|RANT 'N' RAVE
Illustration by Marie
They say robberies don't often happen in
Japan. But what about the kind of theft perpetrated by soulless corporations upon the
Last Sunday while rushing through Osaka station I dropped one of my Shinkansen tickets.
These come in pairs-a ticket and a seat assignment. I lost the ticket but kept the seat
assignment. The counter person informed me I had to buy a new full-price ticket.
"Why? You can't get a seat assignment without a ticket," I pointed out.
She admitted this was true but insisted I had to pay.
"I don't have JY13,240 with me," I said.
"Then you can't board the train," she replied without a hint of compassion or
flexibility. If I had to sleep under a bridge waiting for the banks to reopen, that wasn't
Japan Rail's concern. If I'd been physically incapacitated with no other way home, what
did it matter to JR?
An overstatement? Five years ago my parents came from Texas to visit me. My mother has
Huntington's chorea, a neuromuscular disorder making it difficult for her to walk or to
stand for long periods. When they left, I made a mistake in checking their JR Narita
Express tickets. Once on board, a JR conductor made them get out of the seats they were
occupying. He could hardly have been unaware of my mother's condition as my father
struggled to hold her steady against the rocking of the train. At the end of this hellish
journey, Japan Rail made my father pay for two more tickets. Never mind that the tickets
he had were physical proof he'd paid for a trip from Shinjuku to Narita. My mother's
worsening condition, combined with the fine first impression of Japanese society made by
Japan Rail, insured she'd never return.
How many others have been treated this way? While I'm certain the people of JR acted
within the law, can there be any other word for it than "theft?" When I'd shown
physical evidence I'd paid, they only said that any other passenger would be treated the
same. Isn't this precisely the problem?
Maybe JR feels they can afford to treat their customers like dirt. What real choices do we
There are alternatives. I live in Higashi Nakano and work in Setagaya-ku. From now on I'll
take the Toei subway line to meet the Odakyu line at Shinjuku. I'll do my best to keep my
use of JR to a minimum. I'll certainly never ride the Shinkansen again. While this won't
affect JR's colossal revenues one bit, it will help my own peace of mind. Elsewhere when
prices rise and service worsens, people boycott the rail systems. Young Japanese people
today are less stoically accepting than their elders. They're concerned not only about
JR's high prices and heartless service, but worried for their safety as JR's aging tunnels
collapse and its bridges crumble.
Japan Rail may have some unpleasant surprises waiting in its future.
Many thanks to reader Brad Warner for this Rant.