Subway Pushers of Japan

The Japanese rail network is known throughout the world for its superiority and punctuality. In the capital city Tokyo, nearly 40 million passengers ride the rail every day, heavily outweighing other modes of transport like buses and private cars. Of these, 22% or 8.7 million take the subway.

The Tokyo subway network is a transportation marvel. On most lines, trains come every 5 minutes apart, on average, and during peak times, they tend to run every 2-3 minutes. That’s about 24 trains per hour going in one direction. Despite so many trains, the subway is extremely overcrowded, especially during rush hour. This page from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has data (from 2007) detailing the level of congestion at different stations of Tokyo’s subway. As you can see, nearly all of them run at over capacity with a few running at 200% over rated capacity.

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"Oshiya" or "pushers" at Tokyo's Shinjuku station trying to pack as many passengers as possible into the carriages during rush hour in 1967. Photo credit: CNN

In order to fit twice the number of passengers into a subway carriage, the stations employ uniformed staff known as oshiya or “pusher”, whose goal is to cram as many people as possible into the subway tram. These white glove-wearing personal actually pushes people into the train, so the doors can be shut. This is so surreal, it has to be seen to be believed.

Campo Del Cielo Meteorite Field

About 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, a huge chunk of space rock fell in Argentina, but it didn’t fell in one piece. It broke up as it entered the earth’s atmosphere creating a meteorite shower with pieces ranging from a few grams to several tons. Most of the larger fragments fell over a narrow belt of land several square kilometers of area now known as the Campo del Cielo meteorite field. The site is located on the border between the provinces of Chaco and Santiago del Estero, 1,000 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires.

The impact left at least twenty-six craters inside Campo del Cielo —an area about 3 km wide and some 18.5 km long. The largest measures about 115 meters across. Some meteorite fragments punched deep holes into the earth, as in the case of a 14-ton meteorite that created a tunnel 25 meters long and 8 meters deep. These rocks are estimated to have struck the surface at 14,400 kilometers an hour.

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Photo credit: Valmice Vieira/Panoramio

Monument to The Conquerors of Space

In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union was way ahead of the United States in the space race. They launched the first artificial satellite of earth, Sputnik 1, in 1957 and then launched the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. To celebrate the two great victories and the achievement of the Soviet Union in space exploration, the Russians decided to erect something big. Indeed, plans for a monument had begun three years before Yuri Gagarin even left earth.

In March 1958, just five months after the successful launch of Sputnik 1, a design competition was organized. After sorting through more than 350 submissions, the design that was chosen and finally built is that of a large obelisk depicting an exhaust plume. At its apex is a rocket. The monument is 110 meters tall, and leans on to one side at an angle of 77°. It is cladded by a suit of titanium —a metal of high tensile strength and high resistance to corrosion. In fact, many critically structural parts of spaceships are made of alloy of this very metal.

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Photo credit: jaime.silva/Flickr (left), reibai/Flickr (right)

The Dead Cities of Syria

Scattered across the vast Limestone Massif, in the northwest of Syria, between the Orontes and Afrin Rivers to the west and the Aleppo/Hama highway to the east, are more than 700 abandoned settlements of Roman and Byzantium era dating back to the 5th and 8th centuries. These so called “Dead Cities” —a name given by some early European explorers— exist in a remarkable state of preservation. Largely intact are buildings and houses, hundreds of pagan temples, churches and Christian sanctuaries, funerary monuments, bathhouses, and more.

These villages or towns were once major agricultural producers of wheat, olives, olive oil, grapes and wine. Then the climate changed. Drought and increased temperature caused the land to become unproductive. At the same time, conquest by the Arabs changed trade routes and these villages lost the majority of the business. Eventually, the villages were abandoned and the settlers headed for other cities that were flourishing under the Arabs.

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Photo credit: Shane Horan/Flickr

Sperrgebiet: The National Park You Can’t Visit

In southwestern Namibia lies a vast area that’s been off-limits to visitors for more than a century. It stretches along the Namibian coast for a distance of 320 km starting from the South African border at Oranjemund to around 72 km north of Lüderitz. This region is known as Sperrgebiet, which is German for "Prohibited Area".

