When Your Train Stops

Most rush hour train announcements , the real ones, are mundane. Occasionally they announce a short delay: somebody’s bag got stuck in a door or got sick and needed assistance. The worrisome ones are the emergency stops when somebody hits the platform panic button somewhere. Fortunately most of those clear in a reasonably short time. Then there is the dreaded “Jishin Jiko”, a jumper, a  guarantee your train is going nowhere. December and March are usually the worst times of the year for those cases because that’s when the Yakuza call in delinquent loans.

The acid test of a real Tokyo commuter is how fast you think on your feet the moment a Jishin Jiko announcement comes over the PA system. You know it’s serious when people around you pull out their smartphones and start searching for alternate routes or make phone calls. On the Yamanote line the train crew usually parks at the closest station so people can get off. If you are lucky enough to get a smart train conductor, they offer detailed alternate route information.

When I got stuck on the Yamanote line at Shibuya station once the conductor quickly instructed, “the Yamanote outside (clockwise) loop is running, if you need to get to Ebisu, Meguro or Gotanda stations take the Saikyo line on platform 4 to Ozaki station and double back on the outside loop.” It took a little extra time but I made it to Gotanda station and was on my way.

Another time I was not so lucky, the entire Yamanote line was stopped but the Saikyo line was still running so I took it to Ozaki station. From there I walked to the nearest Tokyu Ikegami line station and was on my way again. 20 minutes lost but no trouble getting to the office in time.

The scariest stoppage was March 11, 2011 when every train and subway in Tokyo stopped running during the massive earthquake. Early the next morning, a Saturday, every train was packed with very tired people who didn’t make a sound as they slowly made their way back home. In the silence you could feel the shock and sadness. In a crush of people on a train you could almost hear a pin drop.

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