Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

By Amelia Newcomb | September 20, 2008 | Japan

The Japanese are big on signs. A day on the Tokyo subway system drives home this point. To a visitor, of course, it’s a good thing. And for a Bostonian, the notion that public authorities could be so concerned that you be able to find your way around is nothing short of stunning.

But I could do with a little less information.

I am not trying to be ungrateful. I love walking down the stairs to the subway and seeing clearly delineated train lines with all their stops listed in both Japanese and English. I like the colored circles that make it easy to identify the train. And sure, it’s helpful when I enter the station to know that I will reach the gate after walking 120 meters. But then I pass a sign that it’s only 80 meters to my destination. Soon, it’s a mere 20 meters till I can plunk don my electronic debit card.

I don’t suffer for a second from the strain of uncertainty about whether I am pointed in the right direction.

Nothing is left to chance as you ride the miracle that is public transportation in Tokyo. You’re told when your next train will arrive so that you can wait patiently. You are instructed where to line up. Once the car arrives, stickers suggest that you avoid getting your hand stuck in the door. More stickers tell you to put your cellphone on “manner mode” and refrain from talking. (Everyone simply texts instead.) Other postings tell you to give your seat to the infirm, the elderly, and the pregnant – the latter  illustrated by a seated big stomach that has comic-book style “ouch” lines emanating from it.

Then of course, there are the verbal signals: A train is arriving imminently. The train is here. Thank you for boarding our train. Doors are opening. Doors are shutting. Next stop: Honancho. Doors will open on the right side of the train. Please exit the train without forgetting your belongings. Watch your feet getting out as there’s a gap.

Riding the train is not a time to try to be alone with your thoughts.

View All Posts By Amelia Newcomb

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