Everything they say about Tokyo is true. Well, true in terms of the rail system being brilliant, at least. During peak hour, trains arrive every two minutes. The longest time I can remember waiting for a train Tokyo is about seven minutes. After about three minutes, I was tapping my foot with impatience.
As well as being frequent, the trains run with military precision. In peak hour, you walk up to the platform, and the electronic signboard announces that the next train will arrive at 8:27am. Precisely as the clock ticks over to the appointed minute, the train appears from around the bend without fail, as if it had just materialized, summoned by the signboard itself.
Except for that one time in one hundred when it doesn’t. I commute on one of the bigger train lines in Tokyo, and any fault on the line creates absolute commuter havoc.
There are a few different causes for this, usually. Strong winds. A freakishly large amount of snow. Someone deciding to avail themselves of the rail system to end their life: interestingly, while the status message in Japanese flashing on the station screens shows it was due to a suicide, the English version shows something nice and euphemistic, like “personal injury”.
You know there’s been a problem on the line when you get to the station and there are about one thousand people anxiously mingling in front of it.
Because the trains are so freakishly precise and everyone is expected to be in the office at 9am on the dot, everyone immediately whips out their mobile phones and start calling and emailing bosses and co-workers that it’s terribly unfortunate and unforgivable, but they could possibly be up to TEN minutes late.
Actually, on the morning of this particular incident, the trains turned out to more like two HOURS late. People who were desperate to get to work took the scenic route on buses. With no buses to fall back on (that I knew of), I went home to monitor the situation on the Internet.
One thing doesn’t vary, though, whether the train is on time or late: prepare for some train moshing on your daily commute.