Photos

Photographing Tokyo's Coolest Escalators

Miha Tamura captures the extraordinary side of this everyday ride.

Of all the transport modes in the city, escalators probably get the least amount of love. Elevators go much higher much faster. Trains go much farther (and are much prettier). Subways carry more people more places. If you think anything when they think about escalators, you probably wonder why they're always broken.

The Tokyo-based blogger Miha Tamura is on a mission to rescue the escalator from urban transport obscurity. At her site, Tokyo Escalator, Tamura tries to capture the extraordinary side of this everyday ride. Despite its name, the site also features cool escalators from other Japanese cities, as well as a few from other parts of the world.

Many of Tamura's images have been compiled into a book alongside a collection of short stories — each of which ends with a girl riding up an escalator. She says the source of her fascination comes from the fact that she saw very few escalators in her small hometown of Kanazawa before moving to Tokyo, where of course she sees them everywhere.

"The more I know about escalators, the more I get interested," she tells Atlantic Cities.

You told PingMag that you started Tokyo Escalator because there were no websites for escalators. What else is it about escalators that you find so interesting or appealing?

Escalators are special, unusual, luxurious vehicles for me. Escalators are only in department stores in Kanazawa, my hometown. In Tokyo, I ride them almost every day at subway stations, pedestrian overpasses, supermarkets, post offices, shopping buildings, etc. This is because there is little land so the multi-layer construction is needed, and there are so many people in Tokyo.

Why do you think people pay less attention to escalators than to other forms of transport technology, such as trains?

First, I think most people do not know the difference between all escalators. Each trains have apparent characters, so people say that he/she likes "this" train or do not like "that" train. I know each escalator's character well, so I am excited to see it.

Second, most people like non-ordinary experiences or spectacles. City people like to go to countryside by train, and they like scenery in countryside from the train window. But for me, no matter how much time passes, urban spectacles do not become ordinary. I love them, and I love to ride escalators in the city.

What makes you decide that an escalator is special?

I think there are two patterns. First, the escalator itself is very special. For example, this one is very special because there are only three of them in the world at the moment. The handrails go underground vertically!

Second, escalators are used in a special manner in the whole building's design, by a famous architect, or someone who understands the appeal of escalators. For example, I do not know who designed this building, but I felt someone's intent to bring out the charm of escalators.

You've called the Mitsubishi Electric double spiral escalator your favorite. What do you think makes it so amazing?

Mitsubishi Electric is the first escalator company in Japan, and it is the first largest shareholder in the Japanese escalator's market. They have very sophisticated technology for escalators and the only company which make spiral escalator in the world.

Do you ride the escalators a lot before taking each picture?

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I always care about not bothering passers-by who use escalators, because escalators are always moving and their mission is to carry many people.

You've said you aren't trying to express anything "artistic" through your photographs. But what do you think viewers take away from your website?

I hope that viewers of my website would know the character of each escalator, and would pay attention to escalators in their cities.

All images via Tokyo Escalator courtesy of Miha Tamura. This interview, conducted in English, was slightly edited in places for clarity.

About the Author