We’ve all heard stories about Japanese trains, such as about the white-gloved attendants who push passengers into crowded rush-hour trains in Tokyo, tales of lost property returned, or even the occasional gripe about women who put on their make-up or men who use electric shavers while riding to work. Or maybe you’ve heard about how often Japanese people sleep on trains.
Well, today we probe a bit further and uncover some stories of truly horrible things that have happened while riding Japanese trains as told to us by foreigners who witnessed them firsthand. From perverts and nuns to near-death experiences, this will be the most entertaining article you’ll read all week! These stories will have you either rolling on the floor laughing, or more likely, crying.
Join us for some true tales of horror after the jump.
Two train otaku once pointed out to me that while the bullet train, including the new Evangelion shinkansen, should be a highlight of every person’s trip to Japan, it’s by riding the regional trains that you get to experience the local color. You’re much more likely to get up close and personal with the Japanese people on a commuter train or a country railway that winds through country towns. So, let’s start with a story that takes place on a local line in the mountains of Hokkaido.
As a matter of fact, let’s kick off with some near-death experiences…
“This happened when I was a 6th or 7th grader (in the ’60s) at the Hokkaido International School, living in a hostel during the week and returning to my family in Asahikawa on the weekends. It was the old Japan National Railway. I was riding the train back towards Sapporo on Sunday night, when the train made an unscheduled stop to disengage one of the cars because the car had started smoking for some reason. After leaving the problem car behind on a side track, the train continued on its way. But then I noticed the train passed right through a station it usually stopped at. It passed through the next station too, and soon the passengers were all buzzing. The car continued passing through all the remaining stations without any explanation. Finally, at the end of the line at Sapporo, the train stopped and we all disembarked. The following morning at school, in Japanese language class, my teacher handed out the Monday morning newspaper for us to pick out articles to read and explain to the rest of the class. There on the front page was an article about the train I had been on. The unmanned car that had been disengaged from the rest of the train had gotten loose and began rolling down the tracks right behind our train. A railway employee managed to jump onto the car to engage the emergency brake before it reached the end of the line at Sapporo.”
But not all passengers are so lucky…
“A couple of years ago, I was in Kyoto boarding an 8 a.m.-ish train to Nara. The train was empty except for a girl who was dressed in a short, frilly ‘Lolita’-style getup. She had her legs tucked under her, seiza style, but was sprawled out face down on the long bench seat, and appeared to be sleeping. People started to fill the train, and the conductor saw her as he walked by. After several minutes of trying to wake her to no avail, the conductor left and came back with another employee, and they proceeded to carry her off the train. When they picked her up, there was a large wet spot that covered the entire area where she was sprawled out. I imagined she was so out of it, that she had peed herself and I wondered if the girl had overdosed on some drugs. This experience haunted me for weeks.”
Of course, the salarymen take the cake when it comes to being drunk on the train…
▼ Talk about missing your train!
It’s certainly not unusual for drunk men to hurl vomit onto the tracks while waiting for the train. and we’ve all heard of the unfortunate drunk who has staggered along the platform and fallen off, only to be hit by a train pulling in. And these are just things that happen outside of the train, so you can imagine what happens when the drunks make it inside.
“I got on late the Chuo line one night in Kichijoji heading for Shinjuku. The train car was almost empty except for a salaryman and a woman sitting across from each other. The salaryman had too much to drink and slowly slid onto the floor on his knees, turned to face the seat. Then he stood up, unzipped his pants, and urinated on the seat. The woman sitting across from him squeaked and bolted for another car.”
But you don’t have to be a salaryman to do horrible things on the train when you’re drunk…
Turns out that the Chuo line is ripe for local color.
“I was on the last train on the Chuo line from Shinjuku to Tachikawa. A young man was extremely drunk. His friends stripped him completely naked. The train stopped at Mitaka and his friends threw him out of the train onto the platform without his clothes. The doors closed and he was just standing there in his birthday suit. In February.”
As a matter of fact, even foreigners do horrible things on the train when they’re drunk…
“I fell asleep on the train back from the Okayama Kirin Beer Festival back in the days when the festival served free beer. I woke up at 2 a.m. in a pitch-black train on a siding in Fukuyama station where the train had been retired for the night. I had drool down my shirt and no way to get home. I somehow made it to teach my 8:40 a.m. class the next morning, but doubtless reeked of beer.”
And then there are the perverts…
▼ That didn’t really just happen to me, did it?
Japan is known to have problems with groping on crowded trains and perverts. I hadn’t been in Japan six months yet when I had my first experience with a chikan (pervert/groper). I was on a country train, studying Japanese, and looked up and realized that the man sitting on the opposite seat had his eyes fixed on me and was freely masturbating. Horrified, I screamed “Chikan!” and ran to another car. That night, in search of some sympathy, I called my mother in the U.S. but she was indifferent, saying, “Oh, we had perverts all the time on the trains in New York City.” But I wonder what my mother would have said if I’d had this next story to tell:
“Someone came on the back of my skirt on the train. Yes, came. Yuck. I had to go home and change. Try explaining that to your boss when you’re late for a meeting.”
Putting on make-up while on the train is just so prosaic these days…
“When I first came here in the late ’90s, talking on the phone, putting on make-up, and eating were still taboo or at least discouraged. I remember people getting up and leaving an empty seat on a crowded morning train because a guy was eating an onigiri rice ball. In the early 2000s, I was on the Chuo line and a young woman pulled a battery-powered curling iron out of her bag and continued her transformation process.”
▼ Well, at least it wasn’t a hair dryer.
Then there are the more dangerous passengers…
There aren’t many stabbings on Japan’s trains but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a decapitation or a body halved every now and then, as this poor passenger found out.
“I used to ride the train between two cities where I taught years ago. In those days the local trains had overhead revolving fans that circulated the air on hot days. We also had to open the windows. One hot summer night as I was headed home after a long hot day of teaching, I sat down in the middle of the car, kicked off my shoes and put my feet up on the opposite seat getting as comfy as possible for my ride home. Suddenly I heard this tremendous buzzing noise and looked up to see this flying battleship size bee which had just entered the car via the window. And it was coming straight for me! I flailed and in its confusion and disorientation the poor thing flew straight into the overhead fan above me which sent bee body parts flying. Two of them dropped between my legs on the seat and the attached appendages were still twitching. I tell you I became religious that night and bought some new underwear the next day!”
And those passengers just looking for a free ride…
“It was summer and I was heading home from work, the train was about half full as it was past rush hour. A small group of high school girls were totally staring at me. I wondered if there was some sort of wardrobe malfunction or something, and suddenly their eyes got wider. I was creeped out and shuddered, and just then a massive locust that must have been nesting on my head flew off and in the direction of the girls! They shrieked and ducked, as the locust few away. I told those girls, ‘Next time, SAY SOMETHING!'”
Um, excuse me sir, but did you know there’s a bird on your tongue?
So a nun walks into a train…
The thing about the train is that it’s the only time of day you’re going to sit down with a complete stranger and be stuck with them for minutes, even hours, on end. It’s no wonder people give each other a good gander before committing to an empty seat, especially on those four-seaters where two people sit across from two other people. And since no humorous article would be complete without a nun story, we end with this pithy anecdote.
“I woke from a train nap and saw the gentleman diagonally across from me reading the sports pages with the nude girl photos in them. Our other seat-mate in this tight compartment–next to me and in front of him–was a nun. She was seemingly unconcerned by the image of a naked woman just inches from her nose.”
But of course, she must have been horrified.
What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you on a Japanese train? Do tell!
Top image: Gratisography (Ryan McGuire)