Saturday, January 21, 2006

Slowly Spinning Planets

And other thoughts provoked by my time on commuter trains.

I was riding the Keiyo Line train from Ichikawa-Shiohama to Tokyo--the first leg of my return commute--the other night, and the train was pretty sparsely populated. This is probably because it was only 17:00.

Let me explain. I used to work from 09:00 to 18:00 every day. Just Wednesday, it was Decided that we should start working two shifts: one from 08:00 to 17:00, and the other from 10:00 to 19:00. So Thursday, I got to go in late but come home late, and on Friday, I got to wake up at 05:40 in order to catch a train at 06:40 and get to work by 08:00.

But I did get off at 17:00, and this put me on a non-crowded Keiyo Line train--which was my original thrust, remember? And it is an important fact that the train was not crowded, for the two seats across from me were vacant. When the train hit a section of track that was banked so that my side was slightly lower than the opposite side (which I was facing), what to my wondering eyes should appear but a rather fantastic optical illusion!

There are a lot of lights in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. The trains almost all run either underground or on elevated tracks. The Keiyo Line runs most of the way from Chiba to Central Tokyo on the latter.

And with all of this data, can you guess what I saw?

No? Well allow me to explain. The lights from out the train window behind me were being reflected on the window in front of me, which was serving only partially as a mirror; it was also giving me a view of the lights on the other side of the window. What this added up to was something that looked very much like a spinning galaxy. The reflection of the lights behind me, superimposed on the window in front of me, which was also displaying lights far beneath the train and out towards the sea, moved in such a way that it looked like nothing but a galaxy spinning slowly on a starfield.


Another interesting optical illusion offered by trains traversing elevated tracks at night is the "space bubble effect". Wherein the passengers of a distant train which happens to be running parallel to your own train, illuminated by the interior lights of their train, look like there are flying through space in a transparent craft.

I wonder if this has anything to do with how they dreamed up Galaxy Express 999?


MalexMedia said...

These train rides wouldn't happen to be boring you, would they? :-P

I must admit, however, that this optical illusion sounds positively entrancing.

So, obviously, I've finally gotten an account here so I can properly comment on your posts. ;) Is it time to run for the hills? I hope not, but who can tell?

Josh Glover said...

Yes, the optical illusion was fantastic, and yes, it is time to run for the hills! ;-P

The great thing is that it seems to be repeatable, so when you lazy Americans feel like visiting me in Japan, I should be able to demonstrate it to you.