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Sunday, June 25, 2006
Goodies to let you live with the Y
By MARTIN WEBB
The pea-green artery pumping shoals of company staffers into the heart of Japan Inc. every morning, and funneling them home by night, perfectly exemplifies Japanese efficiency.
The sheer volume of bodies shifted is what takes the cake: If there is something dehumanizing about shuffling onto -- or being shoved into -- a crowded train carriage, then the Yamanote Line is surely the world's prime weapon of mass commuter soul destruction.
But whether from a sense of awe at the miraculous precision of its operation, a fondness born of familiarity or an ironic faux reverence for its power to assimilate, for the Japanese, the fondly abbreviated Yamate-sen is close to being an object of worship.
But as with icons the world over, even mass-transit ones, there will always be people keen to buy into their object of devotion, rather than merely enjoy the partaking. So, for the folks who run it, there's ample opportunity to make a healthy chunk of cash beyond the paltry 290 yen that constitutes the line's highest adult fare.
Consequently, there is an astounding range of products available for those moved to have a slice of Yamanote action in their homes.
While true densha otaku (train geeks) tend to get more excited about lines with complicated schedules involving local, rapid, express and super-express trains that stop at different stations, detailed miniature versions of the Yamanote-sen are available from Kato Precision Model Railways, while toy giant Takaratomy sells a chunky plastic version as part of its Purareru (plastic railroad) series.
Fancy waking up to the sound of the muzak that blares out over the PA at your favorite station? Then why not invest 7,890 yen in a Yamanote Line alarm clock that plays the melodies unique to each station. Those catchy jingles are also available on CD, or remixed into funky dance music interpretations by Moter Man.
Then, when you're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, how about looping the Yamanote loop at the helm of one of those snaking steel beasts? Taito's driver-simulation game Densha de Go! Yamanote Sen for the Sony PlayStation 2 puts players in virtual command on the tracks.
Meanwhile, for the less hands-on, a book detailing the line's long and complex history has proved a top seller for historian Kenji Nakamura, while various other collectors' pamphlets are released (in Japanese) for true devotees.
Arguably the most unusual tie-up with the line, though, is "Yamanote-sen Death Game," a made-for-Internet movie in which a phantom station appears on the line and various tough guys turn up to fight to the death on the platform. The producers of the game, Mobcast, say it is their most successful creation to date -- with the exception of "No-Pants Girls," starring 13-year-old Saaya Irie.
But fear not: Representatives from JR East assured this reporter that there are no plans for a Yamanote-sen clothing line, haircare products or no-pants announcer's competition. That's not to say, though, that you can't buy lighters, mugs and mobile straps featuring those sleek pea-green steel carriages. Roll on!