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Robber barons

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 helpless populace?

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 have?

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.

Metropolis Online
349: Life in the cycle lane
Playing chicken with a ladybike
348: Daisuki na Tokyo
Tokyo's my favorite!
347: Nihongo dake!
Why am I not fluent in Japanese yet?
346: People make the city
The beauty of Tokyo's people
345: Cross Training
Commuting by train in Tokyo
344: Yellow Line Fever
A guide for the blind... and a pain in the neck
343: Welcome to Tokyo
What did you bring me?
342: Positive thinking
Three reasons why we love Japan
341: I'm a rounder...
Veterans of Japan vs. Japan rookies
340: Discard your bank cards
The labour of replacing lost bank cards
339: Shoganai...
It can't be helped
338: Respect your environment
Poluution problem in Tokyo
337: Strike Three - You're Enlightened
How omiyage ruins a vacation
336: Missing manners
No manners outside of Japan
335: Goodbye jitensha
Is stealing bikes a popular pastime in Japan?
334: War of the Words
English borrows from other languages too!
333: ENGLISH ONLY, please
Don't bother writing your name in Japanese
332: A menu carved in stone
No special requests for lunch!
331: The Zen of Looking Busy
The art behind faking work
330: Lyrical Phlegm
Japan's spitting dilemma
329: Rock harder, Japan
Big, bad and ugly concerts
328: Noise Deficiency
The unrelenting quiet that is not Japan
327: Chopstick Diplomat
Constant questioning = constant answering
326: Game over
Cutting off the game for regular scheduled program
325: Grown pains
The hooligan behavior of middle-aged salarymen
324: The Price of Fame
Young teen actors light up on-screen
323: A Customary Affair
The universal language of consumerism
322: Robber barons
JR steals from the rich.. and the poor
321: Tegami Or Not Tegami
Deny the letter to save money
320: The Garbage Men
Variations of the "salaryman"
319: Holidaze
Japan - Home of the lamest holidays in the world
318: Box your ears
Be the karaoke star you've always dreamed of
317: The winter of my discontent
No oden if it's spring please!
316: The Bells
Going insane from bells and voices
315: The Big Tokyo Trash Mystery
No garbage cans + too much garbage= a clean city?
314: The Kamikaze Spirit
The war may be over but the spirit lives on
313: Movie Mania
Laughing alone in the corner
312: Geek parade
What's going on with gaijin men?
311: Gleaming gomi
Rinse it out before you throw it out
310: Lower Mathematics
Teaching practical mathematical equations
309: Escalator clots
Blocking the flow of escalator traffic
308: Sky's the limit
Favorite channel on the hit list
307: Bring on the studmuffins
Thanks to the "Men looking for women"
306: Burning Rubber
Narrowly averting bicycle collisions
305: Fishy Business
The sushi wasn't dead
304: The Invisible Gaijin
When gaijins collide
303: Talk work only
The Japanese perception of idleness
302: From kotatsu, with love
A blanket covered electric coffee table
300: Why 2K?
The millennium bug ain't no big deal

ISSUES 350-381
ISSUES 250-299

ISSUES 233-249