Sunday, June 26, 2011

Yay, the train is here ... now what?

It's been months since the citizens of Shukuzu could count actual train service amongst the benefits of living in their fair ward. Sure, the weather is always perfect and none of them have to do anything other than stand around all day long, but no running trains makes for a boring city when your legs don't actually move and all the cars have doors that are sealed shut. It almost seems comical that even a taxi will have doors that don't open given how they all operate by magic remote handles from the drivers seat in the rest of Japan, but there you have it. Shukuzu is a different place.

But they are safe now, the happy little citizens. Service resumed today with a line twice as long as the original and now they no longer even have to wait for the train out in the glaring 75 watt sun. The underground station is in place, although the tunneling itself is only roughly finished.

Calamity still obviously reigns on the surface, with overturned trucks and eerily smiling engines. But, after production delays with the extensive tunneling through two layers of the town, plus a faulty switch pulling the entire line off service, there are some happy faces in the hastily laid out town.

Monday, April 25, 2011


There was an earlier version of this post, replete with anime and Godzilla movie monsters tearing through Shukuzu, but after the earthquake and tsunami it was obviously going to be in poor taste. If there is anything at all positive to be taken from the disasters in Japan, it's that they are guaranteed to recover from this, and that they will do so in their uniquely Japanese way. Clean up, regroup, and then start rebuilding, replacing two story buildings that were swept away with 10 story modern structures that will withstand the next disaster. It is a country trained in resurrecting itself every few generations.

We'll continue on with Shukuzu in the same way. The cute, antiquated surface lines are being upgraded to include an underground line, easing congestion on the surface streets and opening up additional land for housing and office high rises. A Shinkansen loop will encircle the city, opening up even faster transit routes for little plastic people who otherwise have no where else to go.

Construction has already begun and is progressing rapidly, at least according to the traditional time frames most building projects seem to take around here. A crude tool and overwhelming force can go a long ways.

And because I am a sucker for time lapse videos, especially when they use shift-tilt photography to heighten the sense of peering down on a small little world, another video of life in Tokyo. The streets of Tokyo have been darkened to save power, which you would expect would take some of the hustle out of the city at night but instead it just leads to more people apologizing politely for running in to each other.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A separate cast(e)

It would be a rare creator who didn't want to envision their little world as a perfectly egalitarian society, free from the banal prejudices of modern life, but it would rarely be true.  The truth is that all are not created equal, and some will be pigeonholed, marginalized or outright discriminated against for their minor little differences.

Take the three fine gentlemen above, for example.  They're all to scale, they've all got the requisite number of limbs and aren't oddly tall or short, but they are definitely not created equal.  These three future citizens of Shukuzu will face an immediate classification based solely on subtle differences in their appearance that really only appear if you spend the time to look for them.

Our fine, upstanding gentleman on the right is representative of his class; expensive, highly detailed, and as flawless as you can expect from a person the size of a grain of rice.  It is exactly those qualities that will see his kind marginalized within Shukuzu, pricing his way out of the common realm and left to make only scattered appearances, usually in some functional capacity such as our porter here.

Our suave hipster in the middle is just that.  Middle class, unoffensive but also not overly catching to the eye, rather boring as an individual but priced well enough that he can appear in the thousands.  He is the common man, every where and every thing; milling about on the sidewalks, waiting patiently on the station platforms, hustling to or from somewhere he will never reach and never did just leave.  He may occasionally man the counter at some more obvious establishments, but for the most part he is the aimless fill, interesting only in that they are there.

Everyone has an angle that just makes them look horrendous when it's caught on film.  That, unfortunately, was not the case with the gentleman on the left.  His head is just a sliver of what it should be, like someone had balanced a coffee can on their shoulders.  Many of his fellow discount bin refugees feature a distinctively incomplete left leg, as if they went sprinting from the mold before they had completely dried and left part of themselves behind.  If the paint on most cheap LPP is garish, with these guys it is also poorly applied and often in even more surprisingly bad colors.  But, these poorly formed and badly dressed people will be the ones with homes, hidden behind windows and furniture enjoying the peace and quiet of a place of their own.  High in downtown skyscrapers, these will be the salarymen tucked in to conference rooms deciding the fate of the teeming masses below.  While the beautiful people struggle with someones baggage and direct traffic, and the massive middle class rushes about aimlessly, the odd looking rejects will occupy the upper rung of the Shukuzu society.

I guess even oddly preferential reverse discrimination is still discrimination.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Even the road to nowhere ends somewhere

I'm not sure what a train platform becomes when it has lights and a snack shop, but no doors or trains that could ever lead you out. It's like Shukuzu-ku now has it's very own version of purgatory for these 100 poor little plastic people.  For now, the station sits high on a bluff overlooking the town, no track in sight and now power for any of the lights.

