"I often see foreign tourists with bewildered expressions while standing in front of railway network maps inside train stations. With just a little over two years until the Olympic Games, are the information services for foreigners in Tokyo, which is supposed to be an international city, sufficient? To answer, I tried putting myself in the shoes of a foreign visitor who could not understand Japanese and tried to read a railway system map at a train station."
So begins Kazuma Yamane in his "Nihon no Genki" column in the Yukan Fuji (May 27). His starting point was a sign inside Tokyo Station showing East Japan Railways' local lines (kinko rosen-zu). The sign indicates station names in Japanese with their eiji (English character) equivalents.
"Upon looking, however, I noticed many station names were not rendered in English," he wrote. "I then snapped a photograph and used imaging software to remove the Japanese from the same station names not indicated in English."
What remained on the map were all the stations on the Yamanote loop line. Beyond Shinjuku, even major stations on the Chuo Line such as Nakano and Ogikubo were missing; likewise for stations on the Keihin Tohoku Line beyond Shinagawa, such as Omori and Kamata. To the east of Akihabara, Asakusabashi, Ryogoku and Kinshicho are missing. What's even more mind-boggling is that the mapmakers did not see fit to include the English for Maihama, the closest station to Tokyo Disney Resort.
"If someone were to ask, 'I want to go to Tokyo Disneyland. How do I get to Maihama?'" sighs Yamane, "it's equivalent to telling them 'People who can't read Japanese kanji can't go there.'"
By Yamane's count, about 40% of the station names on this particular map do not appear in English. Perhaps someone has justified it by thinking they had to be dropped due to space considerations, but still....
"The other night, it was past 11 p.m., and I stood there watching a foreign couple poring over the map," wrote Yamane. "The INFORMATION service counter nearby had already closed for the night, and I had the impression that the sign was all they had to go by. If Tokyo wishes to be regarded as a world city with a well developed railway network, I think there has got to be a way to simplify the process."
The couple, for some unexplained reason, did not bother to avail themselves of a "Route Finder" electronic terminal resembling an ATM situated close to the sign, which in addition to Japanese and English also gave information in simplified Chinese and Korean. Nor did they apparently attempt to use a free train transfer app available for smartphones.
In Yamane's view, the biggest problem with the sign in question is that it completely disregards the subways and private commuter lines. "There are lots of places that can't be reached by JR only; but I concede that adding all those stations together with JR's would make for an overly complex map, rendering the whole thing impractical," he remarked.
What is needed is a "smart" map that would, with speech recognition input upon entry of the destination, automatically blink on and off to display the entire route, including transfers. Or else enable the data to be transmitted to a smartphone on the spot.
"I expected that soon after Tokyo was picked to host the Olympics and Paralympics, Japan should have announced it would provide visitors with revolutionary ICT (information and communications technology) services," complains a disappointed Yamane. "But I wonder if they were really serious about deploying it. A bold and innovative system cannot be utilized without sufficient testing and evaluation. And if they don't get started very soon, it won't be ready in time."© Japan Today