Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Wild George Chase

Last night Rob and I were meant to go and meet our friend George in Shinjuku. George was arriving in Tokyo and staying here for a few days before heading down to his University placement in Kyushu.

He had a late arrival at Narita Airport, so Rob and I left our guesthouse at about 11.30pm, arriving at Shinjuku station at just gone midnight. George didn't have a phone with him, so the only way we could be in contact was if he rang me from a payphone.

Shinjuku station is huge, literally huge, so we weren't at all sure where to go. We asked someone where the buses from the airport arrive, and he told us to go to the West Exit. We headed over to that exit and found ourselves near where I was dropped off on my very first day in Japan. I knew which bus stop I arrived at, and as there was no sign of George (he's very tall) I ran over and got a timetable. His bus should have arrived at the same time as us, but we couldn't see him anywhere.

Then a horrible thought struck. What if we missed the last train home and we stranded in Shinjuku until the first train at 5am, when we both had tests this morning? We ran around the area a few more times, but had no idea where he might have gone.

We went to buy our train tickets back to our station, and there was still no word from him. In the end, we made a snap decision and headed to our platform.

Here's the platform bustling with people trying to get home. Shinjuku is not the best place to get the last train from, it's so busy!

We tried to get on one train, but as you can see from this video, that wasn't going to happen!

The next one pulled in, and we got on. It was busy but thankfully nowhere near as bad as the previous one.

I was really worried about George. I'm usually the person people can rely on, but I just didn't know what to do.

The train had been moving for a few minutes and then my phone rang. I explained to George what had happened, and he wasn't at all happy! Understandable really. I told him to find the Chuo line and see if there were any trains left, even though I didn't think there would be.

And then our train nightmare started. An announcement came from the driver over the speakers that we didn't understand, but there was something to do with "until Nakano station". Rob and I didn't have a clue what was going on, but the train then started to move at an absolute snail's pace towards Nakano. No one seemed to be reacting very much, so we assumed it was okay. We wondered if the train would be terminated at Nakano (I really didn't want that to happen, can you imagine two trainloads of people trying to get on one!?), or if the train was just going to go slowly until Nakano.

The train finally reached Nakano after about fifteen minutes (it normally takes two or three) and stopped. Several people got off, probably fed up! Then George rang again, saying that he couldn't find the Chuo line. There was no chance of there being a train at this time, even with the delay our train would have caused. I felt really awful, but no amount of apologising could change the fact that George was left, tired and confused, in the very centre of Tokyo! He didn't want to take a taxi, and it would have cost around £50, so he said he'd find a hotel somewhere. And then his money ran out and he was cut off mid-sentence. I felt so bad!

The train finally left Nakano then, and continued at normal speed. We thought everything would be fine, but then the emergency brakes slammed on and the train screamed to a halt. A whole group of people flew down the carriage and fell over. Thankfully Rob and I were both holding the handles that hang from the roof of the train and we kept our balance. The train didn't move.

I was really worried that someone had jumped in front of the train to commit suicide. Sadly, that's a very common occurence in Japan. And apparently the Chuo line, the one I live on, is the most often used for that purpose. It has a lot of rapid trains that don't stop at stations, so people can just jump out in front of them. And there are also a lot of level crossings which makes it even easier.

Japan's suicide rate is one of the highest in the world, and ninety people kill themselves every day. A recent survey has said that one in five men and women has seriously considered killing themselves in Japan. It's extremely sad and sometimes disturbing, especially for those in trains or on platforms who witness this easiest way to take one's own life. But when I think about the life many Japanese people lead, hardly seeing their families because work is so stressful, and being constricted by often confining social rules, I kind of understand why the Japanese suicide rate is so high, and still climbing.

But, either the emergency stop wasn't because of a suicide, or the attempt failed, because after a couple of minutes, the train was moving again. This time there weren't any other interruptions and the train went straight through to Musashi Koganei, where Rob and I could finally get off.

The journey that normally takes under 30 minutes took over a hour, and we were both really tired. I fell asleep at about 2.30, but didn't sleep well because I was worried about George, so I don't think I did very well in my test this morning!

The journey also made me think about Japanese suicides. Now, every time I see the English word "Delay" in the train information, I always look at the Japanese, and more often than not it says "Accident of life", which basically means suicide.

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