Nine tips for surviving Japan’s hellishly crowded trains

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RocketNews 24:

If you have ever ridden a train during rush hour in Japan, you know it takes a certain amount of fortitude to survive it. If you are just visiting the country, sometimes you can avoid those super stuffed trains, buy if you live or spend an extended length of time in any big city in Japan you just can’t avoid taking a packed train. Whether it’s rush hour in the morning, rush hour at night, or the last few trains home, you will often find yourself in a position where you have to give up the luxury of personal space in exchange for a ride home.

It takes a certain amount of skill to stay upright as well as a bit of creative ingenuity to pass the time and avoid feeling claustrophobic in order to survive the crowded train.

We’ve collated nine of the best tips to help you get through a hell-like train ride:

1. Rock Climbing

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On these packed train rides, unless you’re really, really lucky, you’re probably not going to be able to claim a seat, so having access to a handrail or a strap is like you’ve been chosen by the train gods. For most of the other people, they have to maintain their stability in some other way. The best way to do that is a riding technique dubbed “rock climbing”. Just like the sport of the same name, riders use whatever surface they can find to keep their balance. You are going to be relying on your fingertips here, so make sure you’ve warmed them up a little. Maybe even take a little chalk with you to increase the friction; whatever divot you can get your fingers into may be the difference between getting to your destination on two feet and falling face-first into a crowd of strangers.

2. One Finger 

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Sometimes you don’t even have access to any sort of protuberance to grab on to. For those times, how about trying the technique known as the “one finger”? Perhaps the best place to try this is right by the doors as you can use the frame as your point of contact. Just plant your feet firmly on the floor of the train, and – provided you’re tall enough to do so – push up against the frame with your one finger and you will achieve stability. Like a monopod, you’ll become a rock which other people wished they could be. Some exceptionally tall people can also use this technique by using the ceiling. In this way, you basically become a post on a train and you can achieve a peaceful state of mind as you become one with it.

3. The Accidental Kabe-don

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Ah…the kabe-don, always finding a way into our lives. This one’s by no means the most desirable of options, but it’s valid nonetheless. You may occasionally find yourself on the giving or receiving end of an unintentional kabe-don while riding a crowded train, perhaps because the train car shifts unexpectedly and, without anything to hold on to, you risk crashing into a fellow passenger otherwise. Sometimes the only way you can keep from bumping into the person beside you is to slam your hand out against the train wall or door’s window. These passionately awkward encounters are sometimes unavoidable, but the unwritten rule is that both parties involved must look away, thus killing any anime-esque romance dead immediately. Use it wisely – you wouldn’t want your balancing technique to be mistaken for a pick-up technique!

4. Michael Jackson 

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This move gets its name from the fancy dance moves of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. His deft balancing and ultra-cool dance moves are truly invoked when forced to employ this technique on a train. Not only is body space a premium, but floor space is also pretty scarce. Everyone wants to be able to plant their feet to achieve maximum balance, but sometimes there are just too many feet and not enough space to put them down flat. Thus you call upon your inner Michael Jackson and stand on your tippy-toes. Those who have mastered the King of Pop move can graduate to the higher level version that involves only one leg to stand on. It’s too bad no one will be able to see your sweet moves since everyone is squished together.

5. Go with the flow

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The previous four techniques were for standing your ground and relying on your own balance to survive the ride, but this one is the total opposite. If you surrender yourself to the movement of the train, like a seaweed that floats in the ocean, this path of nonresistance allows you to achieve great calm on your busy commute. Provided there are enough bodies in the train car to keep everyone more or less in place, you’ll soon feel the tension melting away from your body until, suddenly, you’re already at your stop.

6. Nape of the neck and the 007

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This is a strange one, but it tackles a different challenge of being on a crowded train: your time. Since the cars are packed in tight, there is not a lot of room to move around, let alone raise your cell phone up to face-level to play games on it. So how about playing a little game with what’s around you? The only thing to see are other people’s necks. Let’s play a game with that. You can play this creative game by carefully looking at the nape of someone’s neck and evaluating what kind of person he or she is, just by that little part of the body. You can make up some really intricate stories about the passengers around you and it makes the hell train a little more fun.

If you are feeling a little less imaginative, you can try a time waster that is much simpler. Start with the back of someone’s head, and look at the back of the head of where they are looking. Keep following that line of heads until suddenly a face pops out that is looking in your direction — a secret 00 agent???

7. Omiai (formal marriage interview)

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This one isn’t so much a survival technique as an accident to avoid where possible. When you are riding and you misread the timing of the doors and the timing of the people around you and you happen to turn so you are completely face to face with the someone around you. This is called omiai, which translates as “formal marriage interview”, because there is so little distance between your two faces. It’s almost like you are about to initiate a kiss!

If it’s so awkward, why doesn’t one of you turn around again? Besides the fact that there is really little room on the train, the train door you need is behind the other person, and you’ve got places to go once those doors open. There isn’t any time to turn around again before pushing your way out the door, so you stand there waiting out the longest…five…seconds…of…your…life.

8. I am a right angle

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If you are able to get your hands on one of the overhead straps, you might be able to employ this technique to pass some time. If you’ve got a newspaper, you can roll it up and put it in the hand that is holding onto the handle. Then you can tip your head back and read the newspaper on your way to work, no matter how crowded it is — you’ve gotta make the most of that vertical space after all! Sure, maybe you can only adjust what you are reading at each stop, but for the people who employ this technique, some sports news is better than no sports news at all.

9. Guard 

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This last technique may appeal to your protective nature. After people board a train, there often appears to be a dividing line down the middle. These two sides are made up of people who are facing the door on the left, and those who are facing the door on the right. The two sides generally fight for dominance as people get on and off the train. However, normally a cease-fire line separates the front lines of the battalions. The two armies of people stand back to back at the center and a civil peace is kept.

That is, until one of the doors open and a flood of people start to pour onto the train. At that time to prevent your side’s line from falling, many people will unconsciously “guard” with their back. They steel up and plant their feet and protect their space with their backs saying “this far…and no further!” Not only do you protect the space in front of you, but your army helps to mitigate the loss of space as a whole. If people didn’t do this, most likely the number of people entering the train would increase five-fold, making it an even more uncomfortable ride than it already is.

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