Having been in Japan for almost 2 years now, my sole source of news from back home has been the Internet (and of course Facebook statuses).

In the limelight this past week has been SMRT and its constant delays and breakdowns. Not unexpectedly, people have been complaining and making comparisons. Among those comments, one in particular suggested a comparison with Japan. The exact quote is as follows:

If we are going to compare, do it with countries like Japan..

Their overcrowding is much worse, but their schedule is faultless, staff take pride in running on time and delivering a service to passengers*

Commuters are also well behaved and self conscious of proper ‘transit decorum’.

While the overcrowding being worse is nothing less than 100% true, the schedule is not faultless. Sure, staff take pride in running on time (who’s to say the staff at SMRT doesn’t?), but a 5-10 minutes delay is like bread and butter. Almost on a daily basis, the train I take runs 5 minutes late. Factoring in occasional accidents be they human contact or not, delays up to a few hours are not rare. If you include seasonal factors like snow, typhoon and floods, these delays can be much worse. And when these happen, hotels across the city get “Income Opportunity” as they become fully booked because people aren’t able to return home.
My recent experience with a delay on the JR because of overcrowding was actually not bad. Not that I tried to cop a feel on the train but when the train before the one I was on had to stop at the station for an extended period of time due to a passenger passing out, we were duly informed of the situation. That’s how things work here. If the train stops for any reason other than having arrived at a station, the PA system comes on immediately and provides a reason. When I say immediately, I mean immediately.
I recall the train master announcing that station staff were performing first aid at the next station and we were told to wait. A minute later, there was another update that they were still performing the resuscitation. And also the next minute, and the next, and the next. There were updates practically every minute. Some 5 minutes later, the annoucement goes “the passenger has regained consciousness…” which made me think, “oh goodie, now the train moves” but no. The staff goes on to say “but another passenger has fainted and the staff are now performing another resuscitation.” So we waited again.
There were also times when passengers’ bags get stuck between the train and the platform, or for some reason someone hits the Emergency Stop button at the station, or it’s just a red light. No matter what the reason was, as long as the train makes an unexpected stop, we will be informed of the reason. That is why I’ve never really been frustrated with the train delays.
It’s also true that commuters in Japan are well-behaved in general but some of their actions may not float the boat of the regular Singapore passenger. Back home, when you are stuck right at the other side where the door does not open, you angle your body to fit between what little gap there is and go “Excuse me, ” to try to get off the train. Here, I’ve met people who do not angle their bodies, much less let out a whimper to try to get you out of the way for them to alight. Their solution? Push you off the train with them so that they can get out. And I’m not even big enough to seal off every possible route out.
How this compares with what people have experienced at home, I’ve got no idea. I wrote this just to provide a more accurate representation of the situation in Japan. It’s not perfect. But I still love it here.

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