See Tokyo come to life with this real-time map of its transit system

At 4:44 a.m. Tokyo time (almost three in the afternoon here in Chicago), I’m glued to the screen: a green tile has just passed the map icon of the live feed I’m watching, and I’m curious to know what time it is late. Seconds pass and no train appears. At around 4:46 a.m., a train on the Yamanote line passes at high speed on the YouTube stream. Two minutes late—not bad for half a world away.

Mini Tokyo 3D (opens in new tab) is a Japanese developer project Akihiko Kusanagi (opens in new tab). The site features a 3D Google Maps-style view of Tokyo combined with live data from its world-famous transit system, allowing you to track subway trains in real-time. The site also collects 19 24-hour YouTube streams and compares them to their locations on the map, allowing you to zoom in on street views of various locations along Tokyo’s transit lines. Mini Tokyo 3D also tracks inbound and outbound flights in the city’s airspace, and you can lock the camera to follow individual trains and planes on their way.

The result is greater than the sum of its parts – it honestly took my breath away and seems like a rare argument justifying the internet these days (aside from talking about PC gaming, its true purpose). I watched some utility workers finish a job near one of the stations in the predawn twilight before clicking on a more picturesque spot to catch the sunrise in a city I’d never been to. All the while, I could see Tokyo come to life on the map in real time as the first trains in the morning started running.

Mini Tokyo 3D reminds me of the innocent joy that Google Earth evoked 15 years ago, when just zooming in on the minutiae of some random part of the world was exhilarating. It’s a project that enchanted and touched me strangely, in addition to being completely free. Mini Tokyo 3D has no ads, no requests that you like and sign up or make an account. It doesn’t ask for anything from you. It is simply an expression of a person’s hobby, left there for everyone to enjoy through the magic of the internet.

But enough about that – why not put on some relaxing music and see what’s going on nearby. Takaosanguchi Station (opens in new tab)? It’s a beautiful Saturday.

Leave a Comment