Mamonaku, hachi ban sen ni kakuekiteisya ga mairimasu. Abunai desu kara ki iroi sen made osagari kudasai.
Rough Translation: The local train will arrive on track eight shortly . It’s dangerous so please stand behind the yellow line.
This is one of the first Japanese phrases I learned upon moving to Japan. Any foreigner living here knows it or some variation of it. I’m not sure why but probably because it’s repeated so often when you ride the train that your brain begins to covet it. Each train line says it a different way. The video above is from the Toyoko Line. My quote is from the JR Line.
Once I’d memorized it I used to repeat it to my Japanese friends. Of course they thought it was an odd thing for me to set to memory. After all it’s a courtesy and a warning most Japanese take for granted having listened to it their entire lives, the way I ignored red lights back home when I was crossing the street (not while driving though). I suspect they don’t even hear it anymore. On the train, there’s an announcement in Japanese (and sometimes in English depending on which line you ride or which company owns the line) of the coming stop and which side of the car the doors will open. On the Yokohama line the announcement is only in Japanese…I used to like to conspicuously react to the announcement to indicate to the people in my vicinity that I understood it. (If you’ve read my essay about Props and Camouflage you know why) If I’m to get off at the following stop I’d glance up from my book or cellphone at the beginning of the announcement, staring into the air like I could see the words, like I was being paged, and when it says the doors will open on the left I’d turn towards the left side’s doors. I’d pantomime these movements purely for the benefit of the natives standing nervously in my vicinity and doing their shifty-eyed there’s a Gaijin near medance. They, however, would not react to the announcement. It’s as if they hadn’t even heard it. Some would still be lined up at the right side doors and only shift to the left side after we’ve entered the station and the doors behind them open. You’d think they were all listening to their IPODs and missed the recording.
In NY, the roar of the train entering the station is the only warning you’ll get unless you’re standing too close to the edge of the platform. If so, the Motor Man of the train entering the station might blast his horn at you, like a trucker might at a motorist driving the speed limit in the passing lane back home, or Louis Armstrong giving the public a taste of why he’s the greatest trumpeter ever- a blast of sound so loud and jarring it might scare the shit outta you, scare you to your death if it really catches you off guard.
When I was a kid, the conductor stood between the cars, with either hand on levers situated on either side of him that opened and closed the doors and shouted up and down the platform,”Please stand clear of the closing doors.” Well, in NY, we’ve come along way, baby. But, in Japan, they’ve come a much longer way! For you Trekkies out there (like myself) just think the difference between Captain Kirk’s Enterprise and Captain Picard’s.
Sometimes when I ride the trains here in Japan I feel a certain jealousy and animosity spurred by the arrogance of being a native of “the greatest city on earth”. I imagine that a group of Japanese engineers descended on my hometown, pens and pads in hand, all polite and humble, disarming the bloated egos of those NY transit engineers with filial piety, reverence and a bit of unctuous flattery (お世辞) Japanese style, and studied our subways (my subway) for a couple of years with the studiousness and fastidiousness I witness on a daily basis here from my JHS students…and absorbed everything there is to know about the NY way of getting from point A to point B. Checked, double checked, cross referenced and re-checked their data: the history, the issues and their resolutions (if there were any.)
Then they flew (or sailed) back to Japan (laughing over Sake and Shouchu the whole trip) at how silly, gullible, inefficient and ultimately pathetic those American engineers were while they deconstructed the whole theory of inner city transit and reconstructed it to suit the needs of their multitudes. And once they arrived back in their homeland they proceeded to engineer and build what has to be the most sophisticated and efficient transportation system in the world (or close to it.)
I say to myself (like Sergeant Barnes in “Platoon” in reference to the Vietnamese who had just garroted, castrated and tied to a tree as a warning one of his troops) : Them Motherfuckers! (-:
But this is just my imagination…I’m sure the Japanese engineers gained inspiration from other countries, like England, as well. And, since I live here now and will for the foreseeable future, and I benefit from these advancements, so I can hardly maintain that feeling. It comes over me briefly and then vanishes utterly.
Now, more often, I wonder at the differences and how these differences would fare back home. For example, if you ever go to Shin-Yokohama station and wait for the Yokohama line, while you’re waiting the average 7 or 8 minutes for the next train you’ll notice that the birds in the area are constantly singing, chirping a most distracting melody only birds, bird lovers and Japanese can appreciate fully I expect. And they simply won’t stop. You look around to find out why these birds are perpetually joyful expecting to find some sort of bird Karaoke booth above your head and you realize that the sound is not coming from birds roosting in the station’s overhead shelter’s metal beams for there are 5-inch long pins erected along all perch-able surfaces that would impale any bird unfortunate enough to land upon them. What you will find are speakers playing pre-recorded bird song…
And initially you say to yourself: “WTF!”
Then you stop and think and look at the blitheness and heedless, naive innocence around you (aside from those people who have noticed you…they are decidedly on guard) and you can feel how these sounds contribute to that feeling…like a subway in the garden or Eden. And you think back to NY and the feeling you had when a lone saxophonist sat on the filthy station platform and did his rendition of Coltrane’s Naima and the feeling that gave you…you know, one of those life is a beautiful thing moments…
And eventually you say to yourself: “Oh, I get it!”
I find myself constantly having these Oh I get it moments here in Japan, especially on the trains.
More to come…