December 30, 2008

The Resting Weary

Tokyo Station, where 15 different train and shinkansen (bullet train) lines intersect. It is chaotic at the best of times, but the station was downright claustrophobic this afternoon when Tokaido Shinkansen, the busiest high-speed train in Japan, halted operations for close to two hours. The reason? A woman had commited suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming bullet train in Kanagawa, creating a ripple effect that hit Tokyo Station particularly hard. Train suicides have become a disturbingly common occurrence, with hardly a day going by without reports of one.
This was an extra blow for the millions of people heading back to their hometowns to celebrate the new year. Yesterday (the 29th), a glitch in the system affected 250 shinkansen trains throughout the country, delaying 137,000 people. Today's suicide stalled 170,000. In Tokyo Station, travellers rendered immobile were sitting in clusters all around the labyrinthine underground passageways, their mini-suitcases and overnight bags piled next to them. At the very least, this proved to be good news for the food stands nearby. With nowhere to go, what else was there to do but eat and wait?

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