Japan As They Saw It > Contents > Economy > Railways

It seemed quite a novel sensation, finding ourselves once more travelling by rail, when, a few days ago, we paid our first visit to Yedo.

We started at 11 a.m., accompanied by Dr V., and found the train full of Japanese. They evidently now highly appreciate their new mode of locomotion, but we hear that the first day it was opened, though crowds assembled to see it, none of them would venture to travel by it. There are only three stations between Yokohama and Yedo, and the journey occupies about an hour. Passing through the well-cultivated country, yellow fields of ripe grain, large woods, and cottages half hidden among clumps of fine trees, we might almost have imagined ourselves in England.

Letters from China & Japan (1875)

It was ... a real interest to watch our Japanese fellow-travellers. They seemed most comfortable in a railway carriage; and a lady, who evidently found the effort to balance herself on the high foreign seat rather tiring, soon solved the difficulty by tucking up her feet, and sitting on her heels as usual, though of course at a greater elevation.

Japan As We Saw It (Bickersteth) (1893)

The Japanese, like every people accustomed to a rigid etiquette which tells them what to do and how to do it under nearly every set of circumstances, degenerate into rudeness as soon as an unprovided-for combination arises. This, I think, accounts for their discourteous behaviour when they travel in conveyances introduced so long after their code of manners was framed. The whistle of a locomotive seems to release them from all obligations, and the veriest stickler for politeness at other times may suddenly turn squatter in a train, acknowledging no law but “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.” He may elbow others away from the ticket-office window; he may push into a car and spread his rug over as much of the seat as it will cover, arrange bags, boxes, and baskets in a barricade at both ends, remove his boots, blow up his air cushion, and stretch himself out at full length. What if more passengers enter at way-stations? That is no business of his. If they are foolish enough to board a train at the place where they happen to be instead of the place where it starts can they expect him to move either himself or his bags? The proposition is too absurd to consider; he considers his newspaper or his novel instead.

I remember once seeing a woman enter a first class car at some country town. She was evidently weary. The car was full—that is, half the seats were occupied by passengers and the other half by their portmanteaux. Several men looked up at the intruder when she came in but none attempted to make place for her, and she stood meekly in a corner trying to balance herself against the jolting, till presently, with the superior manner of a person who goes out of his way to do a kindness even at some personal sacrifice, one gentleman spread a sheet of his newspaper on the floor and motioned her to sit on it—which she did gratefully.

Behind the Screens (1910)

The train ... that we found at Ueno station was Western in the extreme, the only Japanese feature being a dainty little table, arranged for water or tea, in our carriage, and the discovery that, for about a penny three farthings, we could at one station buy a teapot, tea-cup and tea!

Japan As We Saw It (Bickersteth) (1893)

About half-way, just before the train ought to have entered a tunnel [between Osaka and Nara], we were all turned out, and had to go by jinrikshas for a mile or so. We then went on in another train which was waiting at the other end of the tunnel. The reason for this was curious. The line had been made by Japanese engineers; but their calculations had proved incorrect, and the tunnels they had made in each side of the hill had failed to meet in its centre. They were rapidly mending the defect, and a luggage train had already been through; but the mistake afforded a good instance of the desire of the Japanese to manage everything themselves, even before they are in a fit state to do without foreign tuition.

Japan As We Saw It (Bickersteth) (1893)

The overland express connecting Kobe with Tokio disdainfully races past all unimportant townlets at the fearsome rate of twenty miles an hour, and, as it whizzes by, wayside station-masters come out on their platforms and bow deferentially, much impressed by its speed and its ultimate destination.

Physically, however, this Japanese equivalent of our “Flying Scotchman” is very disappointing. An ordinary little engine and some very ordinary little cars bump along over tracks too narrow for comfort. Outside they look cramped, inside they feel cramped. Corridors seem built for thin trippers only; seats are the width of a pew in Barrie’s “Auld Licht Kirke”; sleeping compartments are little pens the size of packing cases in which an inhuman guard packs four “separate and divided entities,” without regard to age, sex, or social position. Furthermore, all the small luxuries which our travellers look upon as necessities are conspicuous by their absence. There are no lamps for reading, no facilities for writing, no tables for card-playing, no furniture or conveniences of any kind except rows of aluminium spittoons—and yet this express corresponds to what in any other country would be the train de luxe.

Behind the Screens (1910)

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