In Hindsight ‘Densha De Go!’ ion December 2020.
I don’t remember much about this one, though the title is a play on the name of an arcade game which came out around the same time, and made it onto consoles. As far as I know the series is still going, and has something of a cult following. It is true still though that I still see more stress and resentment surface on the trains than in any other aspect of life in Japan.
Densha De Go!
OK, OK, so I’ve written 2 ‘humourous’ articles about Japanese trains, so some might wonder why, and others may ask what these Japanese trains are all about. Well, I’ve spent a lot of time on trains here, both on the Odakyu Line running from Odawara to Tokyo, and the Chiyoda subway line which runs from south-west Tokyo to north-east Tokyo, and on these trains, there are usually a lot of people. In a small space. It’s kind of like a compression of things - people forced to be stood right up close to each other at the worst times of days - first thing in the morning, and late at night. It’s a good way to see people.
Firstly, what many people have heard about the trains is they’re punctual, yet busy, and this is pretty much true (some people claim that they’re not as reliable as they were, but to be honest, I haven’t really noticed). The other thing is that they show interesting parts of a society - both positive and negative.
Firstly, going by train is easily the most common type of transportation - fast, regular and generally efficient. Completely opposite to the slow, poorly sign-posted road system. If you want to go a long way in a car here and don’t like to drive through the night, go by train.
Trains here are clean. No chewing gum, papers all over the floor (they’re neatly folded on the baggage racks) or rubbish generally. They also have more adverts per square inch than virtually any other place in the universe.
As Japan has a mostly private rail system, things are divided by line, though the nationalised JR run many of the Tokyo lines. However, it is still easily possible to buy a single ticket and change from line to line. Indeed, colour of uniform and trains aside, it’s often difficult to tell that you have switched from one company’s track to another. If like me, you’re colour blind, be careful - everything is colour coded, which can be a problem like at Tokyo station when you have about 15 different tracks, which all seem to use the same ‘green’ colour :).
Stations are well manned and generally well kept, although a few look a bit dirty now - nowhere near as bad as your average deserted British station.
When trains get busy, you’ll be crushed up against a pretty good selection of people! It’s mostly salarymen on the trains I travel on to work. Usually, this is situation is dealt with by the locals by just closing their eyes and ‘resting’ (or sleeping stood up, which is well possible with the literal support of your fellow travellers). Personally, if I don’t have something to read on my Palm, I like to read all the adverts and do a bit of language study!
On the negative side, I’ve seen more arguments and fights on trains than in any other situations - now let me put that in context - 3 physical incidents in 6 months where punches were thrown, and contrary to what the Japanese may have you believe - all these incidents purely involved Japanese people (though many other incidents, they involve drunk foreigners - allegedly).