How a Lady Falling on a Train Made my Day

I was having a pretty bad day.

Normally the overcrowded metro was bearable — sometimes even enjoyable — for me, as it gave me time to read a book on my kindle without being drawn like a moth to the enticing flame of my laptop screen.

On this particular day however, I felt exhausted after work, and was dreading the thought of boarding a crowded train.

The walk from my office to the train station was packed dense with workers and students all eager to get home, and I had to slow down to accommodate the pace of the crowd.

My exhaustion made me impatient, and the literal human traffic, even more.

I took the train from Hongo-sanchome 3 stops down to Otemachi, where I would then take the Hanzomon and Den-entoshi line to Takatsu station. All in all, my one-way commute would be about 1.5 hours, if walking was included.

Left: Hongo-sanchome to Otemachi. Right: Otemachi back to Takatsu.

1.5 hours isn’t too bad. 1 hour trips to college were pretty normal for me back home, so I got used to the routine over here pretty fast.

Normally when I’m walking, I think about home, dinner, work unfinished, the book I’m currently reading, etc. — self-centered things that keep me detached and aloft amidst the humdrum routine of commute; keep me breathing easy amidst the pressure that comes from being tightly packed between the bodies of strangers.

However, on this particular day, my exhaustion caused a lack of energy and enthusiasm to think abstract thoughts. I had only the energy to take in what was currently around me, thus although my senses were dulled, I felt a heightened awareness towards my surroundings.

Tread carefully.

I took in each stranger walking steadfastly towards the train’s waiting area, only moving aside for others when they were in a direct line of collision, and even then not moving fast enough — shoulders occasionally bumped as strangers walked on, unperturbed.

No chatter.

No smiles.

Just people with destinations, and a grim line of determination set in their expressions to get to that destination as quickly as possible, without any interruptions.

I was one of them.

Eyes stared vacantly ahead, tiredly downwards, or focused on phone screens. I felt mine to be the only ones looking around the station, taking in the crowd, people-watching as it were.

A tinge of disappointment, or maybe melancholia, washed over me. The crowds I once thought of as purposeful and energetic now seemed to me cold and aloof; the station, once huge and efficient, now seemed grey and dreary.

I was lucky enough this time round to bag a seat on the train. When you work somewhere as far off as I do, you still have a chance to get a seat on the train. As the train starts approaching Shibuya, the probability of getting a seat decreases exponentially, till it hits zero at Shibuya station.

I got told off for taking this photo. Really.

As I sat, I started to ponder the meaning of life, as I am wont to do whenever caught in a bout of unhappiness. I didn’t go into full-on crisis mode, but I was definitely starting to understand why some people didn’t like Japan.

Locals are friendly enough to tourists and people who generally look “not from around here”, but to adopt the routine is to get used to being squeezed out of breath by strangers who won’t look you in the eye (probably due to awkwardness), to have shoulders bumping into you hard, and that being considered normal, just because with so many people on such a small street, where else can those shoulders go when walking?

All around you see grim, bored or sleep-deprived faces. It’s hard to be jovial when you’re tired from work, and these people were clearly tired.

It was a few stations later when a lady with crutches boarded the train. The man nearest to the door immediately stood up to offer her his seat. I would have as well, though it would definitely be harder for her to get to my seat. I was sitting further inside, and wading through a thicket of people to get to an unoccupied seat is harder than it looks.

Suddenly, the lady fell.

Crutches went sliding apart as she tumbled to the ground, yelling “危ない (abunai)!” (transl.: dangerous). Other passengers, including myself, paused in a brief second of shock. The ones nearest to the fallen woman instinctively reacted by crouching and offering helping hands, but they didn’t get a chance to help, as seconds after she had fallen, two train officers donning caps and blue uniforms had boarded the train and were helping her up.

They coaxed the woman in strong voices, even as she winced in pain. One on each side, the officers helped her to the nearest seat, and after making sure she was alright, got off the train. Passengers once again resumed their spots, the train doors closed, and everything was back to normal.

An old lady who was seated next to the woman, asked her if she was fine.

“大丈夫か (daijōbu-ka)?”

“大丈夫(daijōbu)。”

They talked and chatted for a bit, before silence once again dominated the train. I sneaked a peak at the woman, and she looked much more relaxed now, the fall presumingly a distant memory in her mind.

I leaned back in my seat with a smile on my face. I was impressed at the efficiency and quick response of the officers, the lack of virtually any commotion at the scene.

I was charmed at how the old lady started a conversation with her, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill to soothe her nerves and take her mind of the fall.

With that fall, I was reminded once again why I admired Japanese culture.

By being efficient, the officers ensured that the woman’s distress (both mental and physical) was not prolonged. What could’ve been a great commotion, ended up as a tiny blip on her ride home, practically inconsequential.

Being efficient, well-prepared, and organized, puts you in control of the situation, and in a better place to help others should anything happen.

Though there might be a lack of smiles on the train, the invisible hand of efficiency sits at the side, ever watching, ready to help at a moment’s notice; and that offers a sense of safety and security that even in the coldness of the crowd, makes me feel warm inside.