The Toden Arakawa Line (都電荒川線) is the last extant line of the Tokyo Toden, a network of streetcars that once counted 41 lines and 214km of track weaving throughout the city. Over time the lines were gradually phased out in favor of bus and subway routes (a phenomenon not unique to Tokyo or Japan), leaving Arakawa as something of a novelty. The line lives on thanks to concerted efforts by residents to prevent its closure along with the rest of the network. Parts of Toden lines 27 and 32 were combined to form the current route, which was eventually sold to and is still operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation, or Toei.


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A terminal to terminal trip runs 50 minutes, taking you from Minowabashi Station, next to the Joyful Minowa shōtengai in Minamisenju, to Waseda Station (a separate terminal for the tram, not connected to the Tozai Line station) just north of the Waseda University campus, for the princely sum of 160 yen. In this film, the train that stops to pick up passengers at Minowabashi is the 7000 series, the oldest of the currently operating rolling stock and the image that many people associate with the Arakawa Line. I decided to pickup one of the newer models for my trip, as they seemed to do a bit better with regard to controlling condensation.

My original concept for this short film was to illustrate the power of transit oriented development by showing how many neighborhoods and business districts I could capture just by pointing my camera out the window as the streetcar rumbled along. The weather seemed to have a different idea. A constant, misty rain and condensation on the tram windows made it tough to get clear images. The upside, though, was that it made for a dreamy, impressionist portrait of Arakawa, Kita and Toshima neighborhoods as people scurried home to get dry. Perhaps it was a subtle message to me, as well. After three 18 hour days of running around capturing everything with a camera, I was nearing my physical and mental endurance limits. It was a good time to reflect on how much I had already done and be thankful for whatever I could get out of this last leg. Besides, any day you get to ride one of the few remaining chin-chin densha (ding-ding train) in Japan is always cause for a smile.

This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.

Additional volumes: Volume 2