Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Functional Traveller: Organized chaos

September 28, 2015 by Sera Down, contributing writer

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus (photo by Sera Down/Nexus).

We’re all familiar with the saying, “Packed like a can of sardines.” I myself have certainly used this phrase before but, admittedly, living amongst the diluted populace of Victoria, have not truly experienced any situation near claustrophobic. A crowded Victorian bus often constitutes several people standing metres apart while four people accommodate an eight-person bench with their various personal items.

The Japanese, however, take this saying very literally. Anyone who has been to Shibuya’s famous crosswalk can attest to the utter insanity that metropolitan Japan can offer. The best example, however, is the glorious web that is the Tokyo Metro.

Tokyo Metro and its partner infrastructure (Shinkansen bullet train and JR Line) are the veins through which commerce, business, and life in Tokyo flow. Each station is the size of a moderately sized strip mall, often covering several city blocks, which people have to expertly navigate to make a connecting train. Foot traffic is controlled by rumble strips running through the entire station to encourage the correct flow of traffic and queues. Each line has its own gate, which people queue for at peak rush hour to access the line.

This is where our story begins.

You descend the stairs to the station and queue for the escalator. You finally make it down the escalator. There is a long queue for the ticket machine. You must then enter your chosen gate. Queues have accumulated with people waiting to scan their ticket or rail pass. Another escalator. A double queue, side by side, clogging any fast-moving traffic.

You have finally reached your gate, but… now you must queue for the train.

This is not rush hour. However, 8:30 to 9:30 am is. I take the train at this time, daily, for class. With my nose buried deep in a stranger’s armpit, and an elderly woman grappling at my backpack, more people pile into the train. Uniformed men with surgical gloves push everyone inside to prevent limbs being caught in the doors. The air is heavy with humidity, sweat, and breath, weighed down by the frigid air conditioning blasting from above.

The Japanese navigate life with the fluidity of a school of fish, keeping in order within even the busiest of metro stations.

I now know what it truly means to be a sardine.

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