Curses! Once again sekicho the supernoder has beaten me to it. But this time I shall bury him with an avalanche of obscure trivia...

Obscure Technical Trivia

Strictly speaking, the Yurikamome is not a monorail: the elevated concrete track does look monoraily at first glance, but the track is actually just a funnel and the trains are supported by two rows of rubber wheels. The rail in the center of the track serves only to guide the train, not support it, so it doesn't qualify as a monorail. These contraptions are usually dubbed Automated Guideway Transit or AGT in English, but the Japanese for once despaired of converting that to katakana, and hence the full name is simply ゆりかもめ新交通 (Yurikamome Shin-Kôtsû), literally translated to English as "Yurikamome New Transport".

And then there's the first part of "AGT": the Yurikamome is Tokyo's first fully automated transit system, controlled entirely by computers with no drivers on board. This is actually not even particularly new technology -- Japan's first AGT, Kobe's Port Liner, opened in 1981, 14 years before the Yurikamome -- but it still surprises many a tourist.

Obscure Historioeconomical Trivia

Before its 1995 opening, it was widely feared that the Yurikamome would end up being yet another multibillion-yen boondoggle. The artificial island of Odaiba, which it serves, had been designed and constructed at prodigeous expense before Japan's economic crash and, much like London's equally beleaguered Canary Wharf, there simply didn't seem to be enough demand to support it.

The first few months of operation provided a slight sigh of relief, as ridership hovered around 27000 passengers per day, only a little less than the predicted 29000... but still far, far less than the 80000 pax needed to be profitable. However, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was for once on the ball, and in 1996 Odaiba was rezoned from pure business and residential to also permit entertainment zones.

Tokyo may be next to the sea on the map, but before Odaiba, effectively the entire coastline had been taken over by an endless concrete strip of ports and warehouses. Promoted as the Rainbow Town, the island provided Tokyo with a strip of liveable seaside, and it became an instant hit. Within one year, ridership doubled to 60000, and as more and more of the restaurants, shopping malls, exhibition centers and museums listed in sekicho's writeup opened, the traffic kept growing and growing. On May 4th 1997, during Golden Week, the system was completely maxed out when 130,000 people tried to board in a single day.

And it wasn't just the island that they were going to, the Yurikamome had become an attraction in itself. To hoist itself from sea level to the Rainbow Bridge, the Yurikamome does a rather spectacular 270-degree loop, providing panoramic views of both mainland Tokyo and Odaiba. Easily accessible and comfortable despite its technological prowess, most islandgoers continue to opt for the Yurikamome despite its high price, with the fares of 180 to 370 yen of being nearly twice that of a normal subway.

In the end it turned out that the white elephant was not the Yurikamome but its competitor, the Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit aka Rinkai-Fukutoshin (臨海副都心) heavy subway line, designed to be Odaiba's primary lifeline, which tunneled through the seabed at nearly twice the price of the Yurikamome -- only to connect the dingy suburb of Shin-Kiba to the equally dingy suburb of Osaki. Since no leisure traveller in their right mind will opt for it, the TWR has been reduced to angling for commuter traffic between Chiba and Yokohama.

Forward to the Future

The Yurikamome's future looks bright: at over 100,000 passengers per day, the Yurikamome is making a net profit and will pay off its loans in full faster than the 20 years originally anticipated. Operating frequency, hours of operation and number of trainsets have been continually revised upwards to accommodate for the ever-increasing number of passengers.

Not content to rest on its laurels, there is now construction in progress to extend the line from its current terminus in Ariake to Toyosu on the Yurakucho subway line... which, incidentally, will steal even more of the Rinkai line's few passengers. Construction is expected to be complete in 2005.


Personal experience (official page) (slightly outdated but fascinating survey)