Watch Tokyo come alive with this real-time map of its transit system

by John Stapel

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isometric view of Tokyo transit lines near the bay with 3D building models
(Image credit: Akihiko Kusanagi)

At 4:44 AM Tokyo time (nearly three in the afternoon here in Chicago) I am glued to my screen: a green block has just passed the map icon for the live feed I'm watching, and I'm curious what the time delay is. Seconds pass, and no train comes into view. At around 4:46 a Yamanote line train speeds past on the YouTube stream. Two minute delay—not bad for half a world away.

Mini Tokyo 3D (opens in new tab) is a project by Japanese developer Akihiko Kusanagi (opens in new tab) . The website presents a Google  Maps-style 3D view of Tokyo paired with live data from its world famous transit system, letting you follow along with subway trains in real time. The site also collects 19 24-hour broadcasts from YouTube and matches them with their locations on the map, letting you zoom in on the street views of various locations along Tokyo's transit lines. Mini Tokyo 3D also tracks incoming and outgoing flights in the city's airspace, and you can lock the camera to follow individual trains and planes on their paths.

The result is greater than the sum of its parts—honestly, it took my breath away and feels like a rare argument justifying the internet these days (in addition to talking about PC games, its one true purpose). I watched a couple of utility workers finish up a job near one of the stations in the predawn gloom before clicking over to a more scenic spot to catch the sunrise in a city I've never been to. All the while, I could see Tokyo come alive on the real time map as the first morning trains began to run.

Mini Tokyo 3D reminds me of the innocent joy Google Earth evoked 15 years ago, when just zooming in on the minutiae of some random part of the world was exciting. It's a project that's charmed and strangely moved me, and it's also completely free. Mini Tokyo 3D has no ads, no requests that you like and subscribe or make an account. It asks nothing of you. It is simply an expression of one person's hobby, left out there for all to enjoy through the magic of the internet.

But enough of me banging on about it—why not put on some relaxing music and see what's going on near Takaosanguchi station (opens in new tab) ? It's a beautiful Saturday.

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.