Japanese transport explained

Why do some women put their make up on in the train?

It seems to me there is a lot less of this since the advent of mobile phone TV, so maybe itis more boredom than time saving

Why do the Japanese ride on the pavement although it is against the law?/ Why are the Japanese careful drivers but crazy cyclists?

With the pressure of being a Japanese salaryman, exam hell school kid or education mother, everyone understands if you need to go off the rails a little and relax
Why are Osaka taxis black but Tokyo ones colourful?

Osaka ones are often used as “hire” (kind of limousines), once they take the taxi bits and pieces off, so it needs to be a serious colour

Why does every bus company have a different way of paying for tickets?

Just copying how another company does it wouldn’t be sufficiently conscientious

Where did the English expression- bullet train- for the Japanese shinkansen come from?

It is totally unknown in Japan and was coined by an English language journalist. You can see why they needed to as shinkansen translates as the incredibly boring expression- new trunk line.
Why are Japanese shinkansen bullet trains so famous when most people agree that the French TGV, Spanish AVE and Swiss rail system are more impressive?

Tourists expect to see something space age in Japan, so they are ready to be impressed by the shinkansen. The excessive coverage trains get in Japan also probably raises its profile.

How has the old Tokyo Station survived when just about every other red brick building has been knocked down to be replaced by concrete and glass?

The land is owned by several companies, none of them being JR, and this has held up development and therefore saved the old station building- JR would have knocked it down years ago if they had had the chance, but the public mood on conservation seems finally have turned and it should be safe.

Why do people always move away to the side seat when it comes free?

As everyone does it, if they don’t it, means they want to be close to you- therefore they have no choice. As it is also considered considerate to you to give you more room (rather than a suggestion that you smell as it might be in the UK), there is no reason not to. Practical reasons include wanting to fall asleep without dropping on anyone’s shoulder.

Why does a red light mean an available taxi?

Why is there a loud ‘ping pong’ noise or fake birdsong near station platform staircases and some entrances to public buildings?

It’s to let blind people know where the stairs and exits are.

Why is on the train eki-ben sushi served in bamboo food holders rather than wood?

The natural chemicals in bamboo and bamboo leaves help preserve food.

Why do motorists only slow down, not stop, at a zebra crossing (especially one without lights)?

As a pedestrian, you are also meant to do your bit by trotting a little across. They build this increase in your speed into their calculations even before you start doing it, so might unintentionally shave it a little close if you continue dawdling.

Why is jumping in front of a train such a “popular” way of killing yourself?

 In any society particular methods of suicide go through “booms” that are almost like those of consumer products and are closely linked to the amount of publicity they get. Jumpers can hardly be hidden because of the transport disruption. There have also measures that have made other methods more difficult, such as not allowing solitary men into some hotels

Why do Tokyo underground lines usually follow roads, despite the tunnels being bored rather than cut and fill?

Ease of ventilation through grills in the street?

Why is on the train eki-ben sushi served in bamboo food holders rather than wood?

The natural chemicals in bamboo and bamboo leaves help preserve food.

Why do they play the Astro Boy theme tune at Takadanobaba Station?

“[It’] where, in the original story line, the Ministry of Science was located and… Tezuka Productions is in real life headquartered today.” The Astro Boy Essays pg 13


  1. Michael said,

    May 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Is the “speaker bird” thing really for blind people? I was wondering why some stations have it that are like 3 stories below sea level. I thought it was part of the “pretend we have nature although we paved it all over years ago phenomena”. What does the rest of the world think when they think of Japan, “Nature and Spirtuality” Today’s Japan is really neither. Especially when the Shinto guy blesses the house; the Buddhist guy does the funeral and they pay an English teacher to put on a priest robe and have a fake Catholic wedding cause they saw it on a TV show somewhere.”

  2. alexcase said,

    May 26, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    That did pop into my head too, but as they have a loud random “ping pong” in some other stations, am now totally convinced of the blind people thing. In the UK we’d probably think that avoiding noise pollution was more important than helping blind people, but not sure that attitude makes much more sense either…

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