Posts Tagged Japan Rail

Train legs

For those who are new to this blog, I taught English in Japan from 2003 – 2006. One of the best parts about living in Japan was getting around by train; Japan’s train system is known around the world for being reliable, punctual, and inexpensive.

In my first year as an English teacher, my daily commute was 27 minutes each way between Noborito and Kawasaki, in addition to more trips around Tokyo and Yokohama than I can count. My second year commute was a modest 6 minutes between Numazu to Mishima. Despite not needing to commute in my third year, I still logged a lot of distance on the rails.

After being in Japan for a few months, teachers start to develop what we referred to as “train legs” – the ability to balance while standing on a moving train. This is a skill that develops over time, and it’s even more impressive considering the destabilizing effect of the average English teacher’s alcohol consumption.

When I was on the train with other teachers, we would occasionally compete to see who could stand up without any support the longest. Yes, we did get some strange looks from the Japanese people in the same train car, but we were lost in the friendly competition and didn’t care.

I have been back in Canada for 10 years now. Most of my trips to and from work are on the far less reliable and punctual Winnipeg Transit, with the bus riding over Winnipeg’s notorious potholes. Thanks to my train legs, I am usually able to walk from one end of a moving bus to the other with minimal support. It’s not the world’s most useful skill, but I still feel a sense of accomplishment every time.

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August 6, 2005 – Pretending to be asleep on the train

The whole area is short on teachers right now, so I got stuck with 3 group kids classes. Boo!

After work I went to a farewell party at a small town near Mt. Fuji. As usual, the first party was at an izakaya where everyone filled up on beer and food. We took a short train ride to Fuji City for the second party, which was at a karaoke room we usually go to.

The last regular train back to Numazu from Fuji is at 12:15am. However, that’s not the last train. There is also a 2:30am night express train. The night express has reserved seats, and costs more than the regular Tokaido line train. We were concerned that we would have to buy seat reservations or pay extra, but one of the more experienced teachers assured us that everything was okay, and told us to just buy the standard 320 yen one way ticket.

It turns out that our strategy for beating the extra fee was to all congregate outside the washroom at the end of the train, and pretend to be sleeping. This way if a ticket checker came along, he might be reluctant to wake up a group of sleeping gaijins that smelled of beer to get us to pay the extra fee. If we had all been more sober, we probably would have felt a bit conflicted about our decision, but it was 2:30am and we wanted to go home. Fortunately we got all the way to Numazu without running into the ticket checker!

(2015 Update) There are plenty of ways to cheat Japan Rail, but that doesn’t mean you should do them*. This is how foreigners get bad reputations in Japan! Do the right thing and pay full price!

*Unless it’s an emergency


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November 12, 2004 – So much rain!

It rained like crazy today. Seriously, it was a crazy amount of rain.

Due to heavy rain volumes, the Tokaido line was experiencing delays. Tokaido is the busiest line of the whole Japan Rail network, running from Tokyo to Kobe. I was lucky to get to work on time, but on the way home I had to wait at Mishima station for half an hour. In a country where you can literally set your watch by the train schedule, a 30 minute delay is a huge deal.

At home I dried out and spent a bunch of time on the internet. Now that I can connect in my room without having to go to the internet cafe, the novelty of the internet has worn off.

In other news, I am buying a plane ticket tomorrow so I can go home for Christmas. Woohoo!

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August 14, 2004 – Adventures at the lost and found

Today I didn’t have to teach any kids, I got a double voice class, and an empty lesson at the end of the day. This way by all measures a good day at work.

During the shift I was chatting with Maria. I tried to help her a lot when she first became a teacher, and we got along very well at work. In the four months since she started she had become very comfortable in the classroom, and had an active social life outside of work.

While chatting, she told me that she had left her bag on a train. Japan Rail told her she could pick up her bag at the lost and found in Noborito station. I told her that Noborito was my home station, and offered to take her there and help her get her bag back.

Maria is a very outgoing and friendly person who is not shy at all. Half way to Noborito she pulled out her phone and told me to check out some of the pictures she had taken with her phone’s camera. I looked at the phone and was very surprised to find myself looking at pictures Maria had taken of herself in the shower. Naked.

While my brain was trying to process what was happening, Maria told me that she was very proud of how she looked, considering she was in her mid 40’s. I think I squeaked out a sound of agreement. She was also proud of her skills as a photographer, happy that she was able to take such good pictures of herself with the tiny camera in the cell phone. I probably squeaked out some other sound of agreement. She then took her phone back, and changed the subject like nothing ever happened.

When we got to Noborito station, Maria tried to use her very limited Japanese to claim her bag back at lost and found. The middle aged JR staffer we talked to spoke no English at all, but Maria kept trying her best and smiling. The JR employee gave her a claim receipt and I helped her fill it out. She returned to the counter with the completed form, and tried to ask if the form was okay.

Her first attempt involved pointing at the form and asking “genki?” which means healthy. The employee looked confused. She then pointed at the form and asked “watashi suki?” which roughly means “do you like me?”. He seemed more confused. Her third attempt involved pointing at the form and saying “sugoi?” which means “great?”. Same reaction. Finally she remembered the word “daijoubu” which means “ok”. He nodded and retrieved Maria’s bag. When he handed it over, she gave him a perfect “domo arigato gozaimasu” (thank you very much). He and I both burst out laughing.

Being friends with Maria was always interesting!

(2014 Update) I omitted the nude selfies in the original post, both because I worked with “Maria” and because I had a girlfriend who read my blog. I assure you that this actually truly happened! A few days later I saw her showing off the pictures in the teachers room to a very surprised male coworker. I don’t think she was trying to hit on anybody, I think she was just legitimately proud of how she looked. If I look that good (in a manly way) in my mid 40’s, I will be proud too!

(2014 Update 2) I apologize to anyone who was searching for nude selfies and found this story instead. I hope you enjoyed it, and suggest you will have better luck finding pictures on Tumblr. Or Google. Or one million other websites.

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February 10, 2004 – Revenge of the elbows

On the way to work, the guy next to me on the train kept falling asleep. This isn’t unusual as I have found that Japanese people are able to fall asleep in virtually any moving vehicle. What was unusual was that his head kept drooping to the side until it was resting on my shoulder. Being a polite Canadian, I kept trying to gently nudge him away with my shoulder. This didn’t work very well at all.

On the ride home there was another guy sleeping next to me, snoring loudly. I was shocked when the passenger on the other side of the sleeping man elbowed him HARD. This briefly stopped the snoring. Every time the snoring started again the sleeping man received another vicious elbow.

What I learned was that it is now okay to elbow people on the train. Watch out drunken businessmen, beware nosy grandmothers, caution screaming children: my bony elbows are coming for YOU!

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November 3, 2003 – My suica has been smashed

Suica Card

Original 2003 Post

Cleaning, laundry and email day today. Unfortunately due to some issues with my trip yesterday, my train pass doesn’t work at the moment. I will have to speak to the good people at Japan Rail to get things good again. That could be fun…

2013 Update

Each month, NOVA employees were provided with a commuter train pass. The pass allows for unlimited travel between your home station and your work station for one month. Since my commute was all on JR lines, I was issued a Suica rechargeable train pass.

Using my Suica as a commuter pass, I could take free trips between Noborito and Kawasaki, or any points in between. Traveling beyond Kawasaki would require me only to pay the portion of my trip that was not covered by my commuter pass. This saved money on trips to Yokohama for sightseeing, language exchange, and failed date nights to see Kill Bill.

I could also add money to my Suica to use it as a rechargeable train pass. Instead of having to buy a ticket each time I rode the train, I could just scan my Suica when entering and exiting the train system and the trip cost would be deducted from my balance. My card worked on all JR lines, but not private lines or subway.

The Suica system has now expanded to most of Japan, and the cards can also be used at certain vending machines and convenience stores in or near train stations for making purchases.

If you are living in Japan and travel on JR lines regularly, get one of these cards. You will love it!

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