When the station is finally relocated under ground as part of the urban redevelopment project, maybe the harried pace of the little travelers will seem to make more sense.  Trains will be pulling in to the station, although disappointingly their doors won't open to allow masses of people to crush inside.  I was often confused why there were so many chairs in a Tokyo subway station since as there was a train every few minutes how long could you really expect to be there.  Here though, it makes more sense.  These people will be sitting there for a very long time.

Eventually they'll realize there is no escape, even when a train does arrive. The soda machines will slowly run out of the better drinks, leaving everyone to fight over the Diets and eventually the fruit punch.  Someone will come running out of the Everyday, and while they might not scream how we're feeding them food made out of people, they will certainly protest the lack of actual stocked shelves of any kind.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A sucker for time lapse movies

Maybe the 10 seconds of Shinagawa station (3:40) isn't quite enough to justify sharing this time lapse video of Tokyo here, but this guy does beautiful work.  There's also a quick segment (3:23) with an urban commuter line elevated over the busy intersection that's pretty cool.

floating point from Samuel Cockedey on Vimeo.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blue collar

Other than the gas station and the various jobs related to the train lines themselves, there really weren't any good, solid blue collar jobs in Shukuzu, until today.

While the construction of the industrial building was hailed by many as great leap forwards in the economic viability of the town, it doesn't officially have any tenants yet. Or interior walls, or lights.  Luckily, it will disassemble just as easily as it went together so it can be fully outfitted for the eventual tenants.  In the meantime, it does an excellent job at preventing marauding giant beasts from perching on the edge of town to stare out the window.

Company officials welcomed a small crowd of citizens, freed from their ziploc bags for the orchestrated event to official declare the building almost open. Nestled down against the storage sidings and newly constructed engine shed, the industrial site received a warm welcome.

The mood quickly began to turn to less than genial, however, when it was announced that the newly created jobs at the site would actually not be paying anything, scale currency not being available and the fact that every citizen of Shukuzu is plastic, rendering food and clothing unnecessary.  The company representatives found themselves in dire straights when faced with the unruly supporters turned protesters as while Shukuzu does have several police cars, there are no actual police to call in an emergency.  Luckily, one of the company men had a clipboard that he could angrily shake and disaster was narrowly averted.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Electric horseman of the apocalypse

Regular passenger service had only just begun in Shukuzu when the first murmurs of discontent could be heard from the populace.  Already dreaming of the day when they could begin an orderly queue to board the local at their as-yet-to-be-built station, they have begun to call for something to help get them around their square mile of reality even faster.  Little do they know, dreams of folly often lead to doom.

A sleek devil in blue and grey has been seen lurking on the viaducts, the electric hiss of its motors restrained by the overly sharp curves of the Shukuzu main line.  The desire to get nowhere even faster will mean the end of Shukuzu v2, this electric horseman of the apocalypse riding in to town on a straighter, faster rail with broad sweeping curves that will tear down everything, including mountains.

What was a quaint bi-level mainline winding through the burgeoning metropolis will become a hectic tri-level of efficient people moving power.  With the Shinkansen going up, the mainline will be going down, burrowing beneath the city to form Shukuzu's first subway line.  It only seems appropriate in the end, as what kind of Japanese city doesn't have a subway?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So. . . get on your way.

When things go horribly, horribly wrong, some people go to a very dark place.  Just as quickly they arose from the pink stratum, the mountains of Shukuzu were shown to be completely not what had been intended in either form or function, so a hasty retreat was beat out to the deep dark of the garage.

The inhabitants of the pale pink dot needed a more substantial and awe inspiring precipice from which to enjoy their scenic views, and to bore tunnels through to enhance what little escapism their train line to right-back-where can offer.  So, contrary to all know laws of geological formation development, railways were laid down and mountains allowed to grow around them, layer by layer until they had reached a substantial enough height to provide some visual appeal.

Almost as if it were as easy as cutting a half circle out of a spare piece of the earth, the center of Shukuzu shot 40ft into the air as well, dramatically raising speculative rents in the commercial and residential towers yet to be unpacked from their boxes.

Sitting initially at low elevations, Shukuzu was occasionally subjected to vicious incursions by gigantic four legged beasts who would indiscriminately pad across the landscape without concern for train schedules or the sheer terror that comes as part of daily life when you are a few millimeters tall.  Now that the initial heavy construction was over, it was time to head for higher ground.

The zoning committee was adamant that Shukuzu not squat in the corner of the room like a complete abomination any more than a massive slab of hot pink foam already would, so a compromise mounting plateau was sourced offering a good height given the adorable shortness of the prime operator, ample storage, and an attractive finish far beyond what I could have been expected to cobble together.

