When they could have been made with anything, it is kind of surprising to know they’ve been made with plain ol’ Excel.

The Japanese online community was shocked over the weekend to learn that the pristine, expertly designed timetables for trains and buses are made not with some fancy graphic design software, but with plain old Microsoft Excel.

A photograph taken by Twitter user NDR (@ndr_tw) was what rocked the collective Japanese Internet on Saturday. It featured a poster bearing the timetable for the Meitetsu Nagoya Line, which appeared to have its original file name and Excel extension included on the poster on the bottom left-hand corner: “070405 名鉄一宮_名古屋_平_A.xls”. The poster in question, and its filename tag, were spotted at Meitetsu Ichinomiya Station, on the northern outskirts of Nagoya City, in central Japan.

▼ “You made this with Excel?!”

The photo, which quickly garnered almost 100,000 likes and retweets over the weekend, astounded Japanese Twitter users across the country, who were surprised to learn that such an elaborate design could be done in a simple, every day accounting program like Excel:

“Personally it feels weird to think of Excel as being used for anything other than making a numbers spreadsheet.”
“Wow. That’s some skill.”
“I’m shocked! They must be very capable in Excel.”
“You can make something like this in Excel?! Now I want to try!!!”
“I’m going to check all of the timetables at my local stations now.”

Some Japanese netizens even went to look at their own station’s timetables, to find that many of them were also, shockingly, made with Excel. Even bus timetables were created in the simple program!

Others were not so surprised by the news, and many of those replied with statements akin to something like, “Of course it was”:

“I remember days gone by when ticket machines would switch to the Windows desktop sometimes.”
“My Excel instructor loves the program so much that they’ll even use Excel instead of Word when they have to type something up.”
“I can’t think of anything else to make this with than Excel.”
“Excel isn’t just a spreadsheet program, after all. It’s a multipurpose tool for content design, too.”
“If you think about it, as long as you make a basic pattern, anyone can do it.”

Not to be daunted by their negativity, the observant NDR found another mysterious point: the numbers included in the file name. In the first example, the file name includes a set of six numbers (070405), and then the station name (Meitetsu Ichinomiya), the area name (Nagoya), and then the type of timetable (平, hei, for heijitsu, or weekday).

But what puzzled NDR were the numbers. At first they were assumed to be the date in which the timetable was finalized, in YYMMDD format, but that proved false with this example found at Toyohashi Station, also in Nagoya, whose number is 010001, which is an impossible date.

After some poking around, NDR checked out the weekday and weekend timetables at Kaneyama Station on the Meitetsu Inuyama Line, and realized that their numbers were successive, as “030210” and “030211”, respectively.

So perhaps the numbers are just a code for each specific timetable. It’s possible that each digit represents an area, a station, a line, or a kind of timetable, but we don’t work at any train companies, so we couldn’t say for sure. NDR sure didn’t seem to be able to crack the code entirely, but perhaps they won’t stop until they do, as their most recent update on the situation happened on March 18, three days after the initial post.

Nevertheless, this impressive and industrious use of a basic program like Excel to create easy-to-read and visually appealing timetables is a testament to Japanese railways’ ever persistent talent for perfection and efficiency, even if sometimes things do go a little awry.

Source: Twitter/@ndr_tw via Hachima Kiko
Featured Image: Twitter/@ndr_tw