Monday, March 29, 2010

JR's 77 station stamp rally

Japan Rail is one of the companies operating trains in Japan. They're broken up into several regions, such as JR west (including Osaka) and JR east (including Tokyo). Two of the major lines in Tokyo are the Yamanote and the Sobu. The Yamanote is the one that runs in a loop about 7-8 miles north-south and 4-6 miles east-west. The Sobu runs east-west, through Shinjuku on the east side out to Nakano; and Akihabara on the east out to Chiba.


JR East decided to create a "77 Station" stamp series, representing the 77 stations on all of the various lines in Tokyo, not just the Sobu and Yamanote (but these are the two more important lines for my purposes). I'd first noticed this thing in Akihabara, where a table had been set up with one stamp and ink pad, plus the map poster, located just outside the gates on the Yodobashi Camera side of the station. A few days later, the table was gone, about the time I was planning on getting a stamp, and I'd figured that I'd missed my chance.


But, the next week it was back out in front of the gates again. So I decided that during my next rest day from work I'd try getting the stamps for each station on the Sobu line from Shinjuku to Akihabara. Primarily, this choice was based on the fact that I've got a monthly train ticket for getting to the office, and every stop along that path is free for me. Naturally I started by getting the Akihabara stamp first because that was the one closest to me when I checked out the poster.


Friday, around noon, I got into Shinjuku. JR Shinjuku is huge, taking up several square blocks, and there's no sign advertising the stamp rally anywhere. After spending 15 minutes walking around in front of the banks of ticket machines at each of the exits, I was about to give up when the thought occurred that maybe the stamp table was inside one of the reservations offices. As luck would have it, I found the stamp on the first try, near the Odakyu line entrance.


From there, it was an easy matter of going into the station proper and taking the Sobu line one stop to Yoyogi. Again, I had trouble finding the table, even though Yoyogi is a much smaller station. This time though, I had the brilliant idea of pulling out my notebook and showing it to a station employee, asking "does this station have this kind of stamp?" The answer was, yes, but it's at the other exit 50 meters away. Once at that exit, it still took me a couple of minutes to find the table. Then I headed back into the station and caught the next train to Sendagaya.


A couple of comments. First, the reason for JR East doing this rally is to get money from you. They do this by putting the stamp tables outside of the ticket gates, so you have to keep buying tickets each time. On average, the stations are about 1 kilometer apart, and it's 130 yen (about $1.45 USD) per stop. At 77 stops, that's a minimum of $100, not accounting for all of the backtracking you have to do to get to the other lines branching off in opposite directions. Two, at least on the Sobu, the timing is just about perfect - you have time to leave the station, find the table, and go back to the platform with about 1 or 2 minutes to spare before the next train. But, even train hopping like this, it can take 10-15 minutes to go from one station to the next. It took over 2 hours to get from Shinjuku to Ochanomizu and back (normally an 18 minute ride on the Chuu-ou train each way), and that's including taking the Chuu-ou on the return.


I've written about stamp rallies before (most notably for the Heroes of Tokiwa Sou, and the Kamiigusa Gundam events). Stamps are almost everywhere and for almost everything. They're mainly aimed at kids, but adults collect them too. If you want to participate, the two big tips are to first always carry a blank, unlined pad with you, and to second bring your own bottle of refill ink. Most of the stamp tables I hit had dried-out ink pads, and at two of them the covers of the ink pads were missing. I'm not a real collector, so I settled for faded stamps on lined paper (sorry about that, chief).


I did encounter one couple also collecting the stamps, but they seemed to be going the opposite direction from me because I only saw them the one time. There was also a mother accompanying a couple of children at a different stamp table. If the station had a reservation office, the table would be inside it. If there was more than one exit, it'd be at the one with the most traffic. If there was no reservation office, I'd generally have to hunt for it. Asking a station person helped speed things up a lot. At one station, the table was being used by two old women that had been out shopping all day, to hold their bags while they shuffled their purchases around. Otherwise, most people were too busy to pay any attention to them.


Just doing the 9-station stretch from Shinjuku to Ochanomizu tired me out. I decided to put off going to Kanda (one station south from Akihabara on the Yamanote line) until my way home from work Saturday evening, just so I could quit and go do something else. The thought occurred at the back of my mind that I could try walking around the Yamanote loop and hitting each of those stations as a form of pilgrimage, but that would take an entire day. Maybe some time when I've got nothing else to do. Anyway, even with train hopping, I don't think any one person could get all 77 stamps in one day. But, if you wanted to try you could get a one-day rail pass to try to bring the cost down. Just make sure that you prep yourself with enough blank pads, black refill ink (or you could bring your own 3"x3" pad) and enough food and drink to consume along the way (stopping for snacks could cause you to miss a train, which would throw off your entire schedule). Now, about those adult diapers...





Danny said...

Late response but o well, thanks for the post, found you through Google.
I'm also collecting stamps, but JR won't get my money :D. I enjoy walking (and Tokyo is great for walking!), so I'm just walking from station to station, takes about 10-20minutes per station if I don't get lost.

Danny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TSOTE said...

Thanks for dropping by. How many stamps do you have so far?

Getting lost is easy in Tokyo...

Chayan said...

Just started. Loving it

that's about it... said...

Oh thank you! I remember getting stamps like these when I lived in Yokohama for a year. These came up yesterday when a friend and I were talking about geocaching and letterboxing. Answers!!!

TSOTE said...

that's about it... - Thanks for dropping by. I know geocaching - I tried finding a couple caches when I was in Austin, TX, back some years ago, but was unsuccessful. I know Tokyo has a few caches, but I haven't tried checking for Kagoshima, where I'm living now. Not familiar with letterboxing (outside of movie screen formats).

AKIRA said...

It takes me about 9 hrs to get 52 stamps.

TSOTE said...

Do they still have the stamps set out at the stations?

Jasper Jory Eugenio said...

It's 2016 and I just started collecting the stamps this 12/13 so far I got 9. It's a bit difficult for me because I am an exchange student so I only have limited time for this. I was planning to have the tokunai pass for JR East line so probably I can get 20 stations in one day.