November 10


Zombie Sardines

This was the scene when I got off the train at Shibuya this morning.

Japanese trains are legendary for the number of people packed into each car during commute hours, so you can imagine how quickly things get out of hand when there’s even a slight delay anywhere along the line. Late trains are such a rarity here that no boss believes you if that’s the excuse you give for slinking in after the starting bell. When trains actually are late, station personnel hand out official notices for people to take to work, just to prove they didn’t hit the snooze button once too often.

This morning, due to some unknown incident, my train was TEN MINUTES LATE. At my station, usually three trains arrive during that time to pick up the constant flow of arriving passengers, but today they just piled up on the platform like cordwood. When the train finally arrived, it was already packed, but that didn’t stop experienced commuters from backing in, grabbing the frame above the open door and pushing against the sardines already uncomfortably squished together inside until no body parts kept the doors from closing.

I thought that would be the worst of it, but when I got off to change trains at the last stop, there were so many people standing on the platform waiting to get on the train, there was nowhere for the exiting passengers to go. Slowly, slowly, we oozed through the crowds of waiting commuters, shuffling along with tiny steps until finally we reached the stairs leading down to the ticket gate. Whenever I’m in the middle of a river of commuters like this, I always think of zombies because everybody ahead of me is swaying back and forth, inching forward like an especially focused mob of the undead.

Read a novel set in Tokyo

When Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death wasn’t an accident, his life begins to unravel…read more