A Jing Pancake

During Heather’s visit we discussed a YouTube video, aired at some point on Regis and Kelly Lee, of people being shoved cattle-style into a train in Tokyo. After reassuring my friend that trains could be quite crowded, but this was not generally the case.

Japanese Train Pushers

Last night was a different story for Lindsay and I as we adventured into Tokyo at night, something that we don’t often do. We had a lovely girls out at a photo club party, which was a bunch of people in a lovely bar showing their photos and chitchatting about photography. It was just as fun and nerdy as it sounds, and so Linsday and I had a blast.

We met at Shinjuku station to hop on the ever popular Yamanote line, which runs about every three minutes in a big loop around the city. When we arrived at the platform, we were perplexed by the odd behavior of the natives.

We found a Yamanote line train just sitting there with its doors open. We found red indecipherable warnings scrolling on all the train signs (stay in school kids, life’s hard when you’re illiterate), and several people changed tactics by leaving after they had boarded the train (gaijins tended to stay put, but we don’t trust them, do we?). Lindsay and I followed the natives and decided to use a patchwork quilt of subway lines to make our way to Shibuya, confident that a few hours at our venue would clear the mess up.

This was an amateur assumption. The trains we still down, and I was wondering if I would make it home in time to catch the bus, as walking from the station to my house is a little bit of a hike and I’d rather avoid waking Jose as he needed his rest.

I stood on the platform looking at the train with its open doors, people already crammed inside even though there was no indication of when this train would leave. People stood outside the doors too, waiting and talking on cell phones. I hung out in one of these crowds and figured that when other people started cramming on, I would too.

I tried to decide if I would take another train, but I knew the next one would be no better. Thousands and thousands of people had their daily transportation routine upset by the train breakdown, and they all needed to get home same as me. Besides, the later it is the closer it becomes to last train of the evening, and then you’re stuck in Tokyo for the night. This is serious business, because getting on this train means I can sleep in my own bed, and everyone knows how I love my bed. I heard more announcements, and when the folks standing outside began to weasel their way in, I did too. The train did not leave immediately, but thus began my experience as a Jing pancake.

After the experience, I have discovered some tips that I will share with you now in case you, my dear beloved friends, should ever find yourself in a situation in which you need to willingly cram into a space with hundreds of strangers.
Prep yourself. If your hair is down, put it up. Take off your coat or any outer layers. Its super hot in there. Besides, if your hair is in your face or anything annoying like that, you can’t brush it away. Scratch any itches, put everything in your bag or pockets except your phone, because one you get on that train, there are no guarantees that you will be able to move at all.

Put your headphones in. Thanks goodness I thought to do it before the doors closed, because it took a little bit of maneuvering in the train and it wasn’t easy. It was the only soothing thing when your face is smushed against a stranger’s back and the only thing you can see is another person’s face smushed against another person’s back.

Do not even attempt to enter this train if you are slightly claustrophobic. Find a hotel and stay the night in Tokyo. I have never been in any way claustrophobic and during the ride even I had to fight the urge to push over some businessmen Hulk-style just so I could get a bit of air. I shared a commiserating glance with an older woman who was shoved up against a pole by yours trully. What could I do? Nothing, because there was no place to go.

During the stops when even more people push in, aim yourself toward a wall and not the chairs. If you are near the chairs, face the occupants. My body was contorted in a highly unnatural position because I was trying to avoid sitting on a business man. I had my back arched backward and was inches from sitting on his lap, and the only reason I didn’t use him as a chair was because I was held up by other people. The guy beside me had faced the train seats and was using his hands to brace himself against the window, and I found myself bitterly jealous at his luck.

Remain calm. No one panics, no one screams, its generally quiet and people even fall asleep. Every stop you’re hoping that some people will get off, but at least for the first five or six its more likely that people will keep getting on. Just when I thought that I couldn’t handle another stop with people getting on, Ben Lee’s song “We’re All In This Together” came on my iPod. I had to laugh at the situation, because really, the people of Japan are so accommodating to others. It’s 11 p.m., everyone is on that train is just doing what they have to do to get home after an extra long day at work, and they’re just making it happen peacefully. You have to admire that dedication to the mission.

I can’t tell how long I rode in that flattened state, but once we made it past about six or seven stops the train cleared considerably. I even found a seat about half way through the ride. I made it to Yokohama station just in time to catch the last bus to my neighborhood, which was a lucky break, and made it home safe and sound. It is possible to fit, you can survive on the train. I even feel more Japanese just for having been a Jing pancake for a little while.