Drinking party breaks out on Tokyo Station platform as Shinkansen delay strands travelers

Booze fans pass the time in a quintessentially Japanese way, while their younger counterparts opt for a more athletic method.

Despite a well-deserved reputation for reliability and punctuality, Japan’s trains do sometimes encounter problems and end up running behind schedule. This can even happen with the Shinkansen bullet trains, the pride of operator Japan Railway.

On Sunday afternoon, a Shinkansen train left Tokyo station at roughly 12:20, heading north along the Tohoku Shinkansen line, and things were fine until about an hour and a half later. After it pulled out of Sendai Station, though, an undisclosed mechanical issue caused the conductor to stop the train, which in turn shut down the entire line while a team of inspectors investigated and rectified the problem.

That process ended up taking over five hours, which left plenty of travelers stuck at the station while they waited for service to resume. Things were especially crowded in Tokyo Station, where Japanese Twitter user @Thrill_Junky snapped this photo of the congested conditions near the Shinkansen ticket gates.

Up on the platform, though, the atmosphere was decidedly more jovial, where a group of older men decided to bust out the booze and snacks they’d intended to consume on the train and have a drinking party right there on the ground.

Because Shinkansen seats always have trays, it’s common for alcohol-appreciative travelers to crack open a cold one (or two) as they zoom about the high-speed rail network. These gentleman had stocked up accordingly, but with no refrigerator to keep their libations chilled, they came to the conclusion that the only sensible thing to do was to drink them before they got too warm.

Meanwhile, further up the line in Aomori Prefecture, stranded Shinkansen travelers waiting on the platform of Hachinohe Station were provided with some surprise entertainment.

Among those who suddenly had time on their hand was a college gymnastics team, and instead of using that empty space to plop themselves down in a drinking circle, they instead popped off a series of back flips.

Shinkansen service was finally resumed at around 7:30, but the examples shown here serve as a reminder that when travelling, just because you’re not making progress towards your destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey.

Sources: Twitter/@Thrill_Junky via Jin, Mainichi Shimbun, TBS News, NHK News Web
Featured image: Twitter/@Thrill_Junky

Shinkansen stabbing suspect tells police he will commit another crime if released from prison

Police treating attack that left one dead, two injured as premeditated.

At roughly 9:45 on the evening of June 9, while onboard a Shinkansen bullet train running between Tokyo and Osaka, 22-year-old Ichiro Kojima took a knife out of his backpack and began slashing two women, also in their 20s, who were seated near him. Kotaro Umeda, a 38-year-old businessman returning to his home in central Japan following a business trip to Yokohama, bravely came to the women’s defense, allowing them to escape but losing his life as Kojima turned his attacks on him.

Kojima, an unemployed resident of the town of Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture, was subdued and turned over to the Kanagawa Prefectural police after the train arrived at Odawara Station. He currently awaits trial, but further details are emerging as he is questioned by investigators.

Kojima has told the police that he purchased the knife he used in March, and the incident is now being treated as a premeditated crime, though Kojima did not know any of the victims prior to the attack. More disturbing still, though, is that he has also stated that if he is released from prison, he will commit a crime again.

Though Kojima did not explicitly specify that this hypothetical crime would also be a homicide, that very much seems to be the implication, as the Shinkansen stabbing appears to be his only significant run-in with the law. Considering Japanese society’s widespread support of the death penalty, Kojima’s lack of remorse may be a sign that he’s hoping the authorities will end his life for him, though prosecutors have yet to issue a statement as to what sort of punishment they’ll be seeking.

Sources: Livedoor News/TV Asahi News via Hachima Kiko, Nitele News 24 via Hachima Kiko, The Mainichi
Top image: Pakutaso

Should strong-smelling foods be banned from bullet trains? Japanese citizens debate

A popular snack for the trip home from Kansai is an Osaka-specialty pork bun, but some commuters think they should be banned.

