Thursday, 20 March 2014

Take The A(ccident) Train

At about 2150 on 19 March 2014 after an abnormally long wait, "Jinshin Jiko/人身事故" was announced over the train speakers. The packed Chuo Line Rapid remained stranded at Ogikubo station. Local trains on other platforms whittled away glum passengers who were close enough to home to attempt detours.

The literal translation of "Human Accident" usually means that someone decided to take the Afterlife Express. For everyone else, especially non-Japanese speakers like me who have trouble with alternative transport arrangements, it means a 45 minute delay.

It is in equal measures a tragedy and a ripe candidate for western-centric sociological study, but I was still fuming. Insensitive much?

Well, my callous annoyance does not match the train company billing the deceased's family for the disruption. The missus says this is Japanese and only to be expected. In corresponding tradition the bill is ignored.

The Chuo Line (中央線) is so well known as a suicide alley that it's in English Wikipedia, so it's especially frustrating to hear the apologetic nasal announcement and see the confirmation notice playing between peppy advertisements on the cabin screens, because you will have passed half a dozen stations with naked platforms; no barriers that could have easily prevented this inconvenience.

In February 2014 there were 109 Jinshin Jikos on the Chuo line resulting in 62 deaths. That's more than 2 people scraped off the tracks per day. Naturally, human accidents happen elsewhere in Japan, but the Chuo line has the most by far, scoring 30% more than the next down the list, the Keihin-Tohoku line. A morbid yet comprehensive interactive map is available in Japanese. It is a paid service, but there is plenty of free information.

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