Concerning Trains

(In the voice of Brit that resembles a parrot)

Trains.  That thing in Japan other people use to fall asleep on total strangers.

Trains. The vehicle, not the band because that’s a whole other bag of crazy.

Trains.  Those things that you think of whenever you hear Kenny Roger’s sing The Gambler.

Trains.  The thing that every Harry Potter fan wants to ride so much that they will run headfirst into a brick wall in London.


My new apartment is in Nagoya, which puts me a 40 minute train ride from work.  That’s not at all bad since my apartment is a 10 minute walk from the main station and my company pays for my train passes.  It’s pretty damn convenient, and whenever I’m going to be riding it for work it’ll be on the quiet direction: morning is busy into Nagoya, evening is busy out of Nagoya.  And the train system itself is really well timed.  You can count on the trains running on the posted schedule 99% of the time and they make announcements at the stations when there’s a problem rather than Twitter or their website.

But these magical metal conveyance machines aren’t something we use a whole lot in Canada.  Before I finished university, I think I used the subway/skytrain system in Vancouver only a handful of times.  I spent a lot more time in cars, buses, and even ferries.  After uni the Canada Line was put in and my bus route discontinued, so I ended up riding that line damn near every day.  And this was under protest.  My old express buses actually took less time than the new system.

But out here, I need to use them for going everywhere.  Next town over? Train.  Major cities? Train.  Water park and shopping centre? Train.  Mountain resort with Bond villain and sexy female sidekick named Clarissa Whetmore? I wish, but I also wouldn’t be surprised.

And despite my glowing recommendation, the bloody thing was daunting at the start.  I had very little idea of how the system worked and I intentionally avoided using it until I got a grip on the layout and understanding it.  Unlike Canada, there are different trains that only go to particular stops along the same route even though they all cost the same price.

For example, the train from work to Nagoya has four different trains running that line.  The local train is the slowest and literally goes to every stop.  It takes over an hour to get there.  The semi-express hits up about half the stops and takes 50ish minutes.  The express only stops at the big places and gets things done in 35 minutes, and the limited express goes to all the same stops  as the express but has assigned seating and a spiffy fast train that arrives in Nagoya in 25 minutes.

A similar system applies for the bullet trains(shinkansen), which as I learned have three or four different speeds.  But the trains don’t actually go faster or slower, they just stop more frequently.  The system seems to work well enough, but it is so indicative of the Japanese way of thinking which is somewhere between incredibly practical and disturbingly inflexible to the point of fetishism.  The system makes a lot of sense, but it would also be more efficient with very easy changes.  But nobody will ever make those changes, this is how it’s always been done and changing it will “inconvenience” too many of this already rapidly aging population.  But I digress.

Canada is a special beast when it comes to transportation, and this is something I never really understood until I came here.  The bus, train, seabus, and subway system are all part of the same company, and I never appreciated that until now.  Because they are all the same company, tickets and passes and workers are all part of that company so it makes everything a thousand times easier to coordinate and use.

But out here, there are three to five different companies alone in Nagoya(more in the bigger cities) running train and subways systems in the city.  It’s insane!  Up until a few years ago you couldn’t even use the tickets or cards between and systems and had to buy different cards if you needed any kind of transfer.  Now there’s a card you top off to use in and out, but I can’t imagine how mind boggling stupid it must have been to have to buy new tickets all the time for each of these companies who also used different ticket machines for buying tickets.  There is the Kintetsu, the Meitetsu, the JR, the various subway lines, and buses.  The only thankful part I am for that is they don’t run on the same routes.  That would be a whole other bag of crazy.

Bottom line: Vancouver ‘s system might be kind of stupid, frequently ahead of or behind the schedule, crowded and expensive, but I guarantee you it’s cheaper and more intuitive than any city in Japan.  I never appreciated how nice it is to have one pass for everything until I got here.





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