The bullet train is one of the greatest feats of modern transportation technology, but as fast as it goes, it still takes a good two-and-a-half hours to get between Tokyo and Osaka. Chances are, you’re going to get hungry before you arrive at your destination, and while eating on ordinary commuter trains is generally frowned upon, it’s not uncommon for business people to pick up a snack or an eki-ben, a station-specialty lunch box, for longer rides.

But there’s some etiquette to consider when eating on the bullet train. First and foremost, eating cleanly and tidying up after yourself is a must, and not causing trouble to other guests with the sound of your food packaging is also important. Similarly, it’s also considered bad manners to eat something with a strong smell, since the aroma could bother other passengers. In a country that sells low-smell Kentucky Fried Chicken to discreetly carry on the train, politeness concerning food is key.

▼ For example, we really wouldn’t recommend eating Japan’s smelly fermented soy-beans on the bullet train.

For some bullet train passengers, however, it seems that calling it bad manners is not enough to discourage businessmen and women from eating fragrant foods. Instead, they are calling for a ban, especially of one particular target: the 551 Hourai Pork Bun, a steamed bun filled with spiced meat from Osaka, which is a local favorite and a popular train snack for commuters. These filling and tasty snacks have a meaty and sweet-salty smell, and are often eaten with Japanese spicy mustard, which adds to its pungent aroma.

▼ Presumably to most, it doesn’t smell bad; it probably just smells delicious.

Instagram Photo

According to opponents, there are lots of reasons why it’s impolite to eat smelly food: it can make other passengers nauseous, it may disturb the sleep of your neighbors, and it might even make those who weren’t smart enough to pick up a snack before their departure hungry. But should the 551 Hourai Pork Bun be banned from the bullet train simply because it has a strong smell? Something that has an offensive smell, like fermented sushi, would be a bit more understandable. Who wants to smell, for example, someone’s girls’ feet-flavored fried chicken, when you’re going to be stuck with them and their smelly breath for two or more hours?

Some smelly foods have already been banned, like takoyaki, one of Osaka’s other famous cuisines made of octopus in fried balls of batter. It used to be the most popular bullet train snack, but owing to its distinctive smell, JR East initiated a rule in 2011 forbidding passengers to eat it. Other snacks and bentos sold at stations have stickers on them asking passengers to refrain from consuming them on the train, so it’s not unheard of for a particular food to be frowned upon.

Currently, however, JR East doesn’t have a policy on the 551 Hourai Pork Bun, and there’s no sticker requesting that passengers refrain from eating them. If someone makes a stink about it, train attendants may request that they put it away, but otherwise, at the moment, the 551 Hourai Pork Bun is a restriction-free food.

Will the voices against tasty train snacks be strong enough to force the 551 Hourai Pork Bun to meet the same fate as its predecessor? Only time will tell. But if so, supporters of the bun wonder where the line will be drawn. Will eating on the bullet train be banned altogether eventually? Let’s hope not, otherwise travelers may lose out on a lot of tasty food.

Source: Yahoo Japan News via Hachimakiko
Top Image: Pakutaso
Insert Image: Pakutaso (1, 2)

Here’s your chance to ride Japan’s maglev Shinkansen in spring, nine years before service starts

Japan Railways is taking applications to experience the future of Japanese rail travel nearly a decade ahead of time.

Japan’s Shinkansen is already incredibly fast; they don’t call it the “bullet train” for nothing, after all. But even with some Shinkansen trains reaching speeds of 320 kilometers (199 miles) per hour, Japan Railways’ engineers are still looking to make rapid rail travel even quicker.

The rail operator’s current major development project is a superconducting maglev Shinkansen that will run between Tokyo and Nagoya, levitating 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) above the track and traveling at up to 500 kilometers (311 miles) per hour. It’s not scheduled to go into service until 2027, but tests of the technology have already begun, and now Central Japan Railway Company (also known as JR Tokkai) is offering ordinary rail fans the chance to ride along on a trial run this coming spring.

Between now and February 16, JR Tokkai is accepting applications for passengers on demonstration runs of the in-development superconducting maglev Shinkansen. The voyage is a round-trip ride that starts from and finishes at JR Tokkai’s Yamanashi Research Center, travelling along test tracks specifically built for the development of the train.

