if we can “ask” a slime mold to do it for us? Why spend millions hiring engineers if slime mold can design transport networks? In fact, why spend time solving problems that nature has solved during millions of years of evolution? This is one of the perspectives that Biomimicry / Biomimesis uses to solve problems; if you are interested in this topic and want to learn more, I recommend you to watch these talks by Janine Benyus and Robert Full.
Japanese trains are the most punctual in the world and they are also the most safe. One of the reasons why they are so punctual is that the same systematic protocols are accurately performed each time a train arrives to a station. Train drivers are trained to be able to stop a train within error margins of 10 cm in respect to the platform and 5 seconds in respect to the moment they are supposed to stop.
Some time ago in a Odakyu line platform I found this poster which explains that to become a train driver you need to spend 800 hours studying and training. I don’t know how much training is required in western countries to become a train driver, but 800 hours seem like a lot of hours to me.
In the poster they also explain how train drivers are trained to drive in a safe way. One of the biggest concerns of Japanese people is that if rail companies are too strict with their drivers, accidents may happen because the drivers are under stress, something that happened in Amagasaki some years ago when a driver was behind official schedule, took a curve too fast and caused the derailing of the train and the death more than 100 people. If the train had arrived late, the driver would have been strongly scolded.
The two girls in the left are chatting, the foreigner in the center talks on the phone (Don’t do it! It is considered bad manners), the girl next to him thinks and the girls in the background plays with her Nintendo DS
The girl with the yellow purse sends an e-mail with her cellphone, the other two girls keep on talking.
The girl with the yellow purse checks her hair with a hand mirror, the girl to the left browses the Internet on her cellphone.
The girl with the yellow purse keeps on checking her hair and the other girls keep on chatting.
The girl with the yellow stops fixing her hair and eats an onigiri (rice ball).
The girl that was doing nothing in the first picture falls asleep.