The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

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Monday, March 01, 2004

The Tokyo Subway Crackpot

Home of More Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity: and I'm not so sure about the universe. Einstein

From the Cabalmaster:

There’s one in every country.

Japanese journalist Shun Akiba is a courageous reporter with impeccable credentials: in 1991, he was the only foreign journalist to remain in Baghdad, together with CNN’s Peter Arnett, during Gulf War I. He also covered the U.S. military action in Panama that overthrew Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Sendero Luminoso insurgency in Peru, and peacekeeping activities in Cambodia.

But Akiba is also credulous to the point of naivety. Either that, or he’s packaged his second mystery novel as if it were fact – Akiba published his first novel after turning freelance in 1996.

(Hey! Shameless self promotion!! Just like . . . dare we say the name . . . Wendell Cox!!!)

In any case, he doesn’t know a heck of a lot about subways

(Hey! He has this in common with Wendell, too!!)

Akiba’s second book, Teito Tôkyô - Kakusareta Chikamô no Himitsu, was released late in 2002 by Tokyo publisher Yosensha (; for a jpeg image of the book cover, see here The title translates something like Imperial Capital Tokyo: Mystery of a Hidden Underground Network. In this book, Akiba describes his investigation of “seven riddles” related to allegedly secret tunnels, underground complexes and so forth.

Rumors of unknown, disused or secret tunnels and other underground facilities stir fascination (particularly in conjunction with international “bad guys” such as the erstwhile dictator of Iraq, “Da Guy Wid Da Mustache”). A cynic might say that Akiba has capitalized masterfully on this fascination. As described in a “Japan Times Online” article from March 2003 (, “Teito Tôkyô” was then in its fifth edition.

Yet author Akiba . . . who says his desire to work in entertainment got him into TV, and then in the news section . . . complains that he and his book can’t get no respect.

“Why am I ignored? Can I be on to something, and there is a conspiracy to silence me? I believe so."

No surprise. We suspect the reason that Akiba “has found it impossible to get the media to take serious note, write reviews or offer interviews” is because said media regards “Teito Tôkyô” as a mystery novel packaged as fact. Your Favorite Transit Pundits find it difficult to imagine that it is anything else.

(Hey! Fiction packaged as fact!! Wendell does that, too!!!)

According to the “Japan Times Online” article, Akiba found an “old map in a secondhand bookstore” that “changed his life.”

(Substitute “buried treasure” for “subways” as the subject of interest, and you, too, might become the next Robert Louis Stevenson!)

"Close to the [National Diet building, seat of Japan’s parliament] in Nagata-cho, current maps show two subways crossing," Akiba said. "In the old map, they are parallel."

The “Japan Times Online” article continues:

The journalist in him taking over, [Akiba] sought out construction records. When responses proved defensive and noncooperative -- "lips zipped tight" -- he set out to prove that the two subway tunnels could not cross: "Engineering cannot lie."

Yeah, right. We’ll bet “lips zipped tight” was a last-ditch attempt to keep from laughing in the guy’s face.

Tokyo has many locations where subway tunnels do cross – albeit at different levels. We do not know of any examples of an underground grade crossing, past or present, but there are such things as underground junctions without “flyovers” – that is, some trains of one line must cross the tracks used by some trains of another line; think of the traffic lanes you cross when making a left turn.

But a more revealing clue to the true genre of “Teito Tokyo” reads as follows:

“Sitting on the Ginza subway from Suehirocho to Kanda, he says, you can see many mysterious tunnels leading off from the main track. ‘No such routes are shown on maps.’”

Um, excuse us, Mr. Akiba, but have you ever heard of ventilation shafts, refuge bays and emergency exits?

(For the benefit of intrepid websurfers not familiar with Tokyo, the Ginza subway segment between Kanda and Suehiro-cho stations is about 0.7 mile long and crosses under three rail viaducts and a waterway. It is quite shallow – excavation was performed by hand – and was opened in 1930-1931.)

“Traveling from Kasumigaseki to Kokkai-gijidomae, there is a line off to the left that is not shown on any map. Nor is it indicated in subway construction records.“

Well, yeah. Akiba has described something that ACTUALLY EXISTS . . . although in a misleading fashion.

(Y’know, if we didn’t know better, we’d swear that Akiba had taken lessons from the Fearless Fudgemeister himself . . .)

Just south of the Imperial Palace and east of the National Diet building, there are no fewer than five parallel subways for a short distance. These are, from north to south, the Yurakucho, Hibiya, Marunouchi, Chiyoda and Ginza. Only on the Marunochi or Chiyoda subwas can one ride from a station named Kasumigaseki to one named Kokkai-gijidomae.

However, “Kasumigaseki,” without the suffix that means “station,” refers to a district of Tokyo that has many government offices. Therefore, saying “Kasumigaseki” in Tokyo, without that little suffix, is roughly equivalent to saying “Capitol Hill” in Washington.

Of course, if you ask for “Capitol Hill” in D.C., you’ll be steered to the area near the U.S. Capitol building. Ask for “Kokkai-gijidomae” in Tokyo, and . . . surprise, surprise . . . you’ll be steered to the area near the National Diet building, (“Kokkai” = National Diet, “gijido” = assembly hall, “-mae” is a suffix specifying location of close proximity, literally “in front of.”)

Now for the fun part.

If you’re traveling on the Yurakucho subway and you want to go to Kasumigaseki, you’ll get off at Sakuradamon station. It’s not part of the Kasumigaseki station complex and so has a different name, but it’s the closest station to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (perhaps one of the locations where, as Akiba puts it, "Subway officials treat me as if I'm a drunk or a madman.")

If you’re on the same line and want to go to the National Diet building, you’ll get off at Nagata-cho station. Again, it’s not part of the Kokkai-gijidomae station complex and so has a different name, but it’s just as convenient to the Diet building itself and legislative office buildings.

Intrepid websurfers who have already surmised what comes next can skip the following paragraph!

If you’re riding the Yurakucho subway FROM Sakuradamon (station for Kasumigaseki) TO Nagata-cho (station for Kokkai-gijidomae), you will indeed see a line branching “off to the left.” This is a connection to the Chiyoda subway, and once was very important to the Yurakucho subway. The Yurakucho, you see, did not have a rolling stock depot of its own from opening in 1974 until 1987. Some Yurakucho subway trains were based at the Chiyoda subway’s Ayase depot, and all were repaired here until the Yurakucho subway was extended to the depot site that had been planned all along.

Intrepid websurfers who happen to be British, or otherwise familiar with London, are advised not to laugh too hard at the following Akiba quotation from the “Japan Times online” article:

"Every city with a historic subterranean transport system has secrets," he says. "In London, for example, some lines are near the surface and others very deep, for no obvious reason."

Intrepid websurfers who don’t happen to be British, or otherwise familiar with London, and who want to know the difference between London’s “subsurface” and “tube” lines might want to check out the excellent London page (, which includes many printed references and links.

Needless to say, we’re quite proud of ourselves for the way we worked cheap shots at the good . . . well, you know, Mr. Fudge . . . into a story from far-off Tokyo.

(Intrepid websurfers who can’t live without their own copy of Akiba’s book might check here, but we offer two caveats. First, the “” page may not be viewable without Japanese language software and a Japanese browser. Second, as noted above, we think the alleged “subway conspiracy” to be much less likely than Akiba’s own “conspiracy,” so to speak, to garner attention and sell books.)

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