Archive for the ‘Tokyo’ Category

Railway stations as destinations instead of just transfer points

May 27, 2011

The Japanese railway systems have always impressed me which is why I refer to them quite often in some of my posts. One aspect of their networks that stands out in my mind is how they utilise the spaces at their railway stations.

In most cities, the railway stations are simply nodes where people from nearby areas converge to travel on trains to and from other areas of the city. They serve as transfer points where people come and go on their way to other places.

In Japan, the thinking is very different. The stations themselves are part of the individual experience that goes beyond moving from A to B via C. They are more than just a collection of platforms, tracks and concourses. They are designed as part of an integrated component of the urban fabric of Japanese cities, rather than just connections to it.

How, you ask?

There’s three things I believe that make Japanese railway stations stand out from those of other countries:

  • Interesting architecture
  • Interesting public spaces
  • Interesting shops and restaurants

Interesting Architecture

Interesting architecture in train stations is not all that uncommon across the world. New York has Grand Central, Paris has Gare De Lyon and London has St Pancras. Even Sydney Central Station, Flinders Street in Melbourne and Adelaide Station could be classified as interesting. There is something in common to all of these stations I’ve just mentioned. They all have grand masonry facades as they were constructed prior to the 1930s.

Japanese stations are also grand, yet many of them were rebuilt for various reasons. Some of them were bombed in wars such as Tokyo Station, which is only now having its dome restored to its original condition over 65 years later. Others such as Kyoto and Osaka have become outdated or overcrowded and have been completely rebuilt.

At Kyoto Station, as part of the new millennium celebrations a new train station was built with large open spaces and a large spanning roof.

The exterior of the new Kyoto Station, from the north side.

At Osaka Station, work on rebuilding the station is under way and nearly complete. Part of the rebuild includes a new office tower, a large roof spanning the station and new concourses.

The recently redeveloped Osaka Station, with new roof, entrances and office building. (Source: GORIMON on Flickr)

Interesting Public Spaces

This is where the Japanese stations are very clever with their designs. Since many of the stations are completely surrounded by other buildings and structures, open spaces adjacent to the stations are often not feasible. Instead, they’ve opted to use the space within the footprint of the station to provide the open public space.

At Kyoto, the public spaces extend upwards from the lower levels of the station. One of the most intriguing features of Kyoto Station is the large bank of escalators that gradually allow the public to reach the top of the station, where the views over the rest of the station and Kyoto are amazing.

Kyoto Station looking down to the lower levels as seen from the upper roof area.

At Osaka, the public spaces are numerous and are located in different areas of the station. The redevelopment of the station features eight new public spaces This includes a rooftop area inspired by a Spanish patio (Sun Plaza) and a number of other plazas and rooftop gardens.

The new rooftop patio on Osaka Station. (Source: GORIMON on Flickr)

At the new Central Gate entrance to the station is also an interesting piece of street art, in the form of a computer controlled waterfall display which displays the time and cascading images of cherry blossoms.

More photos of the nearly completed Osaka Station redevelopment can be seen here and here. (This site is in Japanese)

Interesting Shops and Restaurants

For the Japanese railway companies who own these stations, not only does adding space for shops and restaurants encourage more activity in and around the stations, these are also a key component of their business which encourage commuters to use their railways.

This photo below comes from Kyoto Station, an important station in the historical city and is located on the Tokaido Main Line (JR Kyoto Line and JR Biwako Line) and the Tokaido Shinkansen Line which cross Japan from east to west. There are stations adjacent to the north gate (in image below) as well as the underground passageways which criss-cross the station.

The north gate of Kyoto Station, there are shops at the ground level and under the station (not seen here).

In Kyoto’s case, they have added more than just shops and restaurants. The station also a hotel (seen in the first photo of Kyoto Station in this post) as well as offices in the building above the station.

An Example of a Missed Opportunity

While some cities and suburbs in Australia are taking advantage of their key locations adjacent to major railway stations, often through property developers independent of the publicly-owned railway systems rather than through the railway companies themselves, others are building railway stations that turn their back on the very communities they are meant to serve.

In Adelaide, one of the biggest missed opportunities is at Mawson Lakes. The new station at Mawson Lakes on the Gawler Line was completed in 2006, but the community it serves commenced development in the late 1990s. The station was a late add-on to the development and sits on the edge of the community rather than near the middle of it. Rather than having a main street or significant residential or commercial property development near the station, it is instead surrounded by a large car park. As a result, most people who use the station drive there rather than walk, cycle or go by bus.

The station at Mawson Lakes is a fair distance from the main street or many of the residential areas it was built to serve. The station is marked by the red circle and the main street by the green line. (Source: Nearmap)

Although Mawson Lakes is one of Adelaide’s busiest stations, there are only people around when there are trains arriving and departing. For much of the time, it is a deserted space that really should have been better integrated into planning with the town centre about a kilometre away.

Access between both sides of the station is difficult because there is only one place to cross – at the northern end – which is even further away from the town centre. Ideally, there should also be a second place to cross the tracks at the southern end of the station in the form of a footbridge. This would also improve pedestrian access between the residential areas on the western side of the tracks and the town centre on the eastern side. It would also serve to discourage individuals from illegally crossing the tracks such as in this incident in April 2011, where an express train narrowly missed a teenager. Fortunately, there is space to do this should it be decided upon in the future.


