Oct 6, 2017
Surviving in Japan is often tough. Sometimes it`s the workplace. Often it`s the home life that drains your soul. But many forget the place in between places that can reduce the hardest salaryman to a quivering hulk. The land of the commute!
It is crowded. You are getting on the train. You spot a seat. So do twenty other people. Who should get it? Here comes the magical point system where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. Take into account everything. The weather, your desperation, fatigue, how the other passenger looks etc. You calculate your points, weigh and measure and ultimately decide that yes, you deserve the seat. You wait the polite 5 seconds and nonchalantly claim your throne.
The thing is, if someone doesn’t follow the rules (the totally fair ones you made up in your head) and ‘steals’ your seat, it can easily ruin your day. How dare they not know I had a heavy breakfast and therefore need to sit down? Do they to know how far my house is from the station? And the old classic “I saw it first”.
Going early means arriving way early. Going on time means barely making it. Difference? More people to mess up your plans. Elevator waiting time, waiting in line, navigating through crowds etc all compound. This doesn’t happen if you leave early, but you will feel like you wasted your time because that extra half hour you suddenly have could have been used for more sleep.
Unclaimed seats are another thing that you’ll see on your journey. People rush into the train. Some will climb over twenty people to get a seat, but once every blue moon, there will be an empty seat or two totally unguarded, like they are invisible. The group mentality tells you that you shouldn’t take the seat. There must be something wrong with it if no one is sitting down. There’s an odd standstill in the train where everybody actively and purposefully ignores the seat. It is the elephant in the room. It is screaming for attention, yet no one dares put their behinds on that soft surface, lest something terrible happens. It becomes a test of will. A game where if you sit down, you lose.
The problem with that is on the next stop, a new game starts. New players enter the field and they don’t know the rules. They haven’t suffered the way you have. They haven’t lived the Great Seat Fiasco of 5 minutes ago. Therefore, they will take the seat without any regard to anyone but themselves and the game comes to an end.
The clump of people near the doors vs the middle of the car is somehow a proof that we are nothing but sardines to the people in charge. No regard to anything but the most immediate surroundings. You come in, find an empty spot to stand and you stay there until you get out. No brainpower, no overthinking, simple like life should be.
And the train is packed too. There are station staff pushing people on the train so the doors close. It is a terrible mess and you are glad you made it in. Backsides pushing against front sides pushing against backpacks and your body becomes part of the oneness. Singularity has occurred and it is in the form of twenty sweaty salarymen.
When you finally get to your station and push out of the madness, you take one remorseful look back as the doors close. You had become intimate with these people. You were them and they were you. You look as the train starts moving again and you glance at the middle of the card where, actually there was plenty of space! The area around the door creates a sort of constipation, where people gather but are unable to move further inside the cart, because there’s this one other guy blocking the way. Then another person comes and another and another until we get into the aforementioned cornucopia of love.
Keep these points in mind when riding the train and you too will be ready for the daily madness that is the Japanese commute lifestyle.
Most of the problems with crowded trains and their stations comes from logistics. People need to be more coordinated, more in line with each other. Japan is lucky to have such an amazing social system where most people follow the manner rules of properly forming a line, not talking etc. But there is always room for improvement.
Once we get those futuristic smart glasses, I foresee applications where you can anticipate people`s movements. People will be assigned places on the trains in order of how far they are going and how beneficial it will be for everybody (see above magical points system).
It’s still better than driving.