Bring In Japanese Culture, Not the Bullet Train

Having traveled a lot on trains in Japan, I have so far not had an occasion when the person sitting in front of me did not ask for my permission if he could recline his seat. They ask me despite that there is ample leg space in those trains. When they arrive at their destination, they always set their seats straight and organize the magazines the way they were before they came.

Politeness, one of the major pillars of any civilization, is ever present in Japan. Politeness shows respect for the other individual, and it reflects in how people live, work, and engage with others.

I cannot remember when my train was ever late, even by a minute. I cannot remember when I found my seat occupied by someone else. In fact, in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and increasingly in China, even in a crowded subway, people mostly do not use the seats at the entrance of the compartments. A pregnant woman or an old person gets to use these. People don’t use these seats because they perhaps think that they would embarrass the pregnant woman or the old person if they have to vacate the seat in front of him.

In trains, no one—none, nada, zip—talks on his phone or plays any music using the speakerphone. Mostly people don’t even talk. Even in subways you can travel in peace, un-violated by noise of others.

I try my best to be polite, but Japanese beat me every time. One must try to understand the mind and heart that they put in their work, and how they respect their clients.

From honesty, respect, and integrity has emerged the nation of Japan, a country I am deeply in love with. From all these have emerged world-known brands like Toyota, Sony, Citizen, Canon, Hitachi, Komatsu, Nippon, Panasonic, Toshiba, Honda, Seiko, etc. This list is endless. What should amaze anyone is that Japan stood almost completely destroyed by the end of the Second World War. By sheer willpower it has risen through the ashes.

A few months after the Tsunami of 2011, I visited the area around the town of Sendai, which had been majorly impacted. People did not beg the government to help, there was no riot or robbery, and people had cleaned up the area within months.

One of the symptoms of hard work and sheer ingenuity of all of the above is the bullet train. One must remember that there is a huge amount of civilization, culture, and ethics behind bullet trains. You cannot fake economic growth in your country by merely imposing the bullet train on the society. There are no shortcuts, which India is implementing.

Bullet trains are expensive in Japan despite being very frequent. When the bullet trains are implemented in India, they will cost more to run than they do in Japan. India will have to create a large number of elevated tracks to stop cattle and even human being from crossing the rails. Japanese engineers will need to be brought in to maintain the tracks. One has to be rather simplistic and utopian to think that the kind of thoroughness that maintenance of the bullet train requires can be provided by Indians at Indian salaries. On top India simply cannot have the frequency of trains that Japan has. All these will ensure that the bullet train will cost a lot more to a passenger than a similar distance would in Japan.

The money can be much more productively used in the system that already exists today. India can increase speed of current trains by improving the quality of the existing tracks, and by adding more trains on them. I often see Shatabdi trains with a lot of unoccupied seats, despite that people cannot buy their tickets—problems like these don’t even need any expense to address. These improvements can be made, with a significant positive impact on travel comfort, at a fraction of the cost of the bullet train.

India would do well if it merely focused on importing the great values of Japanese culture. If India succeeds, it will as a consequence “make in India” our own bullet trains, without depending on others’ charity.

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2 thoughts on “Bring In Japanese Culture, Not the Bullet Train

  1. Ark-med says:

    Bullet-type high speed trains in India might be a frightening proposition. The age-old (yet recently recently ballyhooed in some business publications) “jugaad”will get in the way of safe construction and adherence to materials quality standards, which could result in horrific mishaps.

    As for Japan, I’m not so sure. The Takata airbags, Toyota spaghetti-code single-point-of-failure resultant unintended acceleration fiascos cast some shadow of doubt on Japan’s redoubtability. This has been amplified by the scandal in which Kobe Steel finds itself embroiled, wherein substandard steel was supplied to various customers, including those much vaunted Bullet trains.

  2. Gene C says:

    I’ve been to Japan and can vouch for what the author reports about the incredible Japanese people. More so when one considers that they built up the second largest economy in the world without having their own natural resources. If they had India’s level of natural resources, they would rule the world.

    Shinkansen trains in India?!? This will surely turn out a massive tragedy for the Japanese. They are financing the train via a loan repayable over 50 years it seems. I predict that within 5-7 years there will be some sort of freak accident to the train. The sort of freak accident that only happens in India, say for example,
    1) the railway tracks being stolen for sale to salvage merchants.
    2) People dying by urinating on the electrified tracks.
    3) Electric supply of the trains is cut due to power theft, or indeed, theft of the power line itself for scrap copper.

    Naturally, the Indians will say it is the fault of bad Japanese technology. Maybe refuse loan repayments and demand compensation instead. The good name of the Japanese will be dragged into the mud and they’d be out $17 billion.

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