Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Crowd Surfing, Japanese Style

While I’m not sure where in the spectrum of cool Japanese people as a society have placed moshing, I firmly maintain that they would be much better at it than one would think—especially in a really, really crowded & enclosed space. I experienced the moshing talent of Japanese commuters first hand while riding home from teacher training last night on one of the more popular outer Tokyo rail lines.

You see, I firmly believe that public transit is the best thing ever, both for the earth in general and for commuting (to work, yes, but especially to drinking). Public transit, of course, depends pretty heavily on people actually using it. Some cities are fortunate enough to see enough riders to regularly fill all their seats. A few are even lucky enough to have enough riders to fill all the seats AND have enough riders to fill up all of the handholding/standing spots as well! I’m sure you are thinking that Tokyo is one of those cities.

Sadly, you are quite mistaken.

In fact, Tokyo has gone so far as to fill up all of the spaces BETWEEN the standing spaces with even more people! Holding on while the train jostles?? That’s for western sissies. Real public transit riders just jam the train so full of people that you don’t actually need to hold on. The whole population of the train just squishes together, jiggling like some sweaty, misshapen, cell-phone-texting, cartoon-porno-reading blob of human JELL-O. Only every fourth or fifth person holds on because they are the only ones that actually need to.

As a large, scary westerner, I took the obvious choice and braced my hand against the roof while some poor Japanese girl was crushed into my armpit by the six other business people seemingly trying to work their way into the same spot. Pretty awesome, let me tell you. Especially since westerners usually get the transit luxury of a handy bubble of awe/disgust/twisted fascination surrounding us on trains. While the “mass of Jello” philosophy of transit ridership doesn’t completely eliminate the bubble, it certainly reduces it to a much more equitable 3.2 millimeters.

I think the most amazing thing is watching people squeeze themselves onto a train car that should (according to the rules of physics) have people riding on the roof, hanging out windows, or lying across the luggage racks. The trick is pretty neat actually: saddle up to the people at the door butt-first, put a hand on the top frame of the door, and just press your rear into the train until you join the jello party. A little wiggle, and TA-DA…. everyone loses another few millimeters of breathing room, and you get home four minutes faster by not waiting for the next train.

I’m going to remember that trick.

Today’s score:
Brent 3, Culture Shock 0.5. They were letting in easy goals.


Neil Glazebrook said...

You know that asians have a stereotype of white people that they're smelly, eh? So, re: that girl in your armpit, I think you have two options:

1) be courteous to them by making sure you smell fresh
2) perpetuate the stereotype

Merry Man In Japan said...



Just kidding. If your initials are " B O " you certainly make sure that a crate of Old Spice makes it into your baggage.... Apparently here in J-land though, Stinkyness falls into the "Can't be helped" section of social acceptability. yikes. I have experienced this bit of not-rudeness, and I frankly prefer the north american disgust for the natural aromas of the human body.