Sperrgebiet was created by the German Empire in the beginning of the 20th century during the German occupation of South-West Africa to allow the Deutsche Diamantengesellschaft, or German Diamond Company, unrestricted access to the vast diamond deposits in the area. After the Germans lost control of the territory to South Africa during World War 1, mining rights were taken over by DeBeers, who had control of the area until the 1990s, when the Namibian government purchased a fifty percent stake.

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A warning sign at Sperrgebiet. Photo credit: jbdodane/Flickr

Artist Creates Record-Breaking Mural For Rio Olympics

While athletes compete for various titles at Rio’s ongoing Olympic Games, one Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra is attempting to enter the Guinness World Record for the largest mural created. Painted on the walls of a formerly abandoned warehouse in Rio, the mural, entitled “Etnias”, covers more than 3,000 square meters and stretches 109 meters. The brightly colored artwork portrays the faces of five indigenous men and women from five continents —a concept that was based on the five Olympic Rings.

Approximately 100 gallons of white paint, 1,500 liters of colored paint, and at least 3,500 cans of spray paint were used to complete the composition, which took Kobra’s team two months working for at least 12 hours a day.

If Kobra’s entry is accepted, it will beat the current-record holder Mexican artist Ernesto Rocha’s mural by nearly twice the size.

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Faro a Colon: The Columbus Lighthouse

In Santo Domingo Este of Dominican Republic, is a towering monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus. It’s called “Faro a Colon”, which is Spanish for “Columbus Lighthouse”, so named because of its powerful lighting system consisting up nearly 150 searchlight beams that project a gigantic cross in the sky. The beams are so powerful that they can be seen as far away as Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, when the 70-kilowatt beams are turned on it causes a power blackout in the immediate neighborhood, which is why they are rarely switched on.

There is another thing that makes Faro a Colon a special attraction: it is purported to contain the remains of Christopher Columbus, a claim that is, however, challenged by the Cathedral of Seville, in Spain.

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Photo credit: Nicolás Lope de Barrios/Flickr

Inside Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market: The World’s Biggest Fish Market

Sandwiched between Sumida River and the upmarket Ginza shopping district, in Tsukiji in central Tokyo, is a large wholesale market for fruits, vegetables, flowers and meat, but it’s fish and seafood for which Tsukiji is most famous for. Everyday about 2,000 metric tons of seafood passes through the market everyday. It is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind.

Tokyo’s earliest fish market, named Uogashi, was established on the bank of Nihonbashi River during the 16th century as a place to sell leftover fish that were not bought by the Edo Castle, the royal residence of the shogun. At that time, Tokyo was known by its former name Edo. As the city grew, so did Uogashi until it developed into a large-scale wholesale market.

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Photo credit: Stewart Butterfield/Flickr

Girard Henderson’s Luxurious Cold War Era Underground Bomb Shelter

During the Cold War, the US government launched a country-wide effort to prepare its citizens for a possible thermonuclear war. Children were taught at school to duck under desks and families were instructed to build fallout shelters and stock food. Some Americans took these suggestions very seriously. Among them was businessman Girard Brown (Jerry) Henderson.

Henderson constructed a luxurious fallout shelter at his home in Las Vegas, 26 feet underground. It was built for comfort, fitted with swimming pools, a sauna, a garden with fountains and waterfalls, a mini gold course, and even a barbeque hidden inside an artificial rock. Instead of running for cover when the bomb hit, Henderson figured it would easier and safer to live there at all times.

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Survivor Trees Around The World

Every now and then, a calamity —either natural or man-made— strikes humanity and just when it appears that no living being could survive the catastrophe, out comes a tree standing brave and resilient among the ruins. There are countless examples of trees that have emerged survivors of disastrous events. They are locally revered as symbols of hope, and cherished for reflecting the courage and spirit of the affected communities. Thanks to the wide coverage by the media, some have found fame and respect beyond their geographical and political boundaries. Let us look at some of these so called “Survivor Trees”.

Callery Pear: 9/11 Survivor

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The Survivor Tree blooms as spring arrives. Photo credit: 911memorialmuseum.tumblr.com