Life, in Japan? Part 1

Life, in Japan? Part 1

This is the train in Japan. A very convenient, very efficient and timely mode of transport. Japan boasts the five busiest train stations in the world! Clearly, the train is a large part of everyday life here.

The top three busiest world train stations are as follows: Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, and Ikebukuro Station. All in the Tokyo megalopolis. My million fellow commuters frequently use them. (Let me know if you need any recommendations for awesome things do at any one of them!)

Tokyo-ites and residents of the surrounding areas couldn't live without this massively efficient and supremely scaled system. At the different platforms, eight to twelve train cars pass by with a gust of wind and roll of thunder.

Each train represents a massive interconnected spiderweb of private commuter trains and subways. JR, Keio, Odakyu, Tokyo Metro, Tokyu, Tobu-Tojo, and many more. Be careful not to miss your stop, or unintentionally take the Commuter Rapid train instead of the local, you can end up in a very unfamiliar place on a separate train line.

Thankfully, you don't need to operate a vehicle to get anywhere here. Two hands free are providential assets over a daily hour of commuting time. Imagine ignoring all the red lights on the way to work.

It is a sizable mission to find the correct station, find the correct line to stand in, and finally step on the right train going in the right direction. Then there is silence.

Outside is all train noise: walking commuters, unique train station jingles, and constant conductor announcements. Inside the car itself is a quiet place.

This quiet time presents a great chance to listen to a podcast. The Daily Audio Bible is one of my favorite daily go-to sources for the Word on the go. (Romans 15:4) You can easily catch up on a 10 - 15 minute read on your Kindle. It's our community of silent stares into black phones for comfort. Or shopping, or study, or instagram, or the flavor-of-the-month smartphone game.

Despite the living people inside, I would not consider Japanese trains to be full of life. What is that full life? Existence characterized by joy due to a compelling reason to live.

The train in Japan is a daily gallery for one of a kind human-works-of-art who often sustain a punishing working life. Quiet melancholy fills the many morning commutes.

Exhausted workers, struggling mightily to remain conscious, take 15 minute naps in the train car seats. Miraculously, they rarely ever miss their target destination. Overpacked train cars are common. During rush hour, that commute often means sardines-would-not-envy people packing.

Jostling and pushing increase the stress levels of otherwise kind people, now stretched too thin. Societal expectations of overwork and the resulting resignation are clearly displayed in common train cars. Jackie Hill Perry so perfectly captures Jesus' heart for the suffering train car commuter, in her spoken word masterpiece Suffering Servant:

I wish I could wake them up, un-tuck them from the comfort of lonely and remind them that some dreams do come true

The Japanese "Art of Joy" (an ever present smile), dominates store fronts but not the train. A cultural expectation to avoid public conflict at all costs, is found amidst quiet morning train rides and the quiet "excuse me". True feelings are not voiced, but seen in tired eyes.

These feelings are a bit easier to notice in the train because there is no pressing reason to outwardly perform. The morning train is a true stage on which all the seasoned, qualified, and talented Japanese actors briefly have little need to wear a mask. I pray all of us in Japan can truly enjoy the part we play in our God-grounded story.

What do you listen to on the way to work? What have you noticed about your own commute? Need any insider recommendations on Ramen restaurants around Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Ikebukuro? 😄