Teaching In Socks

The Berlusconi

The train home from Kobe last night was bit crowded. My girlfriend was able to grab a seat, but I had to stand next in the aisle and brace myself by holding on to a ring hanging from the ceiling. Next to my girlfriend was an old man. The old man was part of some local tour group. He had a booklet, a full backpack and he was eating an assortment of rice balls. As a person who eats breakfast on the train once a week I’ll refrain from criticizing his etiquette too much, but it’s one thing to down a donut in an empty train and another to have a hot meal during rush hour.  My girlfriend didn’t seem entirely pleased to be sitting next to him, but she wasn’t about to give up her seat.

Then he opened his newspaper; double-page wide, his left arm stretched well into her personal space.  This is rude on it’s own, but it was exacerbated by the fact that that he opened to the exact page that happened to have a half-page black and white picture of a naked woman. Classy. I don’t want to get into detail, but let’s say the woman in the picture was proportioned in a way that made everyone in the area (did I mentioned it was a crowded train?) simultaneously double-take. Luckily for everyone involved (and extra luckily for my girlfriend), the old man was kind enough not to hastily turn the page.   For some reason, I want to name this man’s maneuver The Berlusconi–I just feel it’s appropriate.

This seems like a perfect moment to go with something completely different and share some cartoon mascot I have seen around Japan.

Ako's mascot.

Ako's mascot.


Dad? what are you doing here?

Dad? what are you doing here?


Dad, why are you a castle?

Dad, why are you a castle?

all dogs repair locks.

all dogs repair locks.

Severe Delays
October 20, 2008, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last week, I attempted to take advantage of the holiday weekend and a JR West ticket discount by day-tripping to Nara. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanography, Nara is an ancient capital city of Japan (710 A.D.), neighboring Kyoto, and just beyond Osaka. Nara is mostly famous for it’s wealth of beautiful temples and the wild, yet tame deer that populate the city’s central park. I really wanted to feed some cheerios to deer, i feel this is an essential element to my Japan photo-album.

Nara is about three hours from Ako by train, so this was a bit of a stretch for a one-day trip. Also, since it was a holiday, the trains were a bit crowded. However, I was willing to put up with the semi-rigorous travel involved because my expectations for badass deer hijinxs were building to a crescendo. I partially blame “Tommy Boy” for this.

The train got as far as Kobe, before we started to slow down, and eventually stopping. After a few minutes,the conductor announced over the intercom that not one, but two people had thrown themselves in front of trains in separate incidents ahead of us on the line. He continued that we would be waiting at a standstill until the scene had been cleaned up.

We waited for an hour before resuming on to Osaka. By the time the train reached Osaka, where I had to transfer, my motivation for riding another train had vanished and I decided to spend the day in Osaka instead, which wasn’t a terrible consolation by any means.

I did spend a good portion of the rest of the day wondering about what had occurred earlier in the train. Following the announcement, there wasn’t a somber mood the train or even the hint of an air of compassion. I admit, this response peaked my interested in how the Japanese process these incidents.

I think it’s widely understood amongst foreigners, that Japan–like many other civilized cultures–has a history of acceptance towards “honorable suicides”. I suppose it was my initial perception, and the perception of many other foreigners, that the current trend of train/gas suicides is an extension of this. Upon further examination, while I think there may be a thread between the two, the correlation is nowhere near as strong as many of us think.

These train incidents are quite different. This is not considered an “honorable” method for executing such a purpose. The families of the victim are charged a substantial fee by the train operator to compensate for lost fares during the delay. In a society obsessed with punctuality, some see train jumpers as hoping to exact some revenge upon the society that has forced them to this decision. Also, They are increasingly common (I couldn’t locate actual specific statistics that I would feel comfortable citing) but it’s safe to say that the average Japanese commuter has encountered several delays of this variety.

Personally, I get the impression the impression that these incidents are seen as a side effect the countries economic success. It’s part of the balance of being an economic superpower and as such is treated much like the weather. If you want to live in a planet with a sky, sometimes that sky will have to rain. You can’t do much to change it, and thus there is no sense in complaining about it too much.

I don’t want to give off the impression that they take a heartless approach to this. Clearly, is is a problem they want to solve and it’s documented that Japanese society is starting to rethink and readjust the amount of pressure and stress it places on it’s constituents. Such a massive transformation is difficult for a country where many social ethics can be traced back to the virtues needed for a rice based agriculture. Growing rice is a grueling process, and requires hard work a dedication for success. This same ethic has been brought into the work place.

However, a balance must be found and Japan is aware of that. In some instances overtime is being reduced and the school week and study practices are being reforming to lighter, more manageable loads. I believe and hope this will help address the problem and reduce the frequency of this type of train delay.

And now, since it’s nearly impossible to bring this back to a high note via writing, I will end this one with some more Japanese television: