Sunday, November 15, 2009

Efficiency or excess?

Trains in Japan are frankly pretty amazing. They're efficient, punctual (usually) and pretty much all around a great resource to have, especially in Tokyo. When I get around to thinking about it, the trains here and a marvel. At the time I'm writing this I'm sitting on a morning train. My morning trains are usually the ones leaving Tokyo so there's lots of space but the ones going into Tokyo in the morning are packed like sardines. A couple of minutes ago I saw the station staff pushing people into the train to get the doors closed (no photos but I'm working on that...). Crazy, right? What I find especially crazy is most of the population here has never experienced life without these amazing, usually punctual trains. The first line in Tokyo opened in 1872 (between Shimbashi--later Shiodome station--and Yokohama--present Sakuragichō station, but the line had no name). Holy crap.

What brought this to my attention was a recent set of advertisements. In September the Yamanote Line--the circular line that connects the main stations in Tokyo--celebrated 100 years of operations (and made a deal to allow one train to be completely wrapped in Meiji chocolate ads between 9/7 and 12/4/2009, apparently because the original trains were brown). I'm pretty sure it wasn't exactly as it is now but that's still light years ahead of most other places. When I think of trains I usually imagine Victorian people and steam engines. Now of course I think of Japanese commuter trains, but being from Michigan there's no public transportation in most places and shoddy transportation at best in a few places. And they're usually buses in college towns anyway.

(not my video)

In any case, these people have been using trains since their parents' or grandparents' times while Michiganders were getting into using cars...

Trains aren't always the fastest way to travel if there isn't a good route, but they usually beat the hell out of local traffic. I remember once in Shiga prefecture it took two hours to go to a place that took less than 30 minutes by train. But people still seem to love their cars here. Lots of my students have boasted about driving to work. From my view, the horrible Tokyo traffic combined with the exorbitant cost of getting a license (and then getting/maintaining a car) plus parking, toll roads, etc. make driving here completely not worth the effort. But I digress.

So, trains. They're quite handy and reliable and it's too bad most of Michigan [and most of the US] isn't structured in any way that could benefit from the installation of a train system like this. Any which way, I'm glad I have access to the Japanese train system now.

(photos courtesy of wikipedia since I lack my own at the moment...)