Six trains will run on each of the eight demonstration days, which are the 23rd, 28th, 29th, and 30th of March, plus the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th of April. The earliest group gathering time is 10:15 a.m., and the latest 4:15 p.m. JR says the entire program will take roughly two hours for each group.

Two types of applications are possible, the first for one or two people (priced at 4,320 yen [US$39] total) and the second for a group of three or four passengers (8,640 yen total). Applicants are asked to list three choices of date/time combinations, and since JR expects the largest number of applications to be for weekend and mid-day applications, avoiding those times will probably increase your chances of being picked.

JR hasn’t said exactly how fast the test train will be, so it’s unlikely to hit the promised 500-kilometer-per-hour mark, but this is still a chance to experience the future of Japanese trains almost a decade early, and applications can be made here.

Source: IT Media, JR Tokkai
Images: JR Tokkai

Bullet train makes departure, mistakenly leaves 200 passengers behind on platform

Japan may have one of the most efficient rail systems in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely free from mishap.

The trains in Japan are often praised for their punctuality, and while they are extremely reliable overall, that doesn’t mean service is always free from delays or mishaps. Technical difficulties and accidents happen, and trains are still run by humans after all, and we’re all prone to making mistakes on occasion.

Some mistakes, like departing 20 seconds before schedule, have negligible repercussions (though it still warranted an apology). But departing with a completely empty train while nearly 200 passengers are left behind on the platform? Such a gaffe has much more immediate consequences for all involved.

The situation in question happened on December 13, after a Tokyo-bound bullet train departing from Nagoya Station pulled up to the platform. At approximately 8:30 a.m., the train made its departure, leaving 200-or-so confused passengers behind.

Luckily, station personnel soon noticed the mistake and hit the emergency button on the platform, causing the already-departed bullet train to make an emergency stop. The issue was quickly rectified, the train backing up 20 meters (approximately 22 yards) to the platform to let the passengers aboard before departing again.

According to Japan Railways, the blunder happened when the driver checked and saw the doors of the train were closed, and assumed the passengers had already boarded. In reality, however, the conductor had yet to open the doors to let passengers on.

Officials are looking into the situation to find what exactly caused the mix-up, so they can avoid similar issues in the future.

Source: Huffington Post Japan, Ganko Oyaji
Featured image: Pakutaso

Stranded passengers on Shinkansen bullet train served out-of-date bread during typhoon

The stale bread was given to people travelling on the popular route from Tokyo to Osaka.

Typhoon Lan caused havoc in Japan earlier this week, bringing torrential rain and storm conditions that caused a fire on one train due to a lightning strike, and created a scare in another part of the country with one of their tall structures.

The country’s Shinkansen bullet train system also experienced problems, with suspended services causing long delays due to the strong winds which created dangerous conditions for Japan’s fast rail network. The exemplary service usually experienced on the Shinkansen also took a bit of a nose-dive due to the typhoon, with passengers reporting that they were served stale bread while stranded on one of the trains.

According to JR East, on the night of the typhoon, which made landfall in Shizuoka Prefecture at approximately 3:00 a.m. on 23 October, a Tokaido Shinkansen Kodama train bound for Osaka was forced to cease operations due to the dangerous weather conditions. The train stopped at Atami Station in Shizuoka Prefecture and at about 3:00 a.m., the rail staff handed out bread to the stranded passengers, who had no other choice but to stay inside the train for an extended period of time while the rail service was suspended.

JR East says that the bread they handed out was taken from canned stockpiles at the station which were kept in case of emergency situations, with an extended shelf-life of five years. 128 lots of bread were distributed to passengers, however a number of people pointed out that the bread had gone past its expiry date, with dates of 12 and 20 August 2017 marked on the packages.

The rail company has apologised, saying it recalled 15 lots of bread which had gone over the expiry date, and no passengers became ill over the incident.

Source: Asahi Shimbun via Otakomu
Featured image: Flickr/Takeshi Kuboki