With public transport becoming an ever increasingly important part of improving the sustainability and liveability of our cities, it is imperative that railway infrastructure is not simply provided as an alternative to driving but that is also integrated into the existing urban landscape respectfully rather than as an ungracefully dropped add-on. The Japanese model has successfully demonstrated over many years that a modern railway service can be provided as a key component of the urban environment and done so profitably at no expense to taxpayers.

The private railway companies have done this by combining real estate and development opportunities at their railway stations with their railway operations and thus created entire sustainable communities around their railway systems. It also makes for better and more efficient planning as the well-being of the community is much in the interests of the railway companies if they are to remain profitable.


Thought getting to work was tough? Spare a thought for the Tokyoites

March 18, 2011

Currently in Adelaide we have an annual motor racing event called the Clipsal 500. This is a racing event which takes place in March each year and results in closure of numerous roads in Adelaide’s inner eastern suburbs – the race track runs mostly along these roads. While race-goers enjoy the event and its side music performances, commuters complain about the disruption it causes to traffic and the long journeys it creates for many people. The annual frustration has already prompted suggestions such as the one from Transport Department’s chief executive Rod Hook to convert some east-west streets in the central city to one way operation. Certainly, extended parking restrictions would also improve the situation slightly. I’ve already seen a few cases where bus drivers have been abused for late-running under no fault of their own.

But is the complaining really worth it? The disruptions only take place for one week out of fifty-two each year and the local economy gets an injection. In 2010, the economic benefits from the event were estimated in the vicinity of $33.76 million. Knowing that the event will be on, Adelaideans should be prepared to plan alternate routes and leave early in order to reach their destination on time. It seems like us as Adelaideans still need to learn about adapting to changing situations and not being so fixed in our ways.

I’ll leave this video below as a departing thought for today. If you thought an extra 30 minutes to your daily journey was unbearable, just think about what the residents of Tokyo had to deal with for several days after the earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region to its north on the 11th of March. With nuclear power plants shut down, the Japanese capital has had rolling blackouts and disrupted train services. With the systems that most Tokyoites depend on only operating at about 20% capacity at times, many stations have had queues resulting in 45 minute delays just to get on to the platforms, let alone to destinations. Some workers have been told to stay at home. Not to mention the fear of the nuclear threat just 200 kilometres north.


AdelaideNow – Readers reject one-way streets for Adelaide

Speed Cafe – Clipsal 500 breaks more records

The Wall Street Journal – Electricity Outages Amplify the Anger

Tokyo: Damn, I missed the train… oh wait, here’s the next one!

July 3, 2010


Harajuku Station, well served by Tokyo's efficient rail system.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how Adelaide’s (Australia) public transport system still has a long way to go and a lot of investment required before the people of Adelaide can consider the public transport as a serious method of moving around the city instead of a last resort.

After travelling to other cities outside Australia, many of us quickly begin to realise how ineffective our public transport systems in Australia are compared to their international counterparts, particularly in Asia and Europe. Whilst there are a handful of good examples of well planned public transport around transit-oriented developments in the US, few cities there have good quality public transport, not even New York City (although I must admit the coverage of NYC’s subway is truly respectable)!

I believe one place that we can learn from is the city where public transport usage is the highest in world, Tokyo. There are few places in the world where timetables are kept on track (pardon the pun!) to the second.

The first video shows how frequent the trains come and go (this is from Kanda Station on the Chuo, Keihin-Tohoku and Yamanote Lines):

This second video is of a video monitor and PA announcement on board the busy Yamanote Line. Notice how detailed the information is:

The third one shows how clean the interior of the trains are. This train is one of the new E233 series trains introduced on the Chuo Line in 2006:

There’s a few things that are difficult to pick up from the videos if you don’t look carefully but are key to Tokyo’s success in moving so many people by public transport:

  • On every line through central Tokyo, trains run at least every 2-3 minutes during peak hours and approximately every 5 minutes through the day time.
  • The railways run a variety of different train services to account for different travelling patterns. Local service trains run routes stopping at all stations for short distance commutes while several types of Rapid and Express trains speed up the longer distance commutes, often running parallel to the Local services.
  • Communication with passengers is clear, even with the imperfect English! Nearly all trains in Tokyo have video displays above the train doors displaying information about the time, stopping pattern of the service, next station, connecting services, position of exits at the stations and estimated times of arrival in several languages. This is complemented by the PA systems which are often in both Japanese and English.
  • The trains and buses are clean! Nothing less than perfection is acceptable on the public transport system (this in itself has some undesirable consequences but that is another story!)
  • Most importantly, if you haven’t picked it from the map, it covers just about every nook and cranny in central Tokyo! (Impressive in itself, considering the map is only for one of several rail operators in Tokyo)

A map of the JR East rail network in Tokyo. Several other operators also compete with JR East in Tokyo. (Source: JR East)

One final component to Tokyo’s public transport system is key to its successful operation is the Yamanote Line. From the map, the Yamanote Line is the green line which runs in a loop around central Tokyo. It’s main role is to provide a connection between the six major interchange stations (important hubs in the transport system) as well as providing a bypass to the mess of other lines that run within the loop and connections to smaller stations that aren’t served by faster lines. A well-defined major public transport corridor that runs around the centre of Adelaide linking numerous hubs together is an important part of the public transport system that is currently missing and makes the current overall system appear rather incomplete. Developing a good public transport system takes more than just investing in a few shiny new vehicles and a couple of piddly little extensions here and there.

Just some food for thought. What else makes a good public transport system?


Adelaide: The good and bad of Adelaide’s public transport

JR East – East Japan Railway Company

Human Transit: Portland – A challenging chart