Tuesday, 14 March 2006

On the move

Now Tokyo has, if you don’t know and/or haven’t lived here, one of the best public transport systems in the world. I can say this because I have been to a few places and have decided it to be so (but, for the record, I haven’t been to that many places, but have decided it to be so anyway. I mean, I haven’t seen the marble-clad mausoleum that is the Moscow subway, but I reckon that Tokyo’s probably works a little better). The fact that the public transport services are, to put in mildly, excruciatingly busy of a morning does not seem to stop their ability to deliver me to where I want to be at, basically, the time I want to be there. Actually there was an interesting piece in one of the free weekly listings magazines recently about the Tokyo Metro (as it has been renamed as when it was called the subway people kept going to station masters and tried to order club sandwiches with extra mayo (honestly)), which had the usual blurb you would right about a metro system if you were writing an article about one, and also some facts and figures. The most interesting fact and figure for me was that the most crowded bit of line is the Tozai line between Kiba and (I think) Monzen-nakacho, heading into Tokyo, around 830am of a weekday. This was interesting to me as this exactly the time that I pass this stretch of line – thank goodness that I’m going out of Tokyo and can wave at all the suckers squashed sardine fashion on trains going the other way. Ho ho. Amazingly this bit of line runs every morning at 197% capacity. 197 per cent! I mean, how can that be? To me 100% capacity means a full train so to squeeze double that number of people on, I mean, phew. Thank goodness it isn’t me indeed. Although I do get a jolly busy train for three stops from Kawaguchi to Oji on the Keihin-Tohoku train line, and that three stops is bad enough and is only rarely crowded enough that I have trouble breathing. Still, with this aging population problem there should be enough space by about, say 2106, or something.

Anyway that is not exactly what I was going to write about. What I want to mention is the fantastic service you get if, shock horror, the trains go wrong. Now this has happened on the old Keihin-Tohoku line a couple of times in the last month, which in itself is enough to write home about (not that I have, apologies to parentals) as, generally speaking, trains and metros do not get delayed in this country, even when the men with white gloves are pushing people onto the trains so they all fit (yes, it does happen, it is not an urban myth but no, I have not been subjected to their synchronised shoving and nor do I want to be). But sometimes the trains do get delayed, quite often by some exceptionally unhappy yet not very public spirited person who jumps in front of a train as it pulls into a station. Other times there are just technical problems (wrong kind of snow, leaves on the line, tricky sudoku problem to solve), which mean delays. Now in the UK, from what I remember, there is such a thing as a timetable which BR and The London Underground produce which list trains, times and destinations and which have no bearing to what is actually travelling along the tracks at any given time. The Japanese, on the other hand, have a timetable which bears not a passing resemblance to reality but which is actually run by atomic clocks and is attuned to the cosmic tick (or rather, the universe sets its wristwatch by the 11:02 Tokyo-Osaka shinkansen (possibly). That this works is testament to the fact that, well, the Japanese know how to run a train/tube system properly – so much so that if I go onto Yahoo Japan and tell it I want to be in Yokohama at 930 in the morning, as I did this morning, it will tell me to take the 8:30 from Kawaguchi and I know that I can pitch up at Kawaguchi at 8:30 and the train will be pulling into the station and it will then deposit me in Yokohama at 9:26 as promised. And it works every time. Why the British can’t do this, I will never know.

Slightly off point there – so, what happens when it doesn’t work? Well, last week, or perhaps the week before I arrived at the station at my regular time of about 8:15 to find crowds and an unmoving train at the platform. Hmm, thinks I, shall I pop for a cup of coffee and wait as this could take a while if it was a jumper (i.e. someone jumped in front of a train, not a sweater left on the tracks, which would be a BR excuse)? I have a moment of indecision and walk to the overpass to see if the trains start moving. They do, but I wait a little longer just to make sure another comes to replace the one that left, which it does.

Ok, so I head down to the platform and wait for a train, of which plenty come past but these are now somewhat more stuffed than usual as, naturally, more people have got on, or tried to get on, at earlier stations etc. by the time I manage squeeze on my 8:20 has become an 8:40 running at (at least) 197% capacity. As I said I only have to go three stops before I change and, even better the first of the stops in Akabane which is a big changeover station so you can usually fight to get into an aisle here, much better than being squashed against a door and/or other person. By the time I get to Oji I am still about 20 minutes late but here is why the Japanese public transport system is so great. At Oji I leave the trains and head underground and actually change station and on exiting Oji JR station there are stationed three bowing, exceedingly apologetic JR staff, saying sorry for the delays and hading out little slips of paper, about the size of a shop receipt with the day’s date, approximate time, station and train line and a short message to my boss saying ‘sorry this chap was late, it wasn’t his fault, the line was delayed, we will happily pay for any inconvenience this has caused or offer our daughters hand’s in marriage, if it will make things better’, or something like that. I mean wow, can you imagine BR apologising for being 20 minutes late? Come to think of it if a BR train were only 20 minutes late the staff would congratulating themselves on a job well done.

So, well done, greater Tokyo public transportation staff, for a job really well done.


And just in case you thought there wasn’t anything to complain about this week, well done to the boys in blue of Kawaguchi who arrested a woman the other week for ‘looking foreign’ even though she was Japanese. But fair enough because looking foreign is a crime in Japan, isn’t it...? More here.

1 comment:

  1. Marvellous stuff Bogue. I was one of the 197% on the Tozai-Sen at 08:10 and was treated to a rather plump, yet tall for a Japanese lady, sleeping and drooling on me for 7 excrutiating minutes from Minami Sunamachi to Monzen Nakacho once and can testify that the white gloved chaps and chapesses do indeed exist and do indeed have to stand on small wooden boxes in order to shove those lucky commuters into the train.


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