Friday, May 09, 2008

人身 Protest

My Suika (like the refillable Charlie card in Boston or Metro Card in NYC) runs out so easily. On a busy teaching day that starts from 8 am to 7 pm (or sometimes 9 pm), 2000 yen or more runs out in a single day. The 45-min commute on a round-trip JR train fare for one of the classes that I teach is 1220 yen, and running from one corner of the city to another end corner within just 3 hours has become commonplace these days. Thanks to the train-route/time-table navigation system accessible on my cell phone with a few simple clicks, I can precisely estimate my commute time and aim for the exact departure/arrival time right on the dot.

The beauty of Japanese train systems that all countries in the world should vow to learn from.

However, mankind wisdom like that of the Japanese can't really beat the spontaneous mankind decision to jump off the platform in the middle of rush hours - a.k.a. the 人身事故 incidents. It's strange how on the plasma screen TV's on many of the train compartments here only note the term, "人身事故" - while really should have been translated as "suicide attempt" - as "Accident" in its English translation. Whether it's the product of overall bad Japanese English or an deliberate attempt not to scare off the foreigners I'm not quite sure. But what I do know is - the longer I stay in Tokyo, the more and more I've gotten used to the occurrence of suicide attempts. To me and most other passengers out there, 人身事故 has become nothing more than a term that somehow stalls the train system for half an hour or delays the express trains. Last night when I was barely breathing in a jam-packed train home at 9:30 pm b/c of a suicide attempt occurred earlier in the evening, I even resented a little for without 人身事故, I would not need to stand like a mushed tuna with multiple humans' backs, shoulders, arms, and hair touching me, I thought.

But that's just really really awful, isn't it? In the very moment when a life - a human life - is lost, all I can think of is my own inconvenience and extra commute time back home?

This is an entirely overworked society here. I have a student who would take the last train home at 12:49 am and then get on the train at 7:06 am on the same day (obviously) in order to make it to my 8 am class to study English in a half-awake state b/c the company tells him so. Mind you, the commute itself takes 1 hour, which is completely normal if not mild given the Tokyo standards. I have another student who spends 3 hours on the train each day commuting - as if her 12-hour shift as a psychiatric nurse dealing with schizophrenic patients isn't draining enough.

I also know friends who would join a 合コン party (similar to the idea of a group blind-date event), drink till the wee hours of the evening, get sent home on a taxi paid by the male counterparts at the party on something close to 10,000 yen (-$100) taxi fare, then wake up just a few hours later to commute and work again.

So then one day, when age 47 hits and your boss has just given you yet another relentless reprimand at work that crushes you down like a worthless human being, on the way home or perhaps on your last trip to see your client, you decide that why not seek an alternative route to freedom by jumping off track.

One jump, then worries free.

Perhaps one's very last - if not first - protest in life. Using one's body as the very embodiment of protest.

Being a foreigner when oftentimes not everything is crystal clear or when the other party's facial expression simply isn't enough for me to get a sense of whether s/he is sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, or simply indifferent, I too begin to adopt this style of hiding - hiding my own feelings and hiding from the fact that I really do want to know more about how and what the other person is thinking but am just too afraid of asking. But all such inability to utter one's true voice - is that just the first step towards choosing a form of protest in body action years down the road?

And I too feel like I am a bit overworked. Either that, or just the Japanese ganbatte mentality has been catching up on me.

梅ちゃん at 1:34:00 PM



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