Diving head first into Japanese public transportation

confusing mapEach major station usually has an obscene number of tracks for an even more offensive number of transfers to different lines.It’s similar to Grand Central station, but less tracks. Imagine my trouble when I ran into 4 Grand Central-sized stations for transfers just trying to get to the Aquarium in Osakako from my apartment in the Osaka University International House.Now one might say that Manhattan’s subway transportation system is confusing, which it can be during the weekends (with the awful “no downtown 6 trains anywhere” or something of that sort), but at least it’s $2 flat rate following simple colored circles to get from one stop to another.You can pretty much just trace your finger on that one MTA map to get from, let’s say, Flushing to Museum of Natural History.If memory serves me correctly, that’s 7 to 42nd and transfer to 6 uptown to 86th or something.It follows a sociofugal, fairly simple grid, uptown/downtown system.In contrast, my commute took about 2 hours with some time getting lost and trying to figure out how much money I had to pay for the different distances.I’ll number it:

  1. Osaka Monorail – Shibahara Station to Kadomashi (end of line) – 510 yen
  2. Transfer to Keihan train line – Kadomashi to Kyobasi – 230 yen
  3. Transfer to Osaka Loop line – Kyobashi to Morinomiya – 120 yen
  4. Transfer to Chuo subway line – Morinomiya to Osakako – 270 yen

To complicate things more, each line has similar uptown/downtown directions, except now I have to memorize double the number of random Japanese names to recognize the direction.Oh and don’t rush it, because you might get on one of the 4 types of express trains that stops on the same track.Now one might ask, why don’t you just follow the map, like many of the locals would to make sure they’re going the right way?One reason is the chicken scratch that I can’t tell apart from kee-kee-kah-kah and gobbildy-gook.The next is the fact that each line has a different map.They tried fitting all of the trains on a single map, but it hurts my eyes and it’s just too damn confusing.So now I have 5 maps scribbled with English phonetics packed nicely in my bag for Osaka.There will probably be 5 more maps for every city I plan to visit.If I come back with a bad shoulder, the maps are to blame.

Although not everything from this train experience was a nightmare.I have to admit that I had gotten lost quite a few times, but I resorted to my secret of weapon of looking like a tourist and asking for directions with my broken Japanese.Switching between maps and then trying to connect dots is an annoyance, but completely doable.If there are troubles with reading the map, you could just go to the help window next to all ticket counters and ask “<station> wa ikura des ka?” and you’ll just get the price of the ticket to buy at the little ticket booths.Keep in mind that you will still need to know which track to get on after buying the ticket, but you could ask a random person “<station>? ::confused tourist look while pointing at a random train::”They will either nod or say a track number (usually in English).

Transportation is considerably expensive, but quite reasonable if you find a hostel or hotel close to the action (main attractions).I don’t expect anyone to spend more than $10 one-way to anywhere within the city bounds.Each train or subway line charges different amounts for the approximate distances you travel, but since these rates vary so much, the companies can just charge whatever based on speed and maybe train maintenance costs?

The stations are very clean, despite the lack of garbage receptacles.I might just be spoiled by NYC and the garbage can on every street corner.It’s interesting to note that NYC, with all those trash bins, is still so dirty.I mean, c’mon, walk a few more steps to get it into the plastic bag.It must be the mentality.Every store would be a thief’s dream.There is hardly any security and everything is just based on that trust.Even the supermarkets don’t really have barcodes or surveillance cameras anywhere.They don’t even put up fake scanners at the door to show some effort.There is just so much trust between the stores and the people.Maybe it’s the pride in the job that makes each individual to avoid the lie, cheat, and steal endless possibilities.That honor is a result of this culture’s discipline, and I have no other criticisms.I respect the society’s relationship and friendly nature.

Even the tight jeans, bleached hair, random shards of metal wearing generation answers questions with a smile and tries very hard to communicate.They always bow after everything as if they are apologizing for not accommodating me, when I am clearly the one who should be embarrassed for not speaking their language in their country.It would be as if I apologized to a German-speaking person who asked me for directions if I could only answer with pointing.I don’t think the thought of apologizing for me not being able to speak German would come to mind.If anything, I’d be angry that this arrogant guy came to America without learning at least some English.

Us Americans are such arrogant pricks.We have so much to learn from other countries regarding courtesy, etiquette, and manners.It doesn’t really make sense where all those friendly faces went in the past 200 years.We’re essentially built as a melting pot of cultures.You can’t tell me we just got the angry attitudes out of all of them and left out most of the nicer traditions.(I’ll avoid insulting Italian, British, Chinese, and Indian stereotypes in this blog – stated because I could have had it as a nice follow up supporting sentence.)It’s hard to imagine that type of community from the majority of the people living in the city.

Oh well.I’m so glad we rule the world.Haha.

~See Lemons Lost in Transportation