Yesterday was a nice autumn day, so after finishing work at around 4, I thought I’d walk up to Nakatsu, which is one station north of the Umeda labyrinth. Besides the stroll, and the cup of coffee I could have at the relatively quiet Starbucks above Nakatsu Station, it would give me a better chance at a seat on the southbound subway on a busy Saturday.
Coffee drunk, magazine read, I descended to the station, only to see a small group gathered around a station attendant who was writing something on a whiteboard he’d placed on an easel in front of the ticket gates. A few people groaned, made “not again!” faces, and walked away, but a few began asking the attendant questions (his answer to most of them seemed to be “please take exit 4,” which – I realise now – meant he was directing them to the nearest JR train station).
On the whiteboard I could make out “長居駅” (Nagaieki – eki means station), and the phrase “人身事故”, which I could not exactly read, but knew it was the euphemism the train lines use for suicide (later a Japanese friend told me that the reading was jinshinjiko, literally personal injury). So someone had jumped at Nagai Station, my destination, usually 25 minutes away. The attendant said that trains in both directions had been stopped , and it would be the better part of an hour before the Midosuji Line (according to Guinness, the single busiest subway line on earth) was running again. I stood around stupidly for a few minutes, watching the commuters enter, read the sign, then do much the same as me. Finally, I came to my senses and went out (via exit 4).
The logical thing to do would have been to go back for another cup of coffee, but I was tired and bored and wanted to get home. I headed back south to JR station (the subway is run by Osaka City and, within the city limits, is far more convenient than JR (Japan Railways), which is a national railway network and runs above ground). As the crowd got larger (it looked like Beijing at the Yodobashi Camera intersection), I realized that all these people were coming from all the other nearby subway stations and all had the same idea as I had: take the JR Loop Line.
When I entered the station, I felt even more claustrophobic than usual – it was a madhouse. After finding the ticket gates (yes, it was that crowded) and scanning my ICOCA card, I made my way to the Loop Line platform escalator. When I got to the top, I was stunned: no platform, just people. On each side of the platform there is a train (going opposite directions on the loop): it was impossible to tell who was getting on what, the trains themselves were already packed solid, and I knew I’d freak out if I got on one (besides,with my luck, someone would then jump at a Loop Line station, shutting down JR, and we’d sit, like a dropped can of sardines, between stations; this has happened to people I know). I left immediately.
It dawned on me that I could take the usually irrelevant Yotsubashi subway line to Namba then transfer to another JR line to Tennoji, then to another line to Nagai. By now it was about 5:30, and it had become a nerdy personal test of my transportation knowledge to get myself home. I walked west and got to Nishi-Umeda Stn., under the Hilton. The usually half-empty train that pulled in was SRO, but once all those passengers had gotten off, not too many got on. I got to Namba, asked an attendant, “Midousujisen-wa…” (“About the Midosuji Line…”) and he replied, relievedly, “Ima daijoubu desu!” (“It’s all right now!”). So through the underground arcades I walked, and took the Midosuji Line home. Time elapsed, about two hours. Like tens of thousands of other people, I had been inconvenienced for an afternoon, and took it as a personal affront. Like the people around me, I was tired and cross. Again, admittedly, I could have just bought a magazine and had another coffee somewhere, but so tired and self-absorbed was I when I arrived at Nagai Station that I didn’t even spare a thought for the life which had abruptly ended there, and “caused” it all.