The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

The Chin Chin Densha

Tokyo hums to the constant  movement of trains and cars. Modern transportation keeps the city’s population of 8, or more, million moving in smooth, clean, though often crowded commutes. Yet there is one charming anachronism in the high-tech and mobile metropolis: the Toden Arakawa line tram. Sometimes known as the “Chin Chin Densha”

The line is Tokyo’s last remaining street-car service and runs from Minowabashi to Waseda. Once part of an extensive tram network in the capital the line was named in 1974 when surviving parts of the older network were combined to cover the present route. The oldest part of the line still in operation opened in 1913 however and despite running outside the popular, central destinations and indeed having large parts of its network covered by alternative forms of transport has managed to avoid closure so far. This happy fact is due in part to efforts by passengers and people who live along the line to save it from closure. Not many forms of public transport generate that kind of love.

Certainly to follow the line for it 12 kilometre journey through the oft-forgotten parts of North and East Tokyo is to see a different side of the city. The line runs at street level, close to houses and gardens. The crossing are informal (even dangerous) often involving neither gates, stairs or insistent warnings. The signs advertizing their location have pictures of steam trains on them and the fences along the edges of the track are, in places, overgrown with colourful roses and other forms of verdancy.

Unlike the commuter trains that are usually raised above the heads of pedestrians on elephantine-legged bridges and cliff-like embankments, the scale of the Todan Arakawa Line is human and neighbourly. Perhaps this is why it seems such an essential part of the landscape it traverses. As the cars rattle through neighbourhoods of low-rise housing and ambling school kids they neither annoy nor demand much attention at all.

I love that about this line because if you do take a look at it you will find something special.

Going to shoot more of this I think. Need to get myself a suitable anorak first though of course 🙂

Oh, as to the name, as any one who speaks Japanese will know “chin chin” means “penis” and thus could be considered a strange pet name for a supposedly beloved train. Well “chin-chin” also refers to the sound the bell on these trams used to make. Now there is no bell of course, which makes the name a bit of nonsense but somehow seems to suit the ridiculous and idiosyncratic existence of this tram.




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