Wednesday, November 07, 2007
This is a piece of fiction, a satire
To the bowing workers in multicolored uniforms manning so many entry and exit points:
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Really, thank you. When I arrived at immigration control in Narita four years ago, I was concerned at just how difficult traveling across this country might be; with trains readily accessible but fairly expensive, I was sure I would end up with nothing but a short weekend commute, and few opportunities to explore.
However, the staff at Japan Railways continues to surprise me on a daily basis; not only do you create so many opportunities for foreign guests to pay little-to-nothing for train fares, but your "hands-off" attitude to anyone who doesn't appear to be Japanese invites all of us to explore the land of the rising sun in ways we never thought possible.
Let me take a moment to illustrate your success and express specific causes of appreciation for foreigners who partake in riding the rails...
1. While some Japanese might be forced to repay the price in full for a lost ticket, foreign guests are merely asked for the amount they paid and sent across the barrier, if they are acknowledged at all. This makes JR especially appealing for us non-Japanese, for who wants to pay for services rendered, if it can be avoided?
2. We are not always forced to do arduous tasks like opening up our rail passes and providing appropriate identification, like a passport, despite the fact that regulations indicate this should be done. This gives me hope, shows me the Japanese bureaucratic system cannot be so inflexible, if it would allow those using expired rail passes to easily circumvent authorities. As many Japanese are aware, we foreigners have difficulty understanding and doing the simplest tasks (e.g. bending back the cover on a train pass), so your understanding in this matter not only saves us from an exceptional inconvenience, but provides us with the means to travel anywhere the tracks will take us.
3. Those of us who choose to sleep in the non-reserved sections can always rest easy, for we have noticed you will not disturb sleeping passengers, let alone sleeping foreigners. Such courtesy on your part allows us to travel for hours without having to wrestle around in our gaping pockets, nearly losing our hands to present tickets for inspection. There is also the added advantage of lying about our points of departure when it comes time to disembark, for they cannot be confirmed; foreign residents of Tokyo can buy the minimum fare ticket to Shinagawa, enjoy a leisurely 5-hour nap, and awaken in Hakata, refreshed and ready for ramen, explaining that they have in fact come from Kokura. Marvelous, and the fact this is allowed makes us all wonder why more families even bother owning cars or taking buses, if a distance of 1137 km can be covered with a few thousand yen.
I know in my heart of hearts JR loves each and every one of us, as they must want us to travel without payment and to not show respect where respect is due. Yes, being tolerated, even laughed at, by the Japanese staff (for our abuse of a national institution) is preferable to being hauled away by police and arrested for theft. Employees know this full well, and keep foreigners out of prisons and around ticket barriers for their continued amusement and "internationalism". We are more than happy to oblige, and will continue to entertain you in exchange for the rewards of travel.
Your silent partners,