With its hundreds of exits, dozens of train platforms, and millions of daily passengers rushing every which way, Tokyo’s Shinjuku station can confuse even local residents who use it on a regular basis. International visitors become easily lost or disoriented in what’s been ranked the world’s busiest station, with about 3.6 million daily passengers.
Help is at hand, however. This week East Japan Railway unveiled a smartphone app specifically for navigating Shinjuku station, available in English and Japanese. The company, which has a large presence at the station, aims to have a final version ready by next spring, well ahead of Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Using Wi-Fi and other tracking systems, the app—currently in beta—determines where a passenger is, including on which floor, and then offers the best route to the destination (at least the destination within the train station). Anyone who’s been dazed and confused in Shinjuku station knows what a godsend this could be. One of the transit hub’s many confusing aspects is that it hosts not just East Japan Railway (which alone served 478,000 passengers per day at the station in 2014), but a handful of other railway operators, too—all using their own systems and signage.
It’s another example of the confusion that international tourists can face in Japan. Prime minister Shinzo Abe wants to make tourism a key engine driving economic growth. The nation has indeed enjoyed considerable success in luring more visitors in recent years.
But it still has plenty of work ahead in terms of helping visitors after they’ve arrived. Most of Japan’s cash machines are useless to foreigners, for example, because they evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world. Tokyo is also short on regular hotel rooms, which has forced some visitors to stay in corporate offices converted into hostels instead. (Japan is trying to shoo visitors away from congested Tokyo and other hotspots and into the nation’s less crowded destinations, such as the bucolic Shizuoka prefecture.)
Of course, a navigational app for Shinjuku station probably should have been offered years ago. But for anyone who’s been lost and bewildered in the transit hub’s frenetic corridors, its debut no doubt will be a step in the right direction.