Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Forgetting Logistics on the Tokyo Train System"

July 23rd, 2013

Feeling a little unhappy about some of the current ways of thinking/acting among the twenties crowd.  Constant change is the one thing you can count on I suppose, but still you hope for change for the better, not for the worse.  What's specifically on my mind right now as I sit in a Ginza coffee shop on a rainy afternoon, is people's behavior on the sardine run trains.  The first crush-rush train I used this morning was about ten minutes late, which may not sound like much, but in the peak of the commuting hours, that kind of delay creates a logistical problem very quickly.  In the morning rush, there are a constant stream of people flowing into the stations, and since the trains are already running near to capacity when they're on time, a ten minute wait creates a near bone-crushing pressure of the bipedal sardines within each train car when they resume carrying people down the rails, away from the platforms.

Okay - so what.  I've been dealing with that aspect of megacity life for three decades now... but here's the thing: It's changed.  This morning generated a jumble of images, sounds, and feelings -  in parallel, in series, overlapping, etc., so it's not possible to really accurately explain in words, but I'll try to convey some of... (I feel like writing "horror", but that would be an overstatement), some of the reality I lived through this morning.

Back in the old days (1980's) people lined up in rows of threes in front of where the train doors open.  Then when the train came into the station, the people in the middle row would step to one side (sometimes the left, and sometimes the right), meaning that if you were on the double line side, after the people on the train had finished exiting between the two lines of people waiting on the platform (one double line and one single line), you had twice as much competition for seats (if there were any to be had that is).

Now people line up in two rows as though it were illegal to have three, and sometimes they even (rather inanely I think) form a single line, which is nice at the bank, but not for a mega-city train.

The problem with very narrow lines is what happens when the lines reach the other side of the platform?  The lines block platform traffic for one thing, and also people are then forced into jumbled masses of no lines at all in-between the overly narrow lines.  Logistically, it's - frankly speaking - just really stupid.  You start with a divorced-from-reality concept of a single line (which almost never makes sense on the Tokyo train system), presumably so it's first-come, first-grab for the seats, but since it rapidly deteriorates into chaos, it often results in line jumping as people in the no-lines-are-possible zones just pile onto the train in front of people who (stupidly) lined up single-file.

There's probably a pretty solid connection to the bank lines here actually, as people used to randomly line up in front of each ATM machine (forming many different lines), and once they changed over to the much fairer system of there being one line (in the banks that is), then some people appeared to think that applied to trains as well.  (A lot of bipeds on this planet are amazingly bad at comprehending actual conditions, logistics, and the *reason* something is done.)

Going in the other direction - when getting off of a crowded train, people used to fall behind whoever moved first and thus formed a path through the tightly packed sardines, and those in motion would turn sideways in order to make themselves narrower for the trek to the door.  Now?  People tend not to snake out of the train one after another, but rather just push forward on all fronts at once - walking straight, so as to cause as much disruption as possible.

Naturally, when you're right next to a door that opens, you step off the train so people can get off... then and now.  The difference is that when you're away from the doors, it's usually not necessary to get off the train, but many of the new model bipeds I'm meeting on the sardine-run trains seem to expect the whole train car to empty out for their lordships.

Meanwhile, too many people (unnecessarily) piling out onto the already crowded platform, creates a logistical problem outside the train, as then it's hard for people to move - in any direction.

On the train this morning, in the middle of being manhandled about - in one direction after another - someone behind me was doing something with one of their arms, poking me repeatedly in the side with their elbow (not hard, but very irritatingly).  Finally, they settled down and I endured the rest of the sardine run ride.  When the train finally got to my station, as everyone piled out of the train under pressure, suddenly I noticed the biped attached to the arm grimacing and saying to himself that his arm hurt.

I don't know what that was about exactly, but the thought that immediately came to mind was that he was a high school student on a baseball team, and he had injured his arm pitching (and had been working to position it in a non-painful position earlier, which would explain what he had been doing).  I'm pretty sure he was a high school student, and there's the big nationwide high school baseball championship going on now....

I've met a few people who ended up with damaged joints from being on very competitive middle school and/or high school sports teams.  Every country has its idiosyncrasies, and one of this country's is the belief in being able to overcome whatever through strenuous enough efforts - to the point where people often take it a little too far and end up damaging themselves.  Obviously this is better than not trying, but I can't help but think from time-to-time that people should dial it back a little.  Giving something your best effort is a good/great thing, but so is understanding that a little moderation makes you stronger, not weaker.


Writing by hand - pen on paper.  It feels good, and the pace of writing this way produces... enables... no... what's the word... well, put it this way; you're sitting at a desk/table/whatever, with a pen in hand, writing words onto paper.  There are no electronic components involved, no spinning motors (hard drives, cooling fans, etc.), no back-lights, no discernible noise (assuming there is enough ambient background noise to overcome the slight noise of pen on paper)...

So, there's a combination of lack of distraction, a tactile feel of the paper, the pen, the table... which I imagine produces text with a different feel to it.  But does it really?  If something is written correctly, the words have a power of their own irrespective of the tools used to record them?  No... there *must* be a difference, which makes me wish I could see this text I've been working on (here in a Ginza coffee shop) in the parallel universe version that another me wrote on a computer.

One thing about writing by hand that is a definite drawback - now I have to type the handwritten words into a computer in order to pet them onto the wires.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon


PS - The poster above that I took a photo of on the train system?  It reminds commuters that physical violence is illegal (Stop暴力 / 暴力は犯罪です).  You hear about incidents now and then, but for me, the posters make me think about the issue more than the news articles.  If they go to the trouble to put up posters telling people that physical violence is illegal, then there has got to be a certain level of incidents?  On the other hand, Japan is big on correcting an issue even after one incidence of something, so maybe not?  What I can attest to, is that a lot of people seem much more vicious during the commute than people used to be.  I think one cause of this type of thinking is watching too many dramas/movies, etc in which the hero solves problems with the bad guys in the story through brute force.  After watching enough of those kinds of stories, people's brains are effectively programmed to try the same "solutions", and they're basically in a blood-thirsty frame of mind when conditions are difficult on the train system (and elsewhere)....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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