Monday, November 21, 2005


Let's talk about the public transit system in this country. They're noteworthy for two things.

The first is that, unlike in most (all?) major North American cities, you pay by distance in this country. On the one hand, this makes it a little more complex to get into the system (you have to go to a ticket machine, like this one, and if you're not sure how much the fare will be you have to go to another machine to get your fare adjusted at the end), as well as making it way more expensive to travel. On the other hand, the train system here is actually able to support itself, unlike, say, the subways in Toronto or New York, which require massive annual subsidies from the government to meet their operating costs. The only people who pay for public (not really public, as it was all privatized after the bubble burst ten years ago) are the ones who use it; tax payers in, say, Hokkaido don't have to shell out so that a bunch of sararimen in Tokyo can get to work.

The other thing worth commenting on is that, sometimes, they get crowded. Now, before I go on, let me emphasize that they're not packed all the time; in fact, usually they're fine. It's only early in the morning (when everyone's going to work) and late at night (when everyone's coming back from the bars) that they get bad ... the latter case by far the worst, which probably goes to show you peoples' priorities in this country. This picture was taken when I caught the last train back last Friday night. It doesn't really do the situation justice: simply retrieving my camera phone required miraculous economy of movement; for the first three stops there was no need to hold onto anything, as the human pressure was enough to hold us up. I've literally never in my life experienced such a density of people ... it was awe-inspiring, to squeeze my way on, thinking 'wow, what a lot of people', and then have so many more pack in that I was pushed all the way to the other side.

So that's trains in Japan. At the very least, they squash your wallet, and sometimes they squash you as well.


At 4:49 AM, Blogger Shavonne said...

When I was in Korea, I could hang with the overcrowded subway but it was the kimchi/Soju smell that came along with the crowded subway I couldn't stand. Talk about running my stomach.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Matt said...

There's no kimchi smell in Japan (good kimchi is hard to come by here, sadly), but wow, the fragrance of gin wafting over from the drunken sararimen is rotten.


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