Friday, February 06, 2009

"Grueling Commute in Tokyo"

The daily commute started fairly normally, but then got "fun" on the second train. As I walked into the train, near the front of the wave of people, two determined gorillas took up position directly under the hanging straps near the opposite door. As the twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or however many people (unwillingly made into canned sardines) behind me pushed me into the gorillas, they braced themselves and - doing a good imitation of the Berlin Wall, steadfastly guarded enough empty space in front of them for four people to stand with ease.

And there we were - lots of sardines smashed up against me, driving me into the pair of gorillas, who then looked over their shoulder's at me from time to time with "Why are you touching me...?" looks. For thirty minutes they pushed back mightily - defending that poor, vulnerable empty space - and for thirty minutes, we bipeds-turned-into-sardines behind them, suffered. As the train rolled towards its rendezvous with train number three, I contemplated the pleasant idea of the two of them getting run over by a large, heavy, speeding truck....

Pulling into the transfer station, I expected the two gorillas to also do their best to block people from getting off the train and proceeding to the stairs, but once the doors opened at the station, they turned into regular bipeds. It may be that they were trying to keep a meter of space between themselves and a woman against the far door, lest they be accused of improperly touching her, which is a life-ruining, jailable offense now. Meanwhile... their actions meant that the women in the sardine pack behind them were being smashed that much more tightly between different men. Myopic vision - such a horrible thing. Probably a very large proportion of the suffering in the world is due to someone's bloody-minded myopic vision.

Train number three.... Fun-fun-fun. As I climbed the stairs to the platform, I heard an announcement saying the train was behind schedule, but I didn't think too much about it, since there are so many trains in the morning, the schedule doesn't matter too much so long as they're running. But... as the train came in and I merged with a line (the platform was completely full and people pushing onto the platform from the stairs forced me into that action), I noticed that the train was unusually packed and would likely require a little muscle to get onto.

Crossing the threshold from platform to train, it wasn't as bad as I expected, but the train didn't get under way right away, as it usually does, and as it sat there at the platform (waiting to take on more bipeds in order to take some pressure off of an overloaded train behind it I imagine), more and more people forced their way on-board.

Looking between a couple of heads back towards the platform, I saw four High School girls standing between the lines of people waiting for the next train (and this is the difference between a couple of decades ago and now - many people don't even attempt to get on a really packed train now), staring back at the tightly packed people in the doorway with wide-open eyes and open mouths. I couldn't help but smile at their reactions. It must have been their first experience at a Yamanote Line hub station during the morning crush-rush. They seemed particularly impressed with a nicely dressed young woman who forced her way on, and they kept looking down at her shoes only half on the train - no doubt wondering what would happen to her nice shoes when they were caught in the closing doors. (Incidentally, that's no big deal - the doors have rubber edges and don't press hard enough to break bones or do any serious damage to shoes, etc.)

The train did eventually get under way however, and by then, a few more people had forced their way aboard, so the woman on the threshold who was only half-way in the train, was now fully aboard (behind the newcomers). It was just like the old days in the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line express trains, crowded to a point that's strangely less stressful than when the density is less, but people are still bumping into you - and I suppose "bumping into you" is the key there. When it's really tightly packed, there is no bumping into anyone, since it's just one huge mass of people, so when the train lurches, the crowd inside moves as one - individual will has nothing to do with it.

Further down the line, I realized that I might miss my connection to the next train if I didn't move down the train to a door nearer the upcoming stairs at the (next) transfer station, so I got off (without much trouble, surprisingly) and walked down the platform. As I got in line again to re-board the train, I realized (with a slight sense of alarm) that I might not be able to get back on. The train wasn't sitting around waiting this time, so I began pushing, backing towards the door, and when I got close, I pushed harder... no go... harder still... still no go, so I reverted to 1991-Seibu-Ikebukuro-Line-Express mode (like that wild video... who took that anyway?), and - pulling with my arms from the top edge of the door frame, and pushing with all the strength of my legs, I finally got so my feet were wedged against the bottom rails for the doors. At this point, with both arms up against the upper door frame and both feet set, I formed an arch with my body that could withstand a lot of pressure, and waited for the doors to close, holding back the combined pressure of many compressed rib cages.

Most new arrivals to the platform took one look at the situation and either didn't even try to get on, or went down the platform further in search of a less crowded door. One extra guy forced his way on to the side of me though, and he had a hard time of it, but did finally manage to compact everyone enough to get on. The doors closed somehow and we moved out. (Incidentally, they must use very powerful motors in the trains here, I can't remember ever feeling that the train was having trouble accelerating - no matter how heavily loaded it is.) As the train moved out, it became apparent that the man on my left was not enjoying the ride - maybe he was being smashed into the vertical handrail by the doors - but there was absolutely nothing I could do. I was pinned against the door myself and unable to move anywhere. Fortunately it was only about a three minute ride to the next station.

As we pulled in, I observed that I was right in the middle of the opening, so I anticipated jumping out of the train through the middle of the opening as soon as the two doors were half open. The train stopped... and it sat there for a few seconds without anything happening "Come-on! Get a move on! Open the bloody doors already!" I thought. Then the doors just barely moved about a centimeter, and it was suddenly apparent that there was so much pressure against the doors from the inside, that they couldn't open! But being right there in the middle, I reached my fingers in and gave a mighty pull - forcing the doors open enough to jump out the middle. As I reached my left leg out to cross the train-platform threshold, someone stepped on the back of my right shoe, almost ripping it off my foot. Out on the platform, I stumbled a little, and as I hopped on my left leg long enough to get my right show on, I had a flashback to a news reel from about thirty years ago, where they showed several people's shoes left behind on the platform after a crowd had fought their way onto a train....

Next train - no problem! But I was still frazzled, and when I finally reached my desk, my workmate wasn't overjoyed to hear my tales of the morning battle to get to work. I almost think (recognizing that it is in no way comparable in a serious way) that I can understand (a little) what soldiers feel like when re-entering society, where friends and family don't want to hear what it was really like. You think a wild experience is something people want to know about - but in the passion of decompression, it seems to scare/disgust/worry/something people. So, I suppose the only way to convey it, is to write about it (hello folks!).....

So how will tomorrow's commute be?

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

No comments: