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A Well-Trained Country


Are you reading this while riding the train? Are you hanging from the strap with one hand, while trying to hold the newspaper with the other? Are you having fun? If I were to ask you at this moment what you thought about our Japanese trains, how would you answer me?

I certainly hope you would have a positive answer, but I suspect you may not be quite so complimentary. If you are like most of us, when it comes to something you see and use every day, you probably don't notice the beneficial aspects of it, but tend to focus only on the negatives. I am sure that you complain about the crowds on the trains, and I suppose also about high ticket prices. But I hope that you can also appreciate what a truly wonderful thing your train system really is.

I think it's a bit easier for me to understand this, because I grew up mostly in places where there were no trains, where everything revolved around the automobile. So when I first arrived here and faced that amazing smorgasbord of a Tokyo train map, I thought I was in heaven. All those destinations! All those trains! Just buy a ticket, pass through the gates, hop on the train ... and you're there! What a special treat this is - and it's there for all of us to use.

Almost anywhere I want to go, and at almost anytime of day, these wonderful trains are there waiting for me. Sometimes as I stand on the platform, I play an imaginary game. I imagine that this train pulling into the station is there just for my benefit - at my command. "Your train for Shinjuku has arrived, sir", intones my imaginary servant. I thank him, and step aboard. Of course, there are other people sharing 'my' train, but I don't mind. I'm quite magnanimous, and they are welcome to come along for the ride. When we reach my destination ("Your station, sir"), the doors are automatically opened for me, and I stride grandly out of the coach, having been magically transported all those kilometers, and in such a short time ...

Please don't laugh at my little game, for our trains really are a system 'fit for a king'. Of all the billions of people on this globe, how many have access to something like this? Not many, you can be sure. I am simply recognizing it for what it is, an incredibly sophisticated and complicated system, operated by thousands upon thousands of employees, all dedicated to one thing and one thing only - to getting me from 'A' to 'B' whenever I feel the desire to go. Just over a short century ago, not even the richest or most powerful men alive had access to such service.

So let's please hear a few less complaints about our fantastic trains. You think they're crowded? You think they're expensive? Just try and imagine what our life in Tokyo would be like without them!