Cheers of joy could well have rung out from across Shukuzu as the Tokyu Series 5000 made its maiden voyage across the landscape, but our original eight little station people had only been joined by another half dozen visiting the local shrine so the fanfare was minimal.  Little do the waiting thousands know, tucked safely still in their suffocating ziploc, that it's in their best interest to stay hidden.  An electric horseman has come to Shukuzu, bringing their apocalypse with him ...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Love eclipses pain

There must be better tools for cutting shapes out of 2" foam than a 1" razor blade.  The boy wants mountains, mountains we will have.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In the beginning ...

* best when read in a Carl Sagan voice.

In the beginning, there was a serene nothingness ... just a beautiful purplish mass, floating emptily on a cloudy cold sea of rock.  A setting so peaceful and quiet, you might even imagine it to be the floor of a suburban garage were it not for the civilization about to be created before your very eyes.

Small holes have already formed on the slightly wavy surface of this small world, perfectly sized if not crudely constructed to handle the channeling of power from beneath the crust, providing life to all manner of creations.  The landmass, flat and barren for the moment, will be significantly larger than anything the citizens of Shukuzu have ever experienced before, and promises to be ripe with wondrous amenities.

Sitting as it does, outside the boundaries of time and space, the citizens of Shukuzu will have the pleasure of a continual sakura, coupled with an everlasting Bon Festival and, if a specific piece of scale "equipment" can be found, maybe even a depiction of Kanamara Matsuri.  For now they have, much as the 8 little citizens of Old Shukuzu had, a bland expanse of pink foam.

Already, powerful forces are at work, carving and shaping what promises to be a dramatic rise at the western end of the ward, thrusting skywards to provide a welcome respite from the hectic city life as well as a perch for the local temple grounds. As we have seen with our own world, geological movements can be both spectacular fiery explosions and slow millennial grinds.  Hopefully, for the sake of the thousands of new inhabitants of Shukuzu currently sealed in stasis in ziploc bags, their world is born from more violent explosions of pink dust.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why Japan?

We have just returned to the US after having lived in Tokyo for a year, and it was an important year for our head engineer.  He was old enough to enjoy his surroundings beyond what was immediately in front of him, and even better was old enough to be trusted with tiny little mechanical devices like model trains.  Although he has picked up new lines of interest over the past few years, including the standard boy passions like dinosaurs and ocean creatures, he still loves his Thomas & Friends.  It's a rare day when he doesn't play with them, and he probably knows more about how steam engines work than any adult born in the diesel era.  Instead of growing out of his Thomas stage, he instead expanded his train love to include anything that runs on the rails, so Tokyo was his mecca.  He loved the endless subway rides and level crossings, and I think the trip we took on the Shinkansen was the highlight of his year closely followed by the Hakone rail system winding up the mountain side.

Beyond that, Japan is a beautiful place; rare, unique, and completely foreign.  It's hard to adequately imagine the level of sensory overload that comes with stepping into the Shibuya crossing or Shinagawa station for the first time.  It's dizzying and isolating.  Two blocks away from the mass of humanity wind these little tiny streets so cramped cars edge through at walking pace and corners require three point turns.  The flashing billboards and press of people turn into crowded narrow buildings and an intimacy with your surroundings you don't find in western cities.  Everything is clean and safe, but exciting and frightening in its foreignness.  A street 8 feet wide winds between 3 and 4 story buildings, every type of shop and restaurant imaginable topped by floors of apartments with laundry hanging over the balconies to dry.  To a foreigner, everything seems closed off and unwelcoming, but opening any door results in the same irasshaimase! (いらっしゃいませ) and whatever tiny bit of English anyone might speak comes out with as much polite helpfulness as possible.

Japan is equal parts beautiful, fascinating, frustrating, isolating and endearing.  It will probably be hard to convey that on a 3' x 8' model train layout, especially since the chief engineer rarely lets me drive the metro trains.

Hayaku: A Time Lapse Journey Through Japan from Brad Kremer on Vimeo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Welcome to Shukuzu-ku

Welcome to Shukuzu-ku, a seemingly idyllic little ward with a population of about 8 people, all of whom seem to be clustered around the local rail station at the moment as if they sense the impending doom of their little pink paradise and are attempting to flee the city. Of course, they won't be getting far as the rail line runs for less than a scale mile before looping back around on to itself to drop them off right back where they started. It's also questionable if any of them have noticed that the entire municipal rail system seems to be powered by garishly painted steam locomotives with vacant doll faces on the front of their boilers.

Downtown Shukuzu sits eerily silent and empty. The erratic traffic lanes that were the genesis of many angry letters of protest to the city council are free of traffic, businesses sit completely vacant with the buildings stripped so bare that entire floors are missing, leaving just hollow shells to allude to the city's former prosperity.

What cars are still on the streets sit driver-less but perfectly poised as if they might scuttle a few feet further down the street if you turn your head for a moment.

Even the Old Iron Bridge, a favorite of local rail fans for it's prominent placement directly adjacent to downtown and near enough to the lone rail station to provide exciting views, no longer seems as sturdy as it once did.

The end is coming.