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What the World Can Learn From Japan’s Early Train Departure Apology




On November 14th, a train scheduled to leave a Chiba Prefecture station at 9:44:40 AM departed 20 seconds early. The reason given was a lack of confirmation by the driver. For Japan, which has built a reputation on running according to schedule, this was rather surprising news. A New York newspaper asked, however: “Is this even a problem?”


Granted, none of the passengers missed their train, but repenting over 20 seconds is a sign of self-discipline—that “people’s lives, not schedules are the priority.” It cannot be overlooked that an early departure could have caused people to rush to board the train. Thus, one can see it as an indication of the pride of railway workers, rather than that of a dutiful national temperament.



It was Shinpei Gotoh who gave the Japanese railway a uniform system. He was the first president of the Railway Institute, the institution which managed the national railway.


“Suppresses idleness, forbids self-indulgence, maintains discipline, encourages responsibility—it ensures all of these things.” This was what Gotoh said when asked about the role of uniforms, according to the Shinpei Gotoh for the current era (Fujiwara Shoten Publishing).




For the railway worker, the uniform must be like having a second brake. Though with recent reports of napping and mobile phone use—so-called “multi-task driving”—there appear to be many rogues who go against their forebearers’ teachings. However, there are particular matters which elicit genuine surprise. The company which manages the Tsukuba Express has apologized, not for a delay, but for an “early departure.”


Gotoh was known to arrive a little early for every meeting. In Gotoh’s own words, “To be early is good, to be just in time is a danger.” It is not cold steel which is riding the rails, but the lives of people. Paying tribute to the railway company which has a reputation for safety, I would like to ask the passengers, too, to at least be mindful that “to be early is good.”




Along with the apology posted on the company’s home page was the assurance, “There have been no reports from passengers that they were unable to board the scheduled train.” The author of that probably regretted the slight “pause.” I will not call it hasty. I will just mumble, “To be early is good.”



(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)