It’s a sign of the times as sign loved for its sound and style gets swept aside for more modern alternative.

There are two seemingly conflicting aspects to being a rail fan in Japan. On one hand, any new train or station is instantly something enthusiasts want to check out, but older technology and facilities that are still in use are also seen as valuable cultural assets that connect the past and present.

So a lot of Tokyo-area tetsuota (as rail fans are called in Japanese) are feeling blue right now, as rail operator Keikyu says that it’ll be retiring the last of its “pata pata signs,” the one on the platform of Keikyu Kawasaki Station.

Officially called a flap-style sign, the pata pata sign gets its nickname from the rapid clacking as its display placards flip over in order to display the departure times and destinations of the next trains. When Keikyu Kawasaki Station’s pata pata sign was first installed on Christmas Day, 1986, it was a slick way to quickly switch up the information necessary to guide passengers on their way into Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station, down to Yokohama, out to Haneda airport, or anywhere else on the Keikyu Lines.

▼ This slow motion shows how the sign works. Since each piece of information is made up of two sections that flip over, as opposed to a solid, rotating block, they make the distinct “pata pata” noise.

Technology marches on, though. In February, Kawasaki’s pata pata sign will meet the fate of that Keikyu’s pata pata signs at its other stations already have and be replaced by an LED display that’s more flexible, easier to update, and, incidentally, quieter. But there’s a nostalgic appeal to the pata pata mechanism, plus a bit of fun suspense in the drumroll-like moment its switches take, compared to a digital alternative. So when Keikyu announced on Wednesday that the end of the line for its last pata pata sign is coming in February, Twitter commenters didn’t try to hide their sadness.

“What? The pata pata sign is retiring?”
“Sign of the times.”
“I loved watching it spin around and thinking ‘I wonder what’s gonna come up.’”
“It felt like waiting for the reveal of a top 10 list.”
“So sad to see another piece of the Showa Era [1926-1989] fade away.”
“I’m really going to miss that sound.”
“It wasn’t that long ago that Kekyu got rid of its pata pata sign at Yokohama Station, and now this.”

For its part, Keikyu realizes that fans are going to be sad to see the sign go, and so they’ve begun putting up farewell posters saying “I’m sad I won’t be able to see you all any longer” and “Please come see the pata pata sign one last time.”

To help ease the pain, Keikyu will also be selling pata pata sign memorial keychains, magnets, and other memorabilia, and a special late-Nlnight tour will be held after the last train of the night on February 4 with a guide explaining how the sign worked and displaying whatever combination of information participants request.

As for what will happen to the sign itself, Keikyu hasn’t announced any concrete plans, but the company does have its own rail museum, so even if fans can’t see the sign at work, they might still be able to see it in its eventual retirement home.

Source: Keikyu via Hachima Kikou, Mainichi Shimbun
Images: Keikyu

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