Intense Train ExperienceFollow @gaijinass
We are all going to die.
Anything, it could be a bomb, a fire, an earthquake or just a kitten on the train tracks causing the conductor to apply the emergency brake and that’s it, people die.
I’m on the Yamanote line at, I can’t see my watch but it’s about 7:40 in the morning, and this car is so packed, far beyond “capacity”, that certain doom seems to be a physical thing. It hangs out above all our heads in the only free space left in this cattle car of death.
Doom relaxes and looks down at us snickering.
Certain Doom has a cappuccino and has lit a cigarette.
The Yamanote line services 3.7 million people per day. That’s an incredible amount and it was never designed to do this. In a country obsessed with safety, at least on the surface, it’s clear to me, at this moment, that in fact safety takes a back seat to getting asses injected into this already absurdly filled train car.
Station hands pushing passengers into the car so the doors can slide shut; I’ve seen this before. Station hands having to physically rip the doors open when the train arrives because there’s too much pressure against the glass inside the car; a novelty. Tokyo keeps coming up with ways to terrify and impress me.
Both my hands are raised up, holding onto one of the steel bars cris-crossing the ceiling of the car. Every time the train accelerates away from the previous station, my arms shake as I fight to maintain my grip. The 80% of commuters who are holding on to nothing sway with the mass of everyone and I feel as though I’m supporting the entire weight of the car. It’s a physical and natural force. I’m reminded of the ocean.
I detest commuters that don’t hold on.
As the train reaches it’s cruising speed, the weight shifts off of me and I can breath again. I can’t move, at all, but I can breath. I look down and in front of me, pressed into me, is a girl. She must be fourteen years old and she’s wearing a dark blue sailor suit and has a black leather school bag draped over a shoulder. The top of her head reaches up to my chest.
The train rocks and rolls and continues it’s journey.
The girl in front of me slowly lays her head on my chest. She doesn’t look up at me but she only lays her head slowly on my chest and even if I wanted to, there would be no way for me to push her off.
Another station, Takadanobaba; Station staff tear the door open, people spew forth. People get packed on. Positions shift slightly. I can see the young girl now, still in front of me, literally cheek to cheek due to the angles, with a sixty year old business man who is the same height as her and he’s deeply tanned with distinguished white hair and a dated but impeccably maintained dark blue suit that matches the girls school uniform.
What is it like to be this man? How many times has he ridden this train? How many office meetings has he gone to? How many times has he yelled at his wife or caressed his child’s hair late at night, in the dark? How many affairs has he had and when was the last time he was on this train and smiling, talking to a woman that smiled back at him?
And what’s it like growing up on these trains? I see children everyday in the crowd. Just little kids. What’s it like being an year old girl crushed between bodies that are connected to faces you can’t even see? What does it do to her when she finally realizes that the man was pushing himself against her in a strange way? Does she realize?
Who was that man anyway and where did his life go?
At Shinjuku, finally, and the doors are pulled open by the sentinels and a mass exodus occurs. People come streaming forward shuffling in baby steps onto a platform clogged with other people. Nobody is really moving. The speaker system is repeating commands to stay calm and move slowly and to clear the stairs but the stairs are solidly blocked with people just standing there, waiting to come onto the platform.
A woman two bodies in front of me gets pushed and loses her balance. She falls, catching herself in a very awkward position, one hand on the ground, the other clutching her bag, her ass in the air. She seems unable to get up and everyone is bumping her and shuffling and people are becoming mean.
People are losing their disguises.
I shove someone out of the way and reach the woman just at the top of the stairs and I simply, from behind, wrap my right arm around her waist and lift her up, carrying her down the stairs with me one little step at a time. She’s very light, not much more than the weight of a child. Her body feels tiny and useless, like there is no core to speak of; nothing solid. I can’t imagine existing this way but something tells me that she doesn’t wake up at night in cold sweats after long conversations with dead people.
At the bottom I set her down on her own feet and she looks at me for only a moment and her eyes are red from tears that were filling and she’s in her late 20’s and an utter wallflower. She says “Argatou Gozaimasu. Sumimasen Deshita.” As if it was her fault she couldn’t survive in the mosh pit with the angry salary men and nihilistic 17 year old high school boys and the jaded construction workers and the drunk party girls going home and the foreigner. So, I just walk away from her and pass by the long full line of people waiting to get onto the Yamanote line.
I notice then as I climb the Chuo line stairs toward the platform that it’s largely empty and nobody seems to be around.
