Saturday, December 29, 2012


Queues… Unbelievable queues, the need for modern technology, credit cards, and pedestrian flow all acutely presenting themselves in the usually quite lovely Tokyo station. Tourists stumble into people, not noticing anything  behind their lonely planet guide books. Businessmen are racing around the station taking one of a hand full of days off. 

The shuffle the Japanese so eloquently dance on a daily basis has turned into a mosh pit. New guests to the country barrel through the patient locals. The locals who have never mastered pedestrian flow now suffer the consequences. The fragile ecosystem of Japanese train terminals has shattered.

Tokyo station is something to behold, 380, 000 passengers pass though this terminal daily. Japanese do not like physical contact; a gentle touch from a fellow human being will cause most of them to flinch, an embrace will illicit an awkward moan. The architect of Tokyo station clearly saw this as a fault in his culture, and sought to cure his people from the defect by creating a place were physical contact was impossible to avoid.  The shear number of collisions you can expect to endure during and hour in Tokyo station is unfathomable, the pear I carried with me looks as though I had tried to make smoothie from it, but changed my mind half way though.

The air buzzed with frustration. Everyone quietly dragged their way to what ever gate they needed, each collision increasing their internal pressure. There is no swearing in Japanese language, thus no mutterings under the breath, or hissing pots who have boiled over into language so colorful mothers cover their children’s ears and glower. This is not the country for that. Internalize your frustration, it’s your choice of whether you let it eat at your soul, or just flow through you as you embody your most idyllic Zen master.

Keep telling yourself that the reward for your patience is the iconic Shinkansen, better known in English as the bullet train. A rapid train that slides though landscapes like a silvery snake. A train that levitates as it travels across the country. It will all be worth it you tell yourself. It’s legendary you think to yourself, in and already unconvincing lie.

Your ticket has cost a pretty penny, for the same price in this country you could have gorged yourself on sushi every night for a week, gone to two Noh Theater performances, or spent the night in a lovely ryokan. In a cry for justification you tell your self that it is legendary, a marvel of engineering.

As you look through the gates into the Shinkansen terminal you see defeated people slumped against the walls. Your heart sinks a little, but you are resolved in your last ounce of excitement.
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Finally your time slot nears, and you make your way towards your track. A train waits for you, dreary, worn, and familiar to anyone who has stayed in Japan for more than a week. It could easily be mistaken for any other train in Japan.  You board the train, and sit in seats wrapped in the same blue fabric as half of the other trains in the country. As the train leaves the station, you will yourself to feel its power, notice the beauty of its movements. You pass through the first, second, and third tunnels, by the fourth, your ears have given into a dull ache, the rapid pressure changes are too much to handle.

Two and a half hours later you arrive in Kyoto, after an absolutely unremarkable journey. You wearily step of the train, and drag yourself through the station.

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