The Runners

A Window on Japan
Episode 1

My official dorm is off-campus, and so I must travel by train every day for about an hour. It was my first day, and I was going to the station, 7.30 in the morning with very few people on the street. Suddenly I see this three-piece suited man running down the street, in a full clip, complete with a briefcase, umbrella Following him a few minutes later is another suit, briefcase and all, running too. And right behind this person is a lady, also running, on high heels if you please. There must be a dog chasing them, that was my first reaction.

Not so, I'm afraid, as I later discovered. These were office people, and RUNNING to the station was the only form of exercise that they got, so they RAN! You have to actually SEE it to get the laugh. My god!

Trains in Japan are legendary for keeping time. As we all know. 7.34 means 7.34 and can't be anything else. Its crowded, and rush hours can leave you thoroughly pickled in a few minutes. But one thing that strikes you on a Japanese subway train - silence. Pin drop variety. No one seems to talk to anybody. Especially in the mornings. You can HEAR YOUR NEIGHBOUR'S BREATH. Except an occasional discreet cough, fully covered at that, thank you. No one talks, for heaven's sake. It's a long way from an experience I had in an Indian train - the person sitting in front of me suddenly started shouting loudly, looking directly right at me. Before I could collect my wits and try to figure out what he was saying, it dawned on me that he was talking to someone else down the car. As confirmation, came a shouted reply. How's that for contrast!

On the outskirts of Tokyo train lines are laid above ground, but as you get towards the centre, they go subway, and certain sections of Tokyo actually have seven to ten FLOORS running under them. Most carry trains, but some of these floors have network infrastructure lines, like water, electricity, gas etc. LONG escalators carry people from one level to another. It's funny - there are two rows of people on these escalators - one for those who want to remain stationary as they climb. The other is for those who want to climb up even on the moving escalator. All properly divided and straight. No pushing there.

The network of subways is one of the most complex in the world. Average waiting time for a train anywhere in Tokyo is around five mts. So you can imagine the number of trains runnng at any given time. The fastest train segment runs at 110 km/hr! and one of the stations has more than 12 segments (from different parts of the city) running through it. Most are run by Japan Railway, but many sections on the East and other outskirts are private. I better RUN too. I have an express train to catch in 8 mts!

Go on to Episode 2