Friday the Thirteenth Bag Lady

Like millions of other people in Tokyo, we were just trying to get home. We’d had a lovely day out in Shibuya*, but were tired and keen to get back to our hotel in another part of Tokyo. Past experiences of rush hour have nothing on this, even in Beijing, and its railway station is supposed to be the busiest transport hub in Asia! In Tokyo, station staff  help by literally shoving you into the way-overcrowded carriage and forcing the doors shut.

You may well know, but it’s worth restating, railway stations in Tokyo are gargantuan. They sprawl over several levels under city block after city block, under streets,  roads, expressways, more city blocks and massive building towers. We are yet to find one that doesn’t host at least three shopping malls, each with individual department stores. Oh, and heaven help you if you take  a wrong turn, or exit on the wrong level, you can be lost for hours.**

But back to the Friday the 13th bag. It’d taken us several false starts to get to our platform, and many thousands of commuters were already there. That wasn’t a problem though, as they’d all followed platform protocol by lining up in two neat queues, at each spot marked on the platform. Whether there are four or four thousand people waiting, they do this so the driver can expertly, very obligingly stop the train so the doors and passenger queues line up perfectly. In this case obviously the staff needed to get just one more person on board, hence the aforementioned shoving. And it almost worked.

As the train started to exit, a green carry bag (like we use in Australia for supermarkets) could be clearly seen with two thirds sticking out of the carriage. One guard started shouting, a siren sounded, two more guards joined the shouting, the siren persisted, everyone craned to see what was happening, and seemingly reluctantly, the train slid slowly to a halt. It took five precious, timetable-disrupting minutes to pry open the doors, hand the bag back, and get the train back on track.

As we climbed onto the next train, signs were flashing accusingly “Delays on the Yamanote line”, and we were left to ponder just how many people were inconvenienced by the bag lady, and if anything might happen to the station staff at the root of the delay.

*Shibuya Station (渋谷駅 Shibuya-eki) is a railway station in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan, operated jointly by East Japan Railway Company (JR East), Keio Corporation, Tokyu Corporation, and Tokyo Metro. With 2.4 million passengers on an average weekday in 2004, it is the fourth-busiest commuter rail station in Japan and the world (after Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Ōsaka / Umeda) handling a large amount of commuter traffic between the center city and suburbs to the south and west. (


**My sister and I seem to take different approaches when this happens – she calmly extracts her phone (without any sense of direction, it’s often my actions leading to our being lost) and starts again, while I become frustrated, expel a few expletives (usually towards fellow travellers lucky enough to cross my path) pace up and down, way over-react, then follow her, invariably getting back on track in a well ordered manner, without hurting any further fellow travellers.


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