Tokyo Shinjuku – Lost in Translation

by Ansgar Vollmer, 2019 Tokyo Shinjuku

The need for Urban-Map became clear to me on my first visit to Tokyo, when I arrived by bus at Shinjuku Station in the early morning hours.
There was still one short leg of my journey left, a train to Yokohama, a neighboring city contained within an endless metropolis, with more than 38 million inhabitants.

When I entered the station, I stood in front of the gates and gazed in wonder at the huge route map on the wall above the ticket machines. In desperation, I tried to find the Yokohama station in this maze of lines and stations. It was very difficult to read the extremely condensed set station names in English next to the big and powerful Japanese characters.

Shinshuku Tain Station Tokyo

But I was unsuccessful. I bought the cheapest ticket and then hoped I would somehow find the right train inside.

Standing on a platform, I soon noticed that none of the trains went to Yokohama and that this station was just one of more than a half dozen stations, each one run by a different railway company.

Not only was I standing on the wrong platform, I had a ticket from the wrong company. Each of these companies had its own station with its own tracks and tickets, and of course its own route map also. On each map, only that company’s own lines and stations were shown, but I didn’t understand that until later.

I had no clue how the city was organized. People were in a hurry and going all directions, and I had no idea where to go. In its defense, Shinjuku Station has more than 3 million daily passengers.

Central Tokyo Rail Map

As destiny would have it, I later lived in the neighborhood of Shinjuku Station. And as it is, I decided to solve the problem as an information designer.

In 2008, I released the first ›Tokyo Rail Map as a handy printed pocket map on which all the lines are independent of the owner company. I organized them into a easy-to-read and easy-to-understand diagram, one in which one can orient themselves. I also worked out the city character of Tokyo with its suburban cities and the quiet center with the Imperial Palace.

This led to the birth of the City Rail Map, because I wanted to create a modern and useful city map for the urban life.

Ansgar Vollmer
Designer & Creator of Urban-Map’s City Rail Map