If you’ve ever been to Japan, or even heard of Japan, you’re probably well aware that trains run on time in Japan. In the rare instances where your line isn’t on time—even by so little as 60 seconds—you won’t be able to iPlug your ears tight enough to miss the several profuse apologies being issued by any and every train employee. Ten minutes, and you might even get your money back.
In the rare event there is a delay, I’m amazed at the clarity and efficiency with which it is communicated, from reasons for the delay to alternate travel options, if necessary. This being despite the fact that 99% of these delays are caused by reasons beyond the feasible control of the actual train operators—heavy rains, winds, snows, or the all-too-common “Human Accident”.
In what is such a remarkably efficient and plentiful country with such remarkably kind and humble people, it is hard to imagine suicide being such an epidemic, yet Japan has consistently had more than 30,000 suicides a year for more than a decade—ranking in the world’s top 10 per capita. Undoubtedly, this is partially attributable to the societal
expectation of being “successful” in Japan and the pressure and stress associated with it, but the recent surge has been fueled by unemployment and financial hardship that was spawned by a 1997 stock market burst from which Japan’s economy has never fully recovered (and even more recently the global financial crisis of the past two years).
In regards to the train system, last year approximately 2,000 of these suicides were carried out by victims jumping in front of trains. After experimenting with installing mirrors at several stations, playing on the assumption that it would be harder to carry through with such an act if you are seeing your own reflection in front of you, Japanese railway operators are now installing these fluorescent blue light fixtures at a growing number of stations (like Japan Rail’s Ogikubo Station pictured here, as well as the entire Yamanote Line looping central Tokyo). While this methodology is no more scientifically proven than the mirror logic, the idea is to leverage therapist claims that a drony, blue light has a calming effect on agitated people, or people obsessed with a particular thing, in this case committing suicide. Rather than give the entire station a bright, eerie blue overhaul, the re-designers are focusing their attention on the first two light fixtures of each platform, as the vast majority of these “human accidents” occur at the part of the platform where the train is moving the fastest and there are fewer crowds.
Hopefully the blue lights will help, but surely won’t help as much as the potential of a rebounding global economy…