Buried deep in the bowels of Shibuya is Tokyo's newest rail station, which began service on Saturday, March 16. A weekend was intentionally picked for first two days of operation, so that any bugs could be worked out before the new station had to handle rush hour traffic.
With the new station up and running, passengers on the Fukutoshin subway line coming via Ikebukuro -- aboard two lines serving cities as far away as Tokorozawa or Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture -- will be able to pass through Shibuya without changing trains and continue all the way to Motomachi-Chukagai station in Yokohama via the Toyoko Line.
But progress, at least in this case, also has some downsides.
The magazine had already warned in an article published in February that the new station did not appear to give sufficient consideration to crowd flow during busy periods.
And sure enough, right from the get-go, complaints quickly arose. Burying the station at the fifth subterranean level makes for congestion during rush hour, adding to commuters' transfer times to the JR Yamanote and Inokashira lines, situated on the 2nd level above ground, and the Ginza subway line, which is on the 3rd level. Getting there means passengers will have to, climb, or descend, six or seven flights from or to the new station.
Under the headlines "'Panku' (collapse) and 'Panikku'" (panic), Weekly Playboy (April 8) reviewed the new station from day one.
At 8 a.m., for example, the reporter tried moving from the new station to another subway, serving the Hanzomon and Denentoshi lines.
"It was extremely congested," he wrote. "I tried to walk to the other end of the platform on the 109 Building exit, but I couldn't get through the crowds."
And whatever you do, he warns, if you're changing to JR or Inokashira Lines from the basement, you should use exit No. 9 on the distant Miyamasuzaka side. "Even though there's no cover and you'll get rained on, it's still faster. And it's got an escalator too." Unless you're transferring to the JR Saikyo or Shonan Shinjuku lines, he warns, be sure and avoid the "demonically congested" exit No. 14.
"Tokyu passengers have a reputation for being well mannered as far as Tokyo rail lines go," Weekly Playboy's reporter writes. "With the start of the new fiscal year (from April 1), and resultant increase in new commuters headed for their jobs and to school, I wonder if they will maintain those good manners. Or will they lose their patience and run amok? Can the problems be solved by constructing more exits at the street level?"
Shibuya's popular reputation hangs in the balance.
Sunday Mainichi (April 7) cited a survey by Rakuten Research asking commuters on the new line what stations they were likely to utilize more frequently with the completion of the new rail connections. The top two replies were Shinjuku, with 35% followed by Ikebukuro with 20%.
The station named most likely to be used less frequently was Shibuya, named by 6.8%.
"Shibuya's appeal has been declining," says Asato Izumi, a columnist who is familiar with Tokyo locales. "It's lost its distinctive flavor, and with direct connections on the Fukutoshin Line more people are likely to go to Shinjuku 3-chome."
Previously it took only two minutes to transfer between the Toyoko and Yamanote Line platforms. Now, commuters must walk along a corridor and take an escalator, and the elapsed time takes approximately seven minutes. To make matters worse, the corridors are narrow and jammed with people. Transfer to the Ginza and Inokashira Lines also now involve longer walks. And getting to the isolated JR Saikyo Line platform in Shibuya now involves a 15-minute walk -- nearly as long as walking to the next station.
"Even before, people who used Shibuya station for the first time regarded its complicated structure as something of a maze," remarks writer Masayuki Kanai, a railway enthusiast. "If people plan to change to the Toyoko line, they should avoid Shibuya altogether and try to get aboard the Fukutoshin line from some other station."
Tokyu Corp, meanwhile, will demolish the old station and by 2017 plans to complete a 33-story commercial building that it hopes will enhance Shibuya's appeal and "win back" fans. Sunday Mainichi says it will reserve its judgment until then.© Japan Today