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I’m sick of this shit, and I don’t even take the lines at their worst. It will never be possible for me to have no racism against the Japanese nation, I am afraid, so long as I have so much negative input from train experiences. Doesn’t matter that it is not ‘all Japanese’, but it is is enough to make me suspect something deeply wrong in the nation. My country has lots of problems, and maybe enough to make a Japanese there as unable to forgive it as me Japan, but the trains in Japan have too much unforgivable:
– my line is always run 200% or much more, over the capacity of its seats, as they run one quarter the trains after rush hour
– all Japanese girls have been felt up on the train, and I have heard of nobody but a Gaijin, or that cool Judu girl, taking them on
– mouth-breathers with gingivitis
– sneezers who do not cover
– the 80% who are such cocks they don’t hold on (including one lucky she was a woman, yesterday who kept stepping on my feet and looking askance at me)
– the pregnant and old are not even given the seats for the pregnant and the old, unless by children
– the ‘Gaijin-seat’, not because I care anymore, but because they are so feeble
– the way Japanese men spread their knees wide as if they’re flashing or have jock-rot
– the pussiness of Japanese 90lb raging drunks, and that nobody will put them in their place, but if I do I’d get sent to jail
Time for an out-of-country vacation.
Oh, and a way to avoid it is to bike to work if you can. Even if you need a gym membership to get a shower, your life will be much improved.
Thanks for the comments. I generally do not mind the trains because I usually leave early. I think that if you go to work when everyone else does, you have to be prepared for inconvenience. Just like trying to drive in California during rush hour. A 25 minute commute easily takes 2 hours.
This story was unique because it was early, and due to the typhoon the trains were not running properly. But my point is that this obsession with packing people on trains is fucking dangerous. So is rush hour traffic in LA, but for different reasons. Either way both are uncomfortable but frankly I prefer what I’m dealing with here. Otherwise I’d leave.
I hate crowds. I am not normally claustrophobic, but in crowds I have it in spades. Sometimes crowds send me into an asthma attack, sometimes a panic attack, and often I get violent when stuck in crowds.
I have always imagined that crowds in Japan wouldn’t do this to me. The size of the people, the lack of noise, their mental states and basic psychology are all things that would relax me. As I read your post it sounded like something that would be fun if drunk, or needlessly medicated : ) !
Then the part towards the end where they get mean. That is where I would suddenly be in a bad place and very likely to do bad things. The psychology of the people and lack of sensless noise would keep it from being like me and crowds anywhere else, but my deviant side would kick in. People would be getting hurt as long as I could do it so that no one could connect it back to me.
At the same time, I connected with saving the woman. I would have tried to save her. I doubt I would have succeeded, as I would have to be in that situation to really know if I could. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was innocent and helpless (normally that makes me want to hurt people, but a helpless Japanese woman needs saving), and she was trying to hold onto her purse while not losing balance and all against a mass bent on crushing her. I feel that way sometimes. Helpless against a mass; although I do own a man purse, but have never had to hold on to it desperately. The woman would have suddenly become the only important thing, the only thing that existed…a helpless Japanese woman in danger.
Anyway great article. It reitterates what they have been saying about Tokyo in Japan since it was Edo. It is also why I would never want to be there long term. A week or two stay just for fun and then off to more Japanese parts of Japan. If I ever did make it as a Director it would be nice too own a penthouse on top of a Tokyo skyscraper and have it there just to stay in whenever I was in Tokyo on business or a layover between planes.
I drive everyday to work here in okinawa if i dont hit the road before 5pm i am fucked in rush hour traffic X_X
the locals are such awesome drivers as well 😛
imagine the ditzy 20 year olds on bikes with cellphones in tokyo now imagine them behind the wheel of a 2 ton piece of steel i wonder how i make it back alive every day 0_0
Beware and own a machine gun.
Is an illusion in many many cases over here.
I can’t count how many times I have seen a van full of kids bouncing everywhere without seatbelts….multiple fatality single vehicle accidents are not uncommon for a reason over here.
Seatbelts, what about helmets? How does this country get away without every cyclist having a skull fracture?
True. I had to put the seat belt on my kid last time as we were driving around, IN THE RAIN, and his mom doesn’t seem to mind.
nah you should see the guys ride on scooters like they are invincible and have the cold hard truth slam them head on at 70kmh , some nasty shit but happens often ：（
This shit is unsatisfactory. Hence Aum’s interest. The easiest terror target I have EVER SEEN.
During my vacation up there, I was lucky to avoid the hard prime times like that, but this would be yet another reason to longboard to work whenever I move up there. It may be a crowded and shitty environment at times, but at least the city truly never sleeps and has plenty of good moments.