On the way home from the Tire Park yesterday, we got stuck for a few minutes between stations due to a 人身事故. That literally translates as person-body accident, and maybe sometimes it is exactly that: an accident. But anyone who has lived here for a certain period of time will also recognize this particular term to be a euphemism for suicide by train.
I don’t have any numbers, mostly because I’m too lazy to look it up, but it’s a big enough problem that the train companies charge the surviving family for the delay. (I suspect that might actually just be urban legend, but most Japanese people believe it.)
Most people commuting by train have been effected by the delays this causes. Some stations are more popular jumping points than others.
About nine years ago, I was waiting for the train on a warm Monday morning. The station near us has three platforms and three sets of tracks. On weekday mornings, the local trains wait on the outside tracks while the express trains zoom down the middle, passing the platform without stopping.
A lady in an unseasonably heavy black dress and wide brimmed hat walked out to the end of the far platform, where it tapers a bit. The train stops further down, and you can’t ride it from there, so I remember thinking that was a bit strange. Occasionally, though, we get train buffs taking photos of the trains as they emerge from the tunnel, so it wasn’t incredible.
The lady teetered on the edge, just as the express came barreling through.
I turned away, on instinct I guess.
The express didn’t stop. On the tracks there was a pile of black clothing, some hair, a wide brimmed hat.
On the platform, there was an audible, communal gasp. And then silence.
The driver of the local train, which had been waiting for the express to pass, stepped out of his cabin and bent over the other side of the platform, then vomited onto the tracks.
I was standing about fifty feet away, but the sound echoed in the quiet.
Then gradually the world came back from its stupor. Passengers whispered to each other in low tones. The PA system announced a delay. Men in orange work vests arrived with tarps to hide the scene while the ambulance arrived.
Within ten minutes, all traces of the life just lost were gone, except for a dark smudge on the tracks.
I got on the local train, where the ambiance was silent, introspective.
We arrived at the next station. New people got on, harried and cross that the train had been late, oblivious to the reality behind the euphemism.