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Living In Japan: Troubleshooting Common Train Problems


Without doubt, Japan can boast loudly and proudly about having one of the best train systems in the world.  But I'm a worse person for it.  The regularity and reliability of trains over here has turned this writer into something of a spoilt brat.  It used to be that I could patiently wait twenty minutes or more for a train to show up.  Years of being lavished with impeccable service in Japan though, have reduced my patience levels to that of a hyperactive child.  Waiting more than five minutes has become torture!


Whilst this is something of a personal issue, as good as train systems are over here, commuters can (and will) be exposed to problems.


What we want to look at here are ways of troubleshooting common train problems, together with the language needed to exercise them.


Delayed Train, Late For Work


Delays are pretty common.  They may often be only for one minute but given that many commuters rely on precision punctuality to catch connecting services, such a delay can really mess things up.


Common causes and signs/announcements to look/listen out for ...


Earthquake: 地震の影響/jishin no eikyou / as a result of an earthquake


Personal Accident:  人身事故 / jinshin jiko / an accident involving people (often someone jumping in front of a train)


Signal Trouble:  信号トラブル / shingou toraburu / signal trouble


Some lines, particularly those above ground, are vulnerable to the weather.  My local line is a classic case in point; any kind of adverse weather and you can pretty much guarantee delays.  Still, it's reliability of a kind, I guess!


If the delay causes you to be late for work, you can pick up a special slip from the train station office.  It's called a 遅延証明書 / chien shoumeisho.  The attendant will ask you for your departure station and stamp the slip according to how long the train was delayed. They will also indicate the date.  These are usually issued for delays of over five minutes. Hand the slip over to your boss as you offer your apologies and you'll be straight back into their good books!


If you need one, ask at the window by the ticket gates …


遅延証明書お願いします/ Chien shoumeisho onegaishimasu! / May I have a train delay slip?


Lost Your Ticket 


Nobody uses tickets any more do they, grandad?!  Well, they are becoming less common, but first-timers/temporary visitors will probably have to handle the fiddly bits of card at some point.  Luckily, Japan isn't burdened by draconian penalties for riding without a ticket. However, said item is really small and easy to misplace.  Should you arrive at a station only to find your ticket hasn't arrived with you, you've two choices; try to force your way through the gates anyway or be honest and fess up to the attendant behind the window next to the gates.  Here’s what you need to say …


切符をなくしてしまいました / kippu wo nakushite shimaimashita / My ticket has gone missing.


You’ll be asked where you started your journey …


どこから乗りましたか / doko kara norimashitaka?


At very worst you'll be met with a tired warning to be more careful next time.  You’ll not have to buy a new ticket.


The Ticket Gate’s Swallowed My … Ticket!


With two sets of gates to go through and a combination of tickets and commuter cards in play, getting to a Shinkansen platform can cause a bit of confusion.  Well, for me at least! Case in point, entering the station, I went ticket-first, scanned my pass, then there was some red-light flashing, too much hesitation on my part, not nearly enough action on the part of a miserable station worker, and finally my protruding ticket got sucked back into the gate.  At the time I couldn’t think of how to say, My ticket got sucked back into the gate!. Now I understand that that’s not what one would say anyway …


切符出てこなかった / kippu dete konakatta / My ticket didn’t come out!



Problem With The Commuter Pass Upon Arrival


Sometimes those ticket gates don't close quickly enough.  You've scanned your pass and gotten through but did you see a flash of red?  What was that unusual ring you heard?  Did my pass scan properly?  Was it me?  Was it the person in front or behind?  Screw it!  I'm through now.  I'll just have to endure an annoying journey plagued by the prospect of looking stupid when I can't get out at the other end.  And, alas, you can’t.  Back to that window again …


すみません。通れませんでした / sumimasen. touremasendeshita. / Excuse me.  I couldn’t pass through the gates.  


They’ll do some magic with your card and you’ll be on your way.  Again, they’ll ask where you started your journey.


You’ve Gotten Off The Train OK, But You’ve Left Something Else On It


Perhaps we could say there are three types of people in this world, those who see left behind items and have 'em for themselves, those who do the honourable thing and turn them into the appropriate authorities, and those who avoid them with all the seriousness they would a steaming pile of dog poo!  Thankfully, almost no one in Japan falls into the first group, except when it comes to umbrellas, newspapers, and manga.


No, should you leave something of importance on the train, it will either stay there until the train goes out of service for the day or someone hands it into the station authorities.


Short of miraculously beating the same train to the next station, what you need to do is report your item at the ticket office.


電車の中に忘れ物をしました / densha no naka ni wasuremono wo shimashita / I left something on the train.


If you’re quick, the attendant can contact the next station and have someone board the train to check for your item.  If they are able to catch it in time you can travel to the next station to pick it up.  It won’t be brought to you.  As more time passes, recovered items are sent to a kind of ‘pick up’ center often called 預かり所 / azukarijo or 忘れ物センター / wasuremono senta-.  Each train company operates their own center.  In some cases, if even more time has passed, items will be moved on to the police.


In this ‘forgotten items’ situation, it would be a great help to recall which number carriage you were riding.


Items On The Tracks


They used to show this health and safety video at school back home where a boy tries to cross some train tracks and his laces get caught in the face of an oncoming train.  The scene was never played through but the message was obtuse enough; never go on the tracks (in shoes with laces).


All joking aside, the same applies over here.  Should you drop something onto the tracks, well, a bit of gesturing and pulling will get an official to sort it out.  If you want to have a go in Japanese though …


線路に落とし物をしました / senro ni otoshimono wo shimashita / I’ve dropped something onto the tracks.


If you’ve got your own ways of troubleshooting common train problems we’d love to hear about them.  Post your ideas below.

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