Japan Rail Sensational Signage

Like Schrödinger’s cat or the USB “two flip” rule, it appears there’s a diabolical master plan by The Japan Rail Authorities to thwart any cursory examination of Their signage.

N.b.: Original published here.

Cogley’s Axiom of Electronic Signage

First take a look at what these nifty, dynamic LED signs look like:

The Japan Rail sign in the video has multiple pieces of useful information:

  1. Cardinal Direction, Train Line and Track Number on the sign frame.

2. Messages on the Electronic Scrolling Indicator Board, “ESIB” for short, show for the Next Train and the One After (flipping between English and Japanese)

  • Service Indicator — local train vs express
  • Expected Arrival Time — abject apologies if train is late (pro tip: not often)
  • Destination — final stop of this train
  • Length of Train or Number of Doors — usually 10, 11 or 15 cars here in Yokohama, and 2, 3 or 4 doors.

3. Schedule Alerts

They are really useful signs, and chock full of information, as you can see. They even switch between English and Japanese. My beef and the axiom is (and yeah, it’s really a first-world problem) that:

the information I need at that moment, is always last in the queue

It never seems to fail.

We have it good in Japan

It’s something you notice when you live in Japan and go out of the country for a visit overseas. In many countries, there are not so many signs, and people have a blasé attitude about them. Here, they are ubiquitous and fairly well-designed, and are combined with endless (incessant) announcements. This is what you become used to, living in Japan: good signs, announcements and punctuality (all joking aside, it’s pretty great). So, you get a bit of signage and announcement withdrawal, going anywhere overseas!

Japan Rail has great, informative electronic signs.

Of course, good signage can deliver its message at a glance, but the problem with these signs is, 9 times out of 10, when I glance, the information I need is not there. It’s something that has irked me for years, that when I look at the sign, the number of doors are always showing, but not the length of the train. Now, I just laugh about it, because invariably, the Signage Gods make me wait until the sign blinks its way to the number-of-cars view. It’s really comical.

You see, the number of doors is not such a big problem. If you mess it up, you can hop over a little to the next indicator on the platform pavement, and board. But a miss on the length of the train (thought it was 15-car but it’s 11-car!) can end up with you sprinting the 3 car-lengths, to try to even make the train. (There are even announcements admonishing you to not run, linebacker-style, to the nearest door too).

Well, maybe Japan Rail’s just telling me to stop and smell the roses.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.