The Silent Shinkansen Train

This morning I rode the famous “bullet train” or Shinkansen for the first time from Osaka to Tokyo. It was fun and exciting. This train is supposed to be one of the fastest trains in the world with speeds averaging around 300 km per hour and one so punctual it’s stressful.

I stress that I’ll miss the train or not get on the train in time. They only stop for 3 minutes at the stop. 3 minutes exactly. Not 4 nor 5 but 3 minutes. 3 simple minutes. How did they determine it?

I get to the train station early so as not to stress. It’s a good decision as it allows me to wander around, take pictures and get myself to the platform.

I’m immediately impressed by how organized and clean everything is. I thought the Germans were organized but not as much as Japan.

The platform’s signs allow me to know exactly where I am to stand wait. I reserved seats so the ticket tells me clearly what bogey and seat number I am to take. These are all clearly defined on the platform floor and on the clear gates that separate the platform from the train rails.

A few minutes before the train arrives a group of Japanese businessmen arrive. All are in dark suits, white shirts and a somber tie falls from their neck. Black shoes shine out. In their hands are only black and brown bags. Their faces are without clear expression. Not a smile is to be seen. They are serious these Japanese businessmen. Too serious for me.

After uniformed school children flow out of the train in their navy blue uniforms and knee high socks it’s time to get in. The businessmen and I enter the train in an orderly line.

It’s funny. As if synchronized all these men in black go to their seats, take off their jackets, flip open the clothes hook, hang up the jacket and fall quietly into their seats. I feel like I’m taking part in a strange silent movie.

It’s so quiet. The bogey is full but I can barely hear my neighbours. My ears have yearned for silence in noisy Bangkok but Japan is just unnervingly quiet.

The train is so quiet and stable when I close my eyes I feel like I’m all alone in the middle of nowhere. I could be in a zen temple staring out into the sea of eternity. I could be high up in the mountains.

But no. When I open my eyes and wake up from my nap I find myself surrounded by at least 50 people and the person sitting on the row next to me has changed. I didn’t hear a thing. This is unusual for me.

I look around and see the man nearest to me staring at an incredibly complicated looking sheet of paper filled with lines and lines and Japanese characters. I guess he’s an engineer of sorts.

I sit there in my seat taking everything in and trying not to make a noise in this deep silence. It’s great but it requires getting used to. I am relieved when we pull into Tokyo at exactly 1333 hours and hear some noise. Music to my ears.

I get off the silent movie and set out to explore Tokyo.

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