Posted on Fri Mar, 31, 2017 at 3:05 PM
For those of you who don’t live in Japan, you probably have an image of what commuting to work by train is like in Japan. You have probably seen those crazy YouTube videos of train conductors pushing people into trains during the morning rush like sardines packed into a can. And while that definitely does happen on certain trains, on certain train lines, at certain times of the day, it is far from the norm. I thought that it might be interesting to share a couple of my experiences on trains over the past 22 years. One of the stories is about a crowded train and the other is about something I never ever thought would happen to me.
My first experience with a “packed train” was during my first month in Japan back in 1995. I was with a bunch of friends and we were travelling back from an amazing fireworks festival in Yaizu, Shizuoka prefecture. So after the fireworks were over we got on the Tokaido line train platform heading back to Shizuoka city. What we didn’t know was that almost every person at the fireworks show had come from Shizuoka. Yaizu is a small port town and Shizuoka is the capital city just a short distance away. There was barely enough room on the small train platform and when we got on the train we mistakenly thought that when it became sufficiently crowded, the rest of the people would wait for the next train. However, trains don’t run very frequently on the Tokaido main line and so every single person on that platform was going to get on that train, now matter how crowded it got. My friends and I stood in a small circle trying to keep our own personal space that we had brought with us from “the West”. As the people continued to pour in, that task became harder and harder. Slowly but surely we all got pushed apart and we found out in short order that in Japan, on busy trains, there is no such thing as “personal space”.
Most of the people getting on the train were inebriated from the many drinks they had consumed during the two-hour fireworks extravaganza. This meant that they were even more likely to just push onto the train with reckless abandon. I was holding hands with my girlfriend and as the mass of humanity kept pushing in we slowly got separated despite trying to hold on to each other for dear life. I had visions of her drowning in quicksand as her slippery fingers slowly lost their grasp on mine and she disappeared into the human abyss. I heard her screaming for me as an old lady jabbed her umbrella into my spleen. I then noticed that behind me a high school girl was slowly getting more and more pressure from my butt between her shoulder blades. I looked over my shoulder to politely bow an apology but she was dealing with her own problems as a man in his fifties was being pressed into her from the front. I tried to stabilize myself by moving my feet apart but as soon as I did that another foot slid in between mine and I was stuck. The hand strap that I was holding onto was slowly getting harder and harder to keep in my hand as people kept pushing and I kept getting squished further into the train. I realized that there really was no point in holding the strap anymore as any movement the train might make on the trip to Shizuoka would not be enough to move any of the “sardines” in the can. When the doors finally closed and the train started moving, I couldn’t see anyone that I was travelling with, and the heat from all the bodies around me was causing a flood of sweat that soaked through my clothes. The fact that it was August, and 30 degrees Celsius, didn’t help make things any better. When the train finally arrived at Shizuoka station and everyone piled out of the train, my girlfriend was furious at me and I was soaking wet. It was at this point that I decided to avoid crowded trains at all costs.
The second story happened on a fairly crowded, morning subway train in Tokyo. This time the train was not “sardine can” crowded but it was crowded enough that I couldn’t get a seat and people were all standing pretty close to each other. My total trip was going to take about twenty-five minutes and after I got on the train I found a spot next to the opposite side door. Two stations after I had gotten on the train, a young man who looked like a university student walked onto the train and positioned himself next to me. I was reading the morning news on my smart phone and didn’t pay much attention to him. I think he was reading a comic book. After about five minutes the train was coming to a stop at another station, and the doors opened. I wasn’t getting off so I continued to read the news on my phone. Just before the doors were going to close again, the young man quickly reached out with his right hand and grabbed my crotch region and then bolted off the train just as the doors shut! As the train pulled away, I stood there in astonishment. It took me about three or four minutes to realize that what had happened was not an accident. I had been sexually assaulted on a train in Japan!
Now, I spend around five hours a day on trains commuting to Tokyo from Nagano city but I make sure to avoid the extremely packed trains and I always hold my briefcase in front of my “stuff”.
I've been on that Yaizu-Shizuoka train after the fireworks, and same as you, it was probably the most packed train I've ever been on. I felt like I could lift my feet off the floor, and I'd just be suspended between all the people I was being sandwiched in by.
Never been groped though. Not sure I've I should lament that or be glad!
Ostensibly 'The Geek' of Sensei and The Geek. Owner, operator, and lead developer of Jaypan.
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