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05/15/2015

THE WORLD’S SHORTEST ESCALATOR

I believe there’s a saying that goes, “it’s the small things.”

With the overwhelming number of big, bombastic recreational sites and events available around Japan, a lot of the smaller and lower-key things tend to get lost in the shadows. For example, everybody flocks to Sapporo during the winter for the city’s annual snow festival, which all the travel websites on the internet rave about. Few know about the Otaru Snow Festival in the neighboring city of Otaru, which sees a mere fraction of the Sapporo Snow Festival’s attendance each year. Personally, I found Otaru’s more soft-spoken and prettily-lit winter festivities much more appealing (I’d stumbled upon the knowledge of its existence purely by chance). After that day, I made it a point to always try my best to find the more obscure attractions each time I travel to a place, to explore worlds yet unexplored in Japan. With that in mind, I remember a time when I found myself especially tired of big festivals and museums. The desire to travel still lingering in my heart, however, I embarked upon a daytrip to a certain location in Japan I’d accidentally come across whilst loafing around on the internet: an escalator in the basement of a department store in Kawasaki, which also happened to be the world’s smallest escalator.

This was a trip which I had actually planned out. “Next week on Saturday, you and I are going to the world’s smallest escalator,” I’d told my friend, Chieko, who enthusiastically agreed to accompany me on this seemingly pointless adventure. Yes, I was perfectly aware of what I was doing: We were about to spend an hour on the train to get to a 5-step escalator. And the journey did turn out as quaint as it sounds. But there was something very refreshing about not heading to some festival, or a famous garden, or a historically-significant museum for once – it was just an escalator, located in perhaps one of Japan’s most inconspicuous places!

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I remember feeling a very comical brand of elation once we arrived at the basement of More’s Department Store, home to – according to the Guinness Book of Records – the “world’s shortest escalator.” The place wasn’t set up like any sort of tourist destination at all; shoppers were either using it like it was just another escalator, or walking right past it. There was no line to use it, no guard, which was good, because it meant I got to ride it about seven times in a row before I had to yield to the occasional passerby. Here’s what I managed to learn about it all on my own: it’s a five-step, downward escalator, and the entire trip takes about five seconds – one second per step. There’s a McDonald’s on the floor above, so you don’t have to worry about getting hungry during your visit. It’s also just a short train ride from Tokyo, making it a very convenient daytrip location if you’re leaving from Matsudo Station, so no need to book any hotels in the area in advance; I spent nearly twenty whole minutes riding up and down the escalator, and still made it home at a good time, even though I had left in the afternoon.

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Of course, with all that said, it’s pretty clear that this experience was valuable mostly due to its comical novelty. But I’d really like to drive home the point that Japanese culture isn’t defined solely by its many grandiloquent locations and events. Japan is also unique on the “smaller,” everyday-scale: the gratuitous number of vending machines, talking toilets from the future, high-tech bicycle racks, shopping mall escalators, etc. These are things which are probably very banal features of life to the local Japanese, but to those who look at this culture through their own cultural lenses, these features become very interesting. That little escalator in Kawasaki will forever hold a special place in my heart.

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