Tiny timetable books are packed with info about how to get from point A to point B by rail.

Japan has an amazingly large number of train lines, but navigating them is pretty simple. Just whip out your phone and head to one of the many rail navigation websites or open their corresponding app, type in the station you want to start at and the one you want to go to, and you’ll get detailed, down-to-the-minute instructions of which trains to take and where to transfer, if need be, along the way.

But what did people in Japan do before they had smartphones? If you were going somewhere close and weren’t too picky about when you got there, you could use the map at the station ticket gate. If you were headed somewhere outside the nearby area, though, or if you needed more detailed info when you were going to arrive, you needed to consult a timetable book, which looked like this.

Timetable books are combination map/schedule books, showing lines, stations, and the departure and arrival times for their associated trains. If you wanted to go from, say. Takadanobaba Station in Tokyo to Hakone Yumoto Station in Kanagawa Prefecture on a Saturday, and get there by 11:30 a.m., you’d look at the map to see which stations you’d need to transfer at along the way. Then you’d work backwards from the end of the route, checking for the latest arrival to Hakone Yumoto that’s still before 11:30, tracing that train back to the station where you’d transfer to it, and so on until you had the departure time you needed for the first train you’d be taking from Takadanobaba.

▼ A train timetable book map

This, as you can probably imagine, made planning a train route into a bit of a project, and a lot of people are happy for the convenience of letting their phone do the work for them in a matter of seconds. For many, though, there’s a strong sense of nostalgia for flipping through the pages of a timetable book and mentally making the trip, adding to the anticipation of doing it real afterwards, which is why Japan’s newest gachapon capsule toys are miniature reproduction timetable books.

These aren’t strictly decorative replicas, either. They’re actual reprintings of four timetable books put out by publisher Kotsu Shimbunsha, which still produces full-size timetable books too.

The capsule toy lineup consists of four books, all covering JR/Japan Railways lines and which have a special cachet for collectors. The one we got was the Commemorative 600th Edition, which also marked the then-50th anniversary of Kotsu Shimbunsha’s JR timetable book series, and was published in April of 2013. The other potential prizes from the gacha machine are the editions from April 1987 (commemorating the formation of Japan Railways), October 2022 (celebrating the 150-year anniversary of the opening of Japan’s first passenger rail line, from Shimbashi to Yokohama), and May 2023 (the JR timetable book series’ 60th anniversary).

At a little less than four centimeters (1.6 inches) wide, the capsule toy books are certainly tiny, but they’re still cool to look through while daydreaming about how you’d hop from station to station and explore Japan.

Each book is an impressive 106 pages, and priced at 500yen (US$3.25) they make for cool little souvenirs for rail fans and general travel buffs alike.

Photos ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]