Home > Focus on Japan 2012 > Why I Got Clobbered by Seibu

Why I Got Clobbered by Seibu

September 21st, 2012

A few months ago I posted on how the new train schedule had royally screwed me over. Not too long after that, I found out the actual reason, but didn’t get around to posting it until now, having seen a poster just now with the prime reason—they call it the “Convenient Commuter Pass:”


This is a new sales pitch by Seibu which betrays their real reasons for making the use of merged lines a pain in the ass: they want more money. It’s fairly apparent that under the old system, it was far too convenient for too many people (like me, for instance) to take the trains linking in to the Fukutoshin, which branched off in Nerima, quite a distance out from Ikebukuro.

That’s bad for Seibu because it means that fewer people will ride in along their own line the rest of the way in to Ikebukuro, depriving them of their share of the fares along that section. They seem to have decided that this is unacceptable, and acted to rectify it. They apparently could not just break the connection with the subway lines, so it would seem that they decided to do as much as they could to make things inconvenient within the framework of joint lines.

The plan: cut the number of direct trains going off on the Fukutoshin out of Nerima. Have the ones you retain start closer in, meaning that people farther out on the lines no longer can catch the train without an inconvenient transfer and wait. Have the ones coming in from the Fukutoshin stop closer in, and at inconvenient non-express terminal stations with long waits before a connecting train comes along. In short, make the direct-connect trains fewer and far more inconvenient.

And then start selling the all-new “Convenient Commuter Pass,” in which they advertise the connection with other train lines… but tout how convenient it is to ride the Seibu Line from Ikebukuro, It’s an extra option! You have two ways to get to your destination now! Just look at the poster! See how easy it is? See how close those stations are? See how the commuters all get to sit down with nobody in the adjacent seats? Isn’t that so much better?

Except it’s not. The whole reason why people ride the direct-connect trains is because it’s a pain in the ass to transfer. To switch from the Fukutoshin to the Seibu line means a quarter-mile walk through one of the most crowded rail stations in the metropolis, up and down staircases and then waiting for trains at the tail end of extremely long lines, never getting a seat unless you decide to form a new line for the following train, which means you stand on the platform for 15 minutes or so after a long day at work.

Yeah, that’s much more convenient than staying in my seat on the train all the way.

But with the new pass, Seibu now gets revenue from the Ikebukuro-to-Nerima stretch, regardless of how often you actually use that stretch. Doubtlessly, many will buy the pass, thinking they are getting a deal—and then realize that the Seibu stretch is completely not worth it, even after Seibu totally screwed up their direct route.

I considered registering a complaint, but after consideration, decided it was pointless. This obviously works for Seibu, and since there are no viable alternatives for commuters, they will have no reason to change the system—at least not that I can foresee. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

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  1. Kensensei
    September 21st, 2012 at 13:24 | #1

    Haha the blurb at the top of the poster says, “this idea came from the mouths of our valued passengers…blah blah” as if people were just begging to be inconvenienced in the first place.

    No, this idea was clearly the brainchild of corporate executives looking for a way to make more profits by screwing the public yet again.

    What was wrong with the old system? The golden rule in this case is, “if it’s not broken, break it.” That’s because we make the rules, and screw you if you don’t like it.

    BTW, does the subway system still close down before midnight? That always annoyed me when I lived in Japan. There seemed to be no reason for the early closure, except that it was an arrangement between the taxi companies and the rail systems to boost the private taxi profits.

    I lived way out in the suburbs, so I always had to leave those late-night functions in order to catch the last train home, just as things were heating up. And if you missed that last train, it was either get stuck with a phenomenal taxi fare, or sleep among alcohol-reeking businessmen in one of those rooms the size of a narrow bathtub! Yuck!

    I believe your suspicions are on target. The Seibu railway does not have your best interests in mind.

  2. Troy
    September 21st, 2012 at 14:12 | #2

    Railways are natural monopolies and should be run by the government.

    Though I guess the history of JNR just shows how that is a bad idea, too.

    The middle ground of licensed utility is the best I guess . . . but, then there’s Tepco for how that’s not a good idea.

    Looks like I’ll have to have to retire to a solar-powered hut in the wilds of Izu . . .

    “If you are insecure living in the capital, you should not busy yourself with worldly desire. Only the quiet life is important, and taking pleasure in assuming its hardships. Ordinary people cannot give up their house, feeling that it is needed to preserve their safety. Some consider it necessary as a place for their wife and children, for the family structure, others for their intimates and friends. Some may build for landowners, or teachers, or own property to keep cows and horses, but others have no need to construct a building. Asked why I live like this, given the present circumstances of the world, and my own position, I say that I have no wife and children, and no need to rely upon servants. If I were to build a larger house, who would be staying with me? Who would I live with?”


  3. Troy
    September 22nd, 2012 at 07:41 | #3

    btw, your best bet to changing the system is to contact the Japan Times. They should eat this up, if they’re not in the tank for Seibu.

  4. Stuart
    September 22nd, 2012 at 08:36 | #4

    @Ken the train companies *are* the taxi companies.

    @Troy The rail lines are still regulated by the government even if not directly run by them.

    @Luis Transfer at Nerima, not Ikebukuro.

