Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Less Crowded may be More Dangerous..."

In reviewing the "Actually Full Train in 1991 (Why Flex-Time is a Good Idea)" video, and then contemplating the combined total of nearly 2,000,000 views (unfortunately 80% of those at sites that ripped off my video and posted it with idiotic titles and no information), and especially in reading the comments posted at the over-a-million rip-off site, the strange concept of safety through danger is coming to mind. Yes, it probably isn't the safest situation to have trains that heavily loaded (although the railways here maintain trains and rails very well and accidents are few and far between), but when the trains are that intensely packed, the people on the inside (speaking from many years of experience here!) are focused on just getting through the ride and very mindful of the futility of trying to do something wild, like, say... attempting to move. In these circumstances, things were - in one sense - peaceful in that people were not in a mood to argue with those around them. What's the point? When you can't move, it's not a good idea to deliberately do something to anger anyone - you can't get away from them, and you can't do much to them, since you can hardly move at all. Also, everyone realized that everyone is in the same boat.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and there are several new train lines, increased tracks on existing lines, new trains, and (very important) flextime. It's still crowded and there are still times when some pushing from the platform is necessary to get people on, but it's usually not quite like in the video clip, and not at most doors. So... people are beginning to forget how it used to be (plus the newest generation of train riders has never really had to go through much of the daily, high-intensity sardine run anyway), so there are increasing numbers of people who start to huff & puff when someone makes physical contact with them when the passenger density is high. Also, when the passenger density is very high, several people don't even attempt to force their way onto the train! Shocking! Where's their "fighting spirit"? (I'm sort of ashamed to admit here that I'm not entirely joking about this - I'll get on a train and find myself looking back at a group on the platform just before the doors close, and I see this look on their faces sometimes that seems to be saying "That's amazing - look how hard he pushed to get on... where is that masked man from?!".)

And so it was this morning - I was getting on a train in a spot that a lot of other people also liked, and the train car was probably at 90% capacity (on a scale with the train in "Actually Full Train in 1991" being 100% full), and as I forced my way on just as the doors were closing, I found someone fairly blatantly kicking my lower legs! Feeling both shocked that this was happening (it's never happened before, not quite so blatantly anyway) and angry (due to someone putting their bloody feet on my clothing), I raised up a foot and pushed back on the offending legs... or maybe I should say "what I thought were the offending legs", as in typing this out and calmly thinking about it, I suddenly realize that someone may have been kicking me from behind the person who was between us (on either side of or maybe even between that person's legs), but in any case, after the doors closed, I had this person behind me acting like being smashed between strangers was the most horrible thing that had ever happened to them. I ended up thinking - as I was being poked and elbowed - "If you can't stand the heat of the Yamanote Line, then just stay home! Or at least get on the train in a less popular spot! Or better yet, contribute to reducing crowding by moving out of Tokyo!"

So there we are, just one step away from an open confrontation & brawl, and we've gotten there with far less pressure than the people in the video had to put up with, who rode that ultra-high-pressure train to work every day.

And then there's the regular everyday deal where you've *almost* got enough space to stand without someone touching you, so when they do, you don't know whether to shrug it off as an accident or raise the hair on the back of your neck and bare your fangs in a "Grrrrr!! Get away from me, you!" snarl (done more with radio waves than actual fangs bared, to be more precise about it).

Another issue - Japan passed an anti-groping law a few years back, which is good, except in densely packed trains, you can't always accurately tell who has done something to you, and there have been cases where people have been wrongly accused and sent to jail. It's been in the news, there was a movie made about it, and now men on the trains are basically afraid of women. One "He grabbed me!" and their life could be ruined (sent to jail, fired from their jobs, divorced from their spouses, alienated from their friends, etc.). Mind you, if the guy is guilty of it, then screw him! He deserves it, but if a pervert reaches around a normal guy and grabs a woman, and the woman mistakenly thinks the normal guy right behind her did it, basically he's done for. So men try hard to keep their right arms up in the air (grabbing an overhead strap or bar, even when that means they're jabbing their elbows into someone (grrrr....), and when women are near the door or in a corner, often they get a no-touch zone, because a man standing next to them forces himself forcefully back into the people behind him and stays several centimeters away from the woman. I guess that's fine - I don't mind suffering a little more (I'll typically count around six people touching my body simultaneously at the same time a woman is standing by the door in a no-touch zone happily reading a book), but then some of these women get used to being in no-touch zones and they freak out a bit when they get into a car with a density high enough that everyone in the space is a sardine and no one could give any one a no-touch zone, even if their lives depended on it.

Trains-trains-trains... what can I say? over twenty-four years, I think I've averaged about two and a half hours per day on them, so that's... ah... (it's late) I don't feel like doing the math. In any case, it amounts to a huge part of my timeline of my life, so I end up talking about it more than I should.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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