Japan Railway GPS Challenge Requires Users To Visit Bullet Train Stations Nationwide

Railway heavyweight JR (Japan Railway), which was the national railway until privatization in 1987, has begun a new promotion for its high-speed ‘shinkansen’ (bullet train) network using a GPS location game.

All six of the JR passengers companies, spread from Hokkaido to Kyushu, are involved in “Nihon Rettou Judan, Challenge Shinkansen” [J] (Bullet Train Challenge Around Japan), for which users compete against each other by visiting as many bullet train stations as possible around Japan to collect points.

The game runs from December 15 to March 31, and includes a total of 99 stations on 8 train lines, as well as 47 points of interest around Japan.

Anyone with a GPS-enabled phone (common for Japanese feature phones) can register to compete, and cellphones’ GPS technology ensures that competitors have physically visited the required stations and other locations. Users check their points in to acquire virtual stamps and train collections.

Participants are ranked by how fast they visit each location as well as how many virtual stamps they get, and those who check in to all 99 stations receive the honorable title of ‘Shinkansen Master’.

The 8 shinkansen lines included in the game can be seen in this map.

Shinkansen map by Hisagi

Many Japanese children from urban areas enjoy the so-called “Stamp Rally” programs offered by local train networks during school holidays. Kids get to ride on trains and get off at each station along the way to receive that station’s stamp.

The high cost of a ‘Limited Express’ ticket for the shinkansen
essentially prices kids out of playing JR’s shinkansen challenge, so it really is like a high-tech adult version of the kids’ programs.

via Asahi [J]

Japan’s most successful location based service, CoroPura (colopl.jp), has also run a campaign in Kyushu in collaboration with JR Kyushu.

JR Kyushu is also offering an augmented reality application for iPhone that lets you see their new shinkansen train virtually. (via The Second Times [J])

(proofread by Adam Walls)

January 2010 Japan-IT Links (part 2)

News on the latter half of January 2010 which we did not write as a dedicated article. Part 1 is here.

Referred pages are all in Japanese, unless otherwise stated.

Please let us know if you think we should write details on any news above.

Is WiFi availability A Key To Choose The Route For Business Travellers and Commuters?

In order to save your daily expense in such a recession time, if you’d like to subscribe to the charge-free news service with the iPhone instead of purchasing newspaper at the station kiosk every morning, you must feel uncomfortable to download its content data on the train.    The iPhone apps requiring a huge amount of data does not allow to download it with 3G connection.    In Japan, mostly we can use some WiFi services even at the subway station platforms, but the trains travelling in the tunnels are out of the service coverage.

Unlike Hong Kong, where the subway trains are fully equipped with WiFi access points and you are allowed to e-mail your friends and surf the net in the underwater tunnel across the Victoria Harbour, Japanese railway operators are indecisive to start WiFi service on their trains due to its high cost of equipment.

Regarding 3G service on the subway trains, it will not be available for the time being, because chatting over the cellphone on the train is believed to be impolite, and it may trouble other passengers aboard.   Besides, Japanese railway operators request passengers to switch off their mobile phones near priority seats to avoid affecting pacemakers and other medical equipment.

However, especially in Japan, where the workforce population is getting smaller, railway operators are forced to find a new way to carry more passengers and how to survive in the future.   Each of the operators are fighting desperately to be the top by enhancing convenience in various aspects.   WiFi availability would be one of the key factors for the passengers to choose which.

shinkansen

JR Central Tsukuba Express

Japanese bullet train or Shinkansen started in-train WiFi service this month between Tokyo and Osaka (Serkan Toto covered it in this story), as a winning trick to defeat airline carriers having the same money-making route connecting two cities.   It allows business travellers and commuters to continue working even on the seats while travelling at more than 300 kilometers per hour.    This is the second example of  in-train WiFi service following Tsukuba Express, which connects Akihabara and the Tokyo’s suburban science park city.

Wire and Wireless Hinomaru Limousine Mitsubishi Estate

Airport Limousine

On the other hand, the Tokyo-based wireless broadband platform operator called “Wire and Wireless[J]”, which were formerly known for expecting to be a WiMax ISP and is now owned by an IT-oriented independent venture capital firm,  announced to launch in-bus WIFi service for the airport limousine bus routes connecting Tokyo’s CBDs and the two airports of Narita International and Haneda Domestic in this coming April.   The operator’s service is also available on the sightseeing bus for the Imperial Palace, and on the shuttle bus hopping skyscrapers in the business district near Tokyo Station[J].

Now all we have to do is to train ourselves not to be carsick but to enable continuing our desk works even on the travelling vehicle.
Airport Bus
(The picture above is used under the Creative Commons License of  Attibution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.   Taken by Hyogushi and quoted from his photostream on Flickr)

Laptop users plugging in at stations risk police visit

In US airports, many people can be seen using their laptops plugged in to nearby outlets. If you do that in Japan, you could be arrested by the police.

In February 2004, a man using a power outlet in Nagoya Station was questioned by railroad police. The case was reported to the prosecutor’s office as a theft of one cent worth of electricity. It is not known whether the man was prosecuted or not.

In September 2008, a university student charging her cellphone in Sagamihara Station was questioned by the police. In this case, a passerby had reported the “incident”. The student was reprimanded, but was later released without charge.

A blogger reported [JP] that Haneda Airport uses non-standard power outlets (NEMA L5 receptacles) instead of standard Japanese outlets. He suspects that the airport authority wants to prevent travelers from “stealing” electricity.

shinkansen

Japanese society sometimes enforces minor rules too strictly and resists societal changes, but not everyone is opposed to change. JR Shinkansen bullet trains now offer power outlets to all window seat passengers and all first-class passengers on their new N700 series trains.