  5. Kensensei
    September 22nd, 2012 at 12:01 | #5

    @Ken the train companies *are* the taxi companies.

    Seriously? What happened to good ol’ fair competition?

  6. Luis
    September 22nd, 2012 at 12:13 | #6


    The private train companies are all also taxi companies, but taxi companies are not all train companies. But yes, you get tons of Keio taxies around Keio train station, tons of Seibu taxies around Seibu stations, just like you get Keio and Seibu stores nearby their own lines and so forth; the private train companies tend to be conglomerates that stake out certain areas to dominate.

    As for transferring at Nerima–well, of course I’m not going to fall for their stupid “hike 400 meters and stand on platforms for 20 minutes instead of sitting in your cozy seat” plan. I still transfer at Nerima–I just am royally pissed off that now I have to plan each trip carefully. Used to be I could just go to the station any time and count on a convenient train coming along within 10 minutes or less. Now, if I don’t time my arrival at the station just right, that wait could be a half hour, or else I could have a trip with 2 or 3 transfers and even more waiting. It would be nice if I were able to go to and leave work at exact same times every day, but my job is not like that.

  7. Kensensei
    September 23rd, 2012 at 01:14 | #7

    What I like about this post is its insights into how corporate culture still dominate Japanese society.

    Those of us who have lived long-term in Japan take home fond memories of Japanese culture, people and relationships that enhanced our understanding of human nature. Japan opened our eyes to a great deal of cultural possibilities that teach us to re-evaluate our own thoughts and behaviors.

    But this post reminds us of the tenacious, negative forces that permeate Japanese society as well. While most of us are trying to just earn a decent living and do our best to perfect our trade (e.g. teaching skills), we encounter major setbacks by those who throw the whole “harmonious society” image out of balance with their blatant, almost illogical, self-interests.

    And the contrast between the social harmony and the blatant self-interests is so stark that one wonders how the society manages to hold itself together. No one in Japan seems to flinch. They seem to just take it in stride with a shrug and a “Sho ga nai…” under their breath.

    In Afghanistan they throw rocks and have violent protests for days; in the US we see the Occupy Movement spreading from city to city; in Korea and China you see shouting and fist-fighting in the streets. We see graffiti and murals on public buildings here in the Bay Area…

    In Japan, there is calm acceptance by the masses. Not a peep out of the commuters–not even a strike or Boycott.

    The lesson here is: if we want to see some real social changes, we are going to need to make some noise and break a few rules. Most of all, we need a collective voice and means of expressing it.


  8. Troy
    September 23rd, 2012 at 04:41 | #8

    Good points Ken . . . Japan did have massive street demonstrations, but that faded away in the 1970s — I guess the rising prosperity of the 1955-1990 period lifted all boats, so to speak.

    The System is still structured to shaft the masses left and right. We see this with JA — the sclerotic Japanese co-op for farmers that financially abuses them.

    NTT — I still own a ¥60000 bond for my landline like an idiot. That was real money back in the 1980s, and still is thanks to deflation, sigh. I guess that monopoly is finally broken, though.

    Real estate — and if you know me, you know this was next — is the biggest sector that’s screwing everyone the most.

    Everyone’s on the take in that sector — landlords, guarantee companies, estate agents, hell, even UR, even though they’re allegedly losing tons of money in their business ops.

    The one thing about Japan’s declining population though — especially in young people — is that it’s going to gut the rent-seekers in real estate. An empty apartment collects no rent!

    Getting back on point, I found a couple of months ago ridership information for Tokyo, and the numbers were completely surprising — ridership on the Tokyo commuter lines is actually declining . . .

    For 1997, there were ~12.8M passengers at the Hibarigaoka station — but for 2010, it was 12.3M, a 3% decline.

    Instead of starting my own eikaiwa in 1993 what I really wish I had done was make my own food importer for the Tokyo area.

    There’s no good reason food has to be so damn expensive with the yen under 80! Talk about a market being underserved! It never occurred to me that I could build up a business like what the FBC people were doing — but this was prior to the internet, so business opportunities were harder to see, LOL.

  9. Troy
    September 24th, 2012 at 07:41 | #9

    This graph:


    is more blog-spamming but is related to my above post at least.

    This is from the latest population projection and shows total population in red, working-age population in blue, and elderly in green.

    What I find interesting about it is that is shows the senior-age demographic not growing that much more from here — from ~30M to ~40M. That’s a lot — 30% — in relative terms but Japan has gotten most of the surge it’s going to get.

    Unlike the US, where we’re going to rise from 40M in 2010 to 90M by 2050! Yikes!

    The purple Japan working-age area in the above graph is going to fall from the ~85M peak in the late 1990s to 70M by 2030.

    15M disappearing people is more than the entire population of Kyushu!

    I don’t know what this really means for Japan, but it certainly means less ridership!

  10. December 30th, 2012 at 11:47 | #10

    Stumbled upon this post while trying to Google the schedule for Shibuya-bound Fukutoshin trains leaving from Nerima. Can any of you nice folks point me in the right direction?

  11. Luis
    December 30th, 2012 at 13:22 | #11


    Ummm… Google should have done it for you. In any case:


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