Shuetsu Sato is a Japan Railways employee known for making complex, stylish signs and maps from strips of colored duct tape. For years, his work graced the walls and construction barriers at Shinjuku station while it underwent extensive renovations. Sato's creative use of tape has earned him quite a following, particularly online, and recent blog buzz has prompted some Japanese TV networks to take notice. This video from an NHK news magazine program profiles Sato and his work at Nippori station on Tokyo's Yamanote line, where his most recent work is currently on display.
The video begins with commentary about the online popularity of Sato's work. (At the 30-second mark, a screenshot of Pink Tentacle appears while the narrator describes the attention Sato's work has received on "overseas" blogs...!?!) From 1:00 to 2:00, Sato shows how it is done -- this is the highlight of the video, as it shows the degree of complexity involved in shaping tape into beautiful kanji. From 2:00 to 2:40, Sato laughs off some criticism he has received for the way his "?" character looks, and from 4:30 to 5:00, Sato demonstrates his techniques for creating rounded corners. At 5:30, one of the hosts tells Sato that bloggers have honored him by naming his font style "Shuetsu." He looks almost as if he might be impressed.
Here are a few photos of Sato's work at Nippori station:
If, over the past several years, you have had the privilege of joining the 3.3 million people that pass through Tokyo's Shinjuku station each day, you may have observed the work of Mr. Sato. A construction worker by trade, Sato uses strips of adhesive tape to create elaborate makeshift signs that help people navigate the temporary chaos of ongoing renovation work at Shinjuku station.
Sato's signs, which feature a peculiarly attractive gothic font, are the focus of a 15-minute documentary video put together by TrioFour, a small group of independent filmmakers. The video, which can be seen in two parts here (part 1, part 2), consists mainly of a long interview with Sato, entirely in Japanese (no subtitles), but it also shows lots of photos of his work from 2004. The photos below are still shots taken from the video.
With his work at Shinjuku complete, Sato has boarded the Yamanote line and taken his adhesive tape sign creation skills to the now-under-renovation Nippori station. TrioFour followed him there and is working on a new documentary.
A dual-mode vehicle (DMV) that looks like a minibus and runs both on conventional railway tracks and paved roads was tested on the Gakunan railway in Fuji city (Shizuoka prefecture) on the night of November 24. The 28-passenger test vehicle was developed by the Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido) in a project that began in 2000.
Technicians aboard the DMV evaluated the safety and ride quality during the series of tests on rail and road. After the 3-km railway portion of the test course, the vehicle stopped at a railroad crossing, retracted the railroad wheels and switched to street mode in a mere 10 seconds.
A number of local governments around Japan have shown interest in introducing DMVs because they are inexpensive to manufacture and run. In addition, DMVs conveniently allow passengers to travel from train stations to their final destinations without having to transfer vehicles. DMVs appear to be particularly attractive in rural areas with limited public transportation because they allow railways to offer more versatile and efficient services.
In April 2007, JR Hokkaido will begin operating DMVs along part of the Kushiro line in eastern Hokkaido.
On October 19, East Japan Railway Company (JR East) made a test run of its NE Train (New Energy Train) -- the world's first fuel cell hybrid train -- in Yokohama's Kanazawa ward.
With two 65-kilowatt fuel cells and six hydrogen tanks under the floor and a secondary battery on the roof, the clean train emits only water and runs without receiving juice from power lines. The train can travel at a maximum speed of 100 kph (60 mph) for 50 to 100 km (30 to 60 miles) without a hydrogen refill.
Thirty passengers boarded the train for the test run, which consisted of a series of back-and-forth jaunts along a 300-meter test track. The train smoothly accelerated to a maximum speed of 50 kph (30 mph), providing a ride quality no different from an ordinary train.
A separate fuel cell train is under development by the Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI), but the NE Train differs in that it is a hybrid relying on a secondary battery that stores electricity generated during braking. The secondary battery provides auxiliary power during acceleration or when fuel cell power is insufficient.
JR East hopes to see hybrid commuter trains in widespread use in 10 to 20 years. Lowering the cost and improving the mileage of fuel cells is a serious challenge, but the effort is not without reward. In addition to environmental benefits, eliminating the need for unsightly power lines means lower infrastructure costs and a prettier landscape to look at from the train window.
Testing of the train on public tracks will begin next April.
East Japan Railway Company (JR East) has become the world's first railway company to develop a humanoid robot guide. JR East spent two years working with a Japanese robot manufacturer to develop the droid, nicknamed "I" (which stands for "information"), who the company is now grooming for employment at train stations.
I stands 120 centimeters (4 ft) tall, weighs 50 kilograms (110 lbs) and is equipped with a Suica card (JR's rechargeable contactless train pass) reader on its shoulder and a touch screen on its chest that can display a variety of data. The robot moves around on wheels and is nimble enough to spin around in place.
I's future duties include providing assistance at customer service windows, performing security patrols around stations at night, and assisting station workers with other duties as needed.
As of now, the robot's reception skills include the ability to read Suica cards held near its shoulder and ring telephones to notify representatives of customers in need. The robot can also show customers to reception areas and it can point the direction to the restrooms if asked. Face and voice recognition skills allow it to carry on simple conversations with the people it encounters.
The robot was subjected to about 10 days of testing at JR's research facility in Saitama City at the end of July. However, the droid did not perform very well in the tests, receiving poor marks for awkward and slow movements.
Being awkward and slow does not appear to be a major obstacle to I's employment prospects, though. For the time being, it seems that the robot will get by on charm. "Customers find the robot entertaining," says JR East research director Takashi Endo. "There are still a number of issues that we need to address, but it can be used to create some amusement in the stations."
The East Japan Railway Company (JR-East), as part of research aimed at developing more environmentally friendly train stations, is testing an experimental system that produces electricity as people pass through ticket gates. JR claims that this sort of human-powered electricity generation system may provide a portion of the electricity consumed at train stations in the future.
The ticket gate electricity generation system relies on a series of piezo elements embedded in the floor under the ticket gates, which generate electricity from the pressure and vibration they receive as people step on them. When combined with high-efficiency storage systems, the ticket gate generators can serve as a clean source of supplementary power for the train stations. Busy train stations (and those with large numbers of passengers willing to bounce heavily through the gates) will be able to accumulate a relatively large amount of electricity.
JR-East, who worked with Keio University to develop the system, claims that in addition to being put to use as an independent power supply that does not require hardwiring, the system can also be used as a way of measuring the traffic flow through ticket gates.
The system is being tested at the JR-East head office in Shibuya, where it is installed at the entrance to the reception area on the 4th floor. As visitors pass through the gate, a lamp lights up, signifying that electricity has been produced. Testing of the system will continue until August 11.
On April 4, the East Japan Railway Company reported progress in the development of the world's first fuel cell-powered train. With the prototype nearing completion, the company announced plans to begin trial runs in order to collect data before putting the train into commercial service.
According to officials, the test train consists of one car and is powered by two 65kW fuel cells that enable speeds of up to 100 kph (60 mph). The train is an upgraded version of JR's New Energy (NE) train -- an experimental diesel-electric hybrid developed in 2003 -- whose diesel generator has been replaced with fuel cells. The new fuel cell-powered NE train is scheduled to begin service in the summer of 2007 on the rural, non-electrified Koumi Line in Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.
Hydrogen stored in a tank aboard the train is supplied to the fuel cells, where it reacts with oxygen to produce electricity. Unused electricity and electricity generated during braking is stored in a secondary battery, which is used as an auxiliary power source. In addition to being energy-efficient, hydrogen fuel cells emit no carbon dioxide (a contributor to global warming), only water.