Essential survival tips for train commuters in Japan

Book by Japanese worker reveals one grumpy traveller can infect mood in a whole carriage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 7:25am

A long-suffering Japanese commuter has written a book offering tips on how to survive the daily torment of the train journey to and from the office.

The 188-page book, the title of which translates as An Illustrated Guide to Accomplishing Rail Commuting, was published in December and is selling fast.

Trains arriving in the centre of Tokyo and Japan's other large urban areas are crammed with smartly dressed workers clutching their briefcases.

The book says the taller ones are lucky as once inside the carriage they can rise above the fray.

But most are forced to stand cheek-by-jowl beside people they don't know and who all too often snort, sneeze or talk to themselves for the whole journey.

An added hazard for women is the ever-present danger of gropers, for whom the crowded carriages provide perfect cover. The book was written by a commuter from Kumagaya, in Saitama Prefecture - which lies about two hours by train from central Tokyo - under the pen name Ichiro Tanaka.

Based on nearly three decades of the same journey five days a week, Tanaka concludes that a single grumpy commuter has the ability to infect an entire carriage with the same mood.

That's a sure-fire way of starting the day badly, he says.

Passengers simply need to "go with the flow" in the morning.

"The secret of a pleasant commute is to allow yourself to melt into the interior of the railway carriage," Tanaka says.

And on the way home in the evening, it can be a mistake to step in quickly to take that last free seat.

It is usually empty for a reason, he cautions, and you may well find yourself squashed between two outsized commuters or next to a drooling drunk or a weary fellow salaryman who keeps falling asleep on your shoulder.

Caution is also the watchword around any attractive young women who have been drinking, as the slightest mistaken touch might very easily be misconstrued, he adds. He also says it is bad etiquette to look out of the window at a platform as the train pulls in to a station, close a book or magazine and put it away or pocket the mobile phone.

"I never do those things, as it is inconsiderate to your fellow travellers because it gives them the false hope that you are getting off at the next station and that the seat will be free," he said.

Instead of getting stressed at someone talking on a mobile phone in a train - not long ago an utter taboo - try to guess who is on the other end of the line, he says. "That makes it fun," Tanaka adds.