human accident damage

This post originally appeared on my AikiWeb blog…

My flight from Seoul arrived at 22:45, 15 minutes early, and the last train for Kyoto from Kansai airport left at 23:09. Despite being the first off the plane and running from the shuttle to the train station, I missed the last train and was looking at spending the night in Osaka.

However, when I arrived in Osaka, there was an Osaka-Kyoto train that was running 55 minutes behind. So not only did I make it, I had to wait for half-an-hour to boot.

In one place in Osaka station, there was a TV monitor hanging from the ceiling and cycling through the departing train information in both Japanese and English. Under the listing for my Kyoto Special Rapid Service, it said “Status: Delayed” and “Reason: Human Accident Damage”.

Human Accident Damage has to be the most gruesome Engrish I’ve seen. How did the authorities decide on this terminology? I’m guessing this sort of phrase ensures that nobody complains about the delay. Can you imagine being responsible for getting the train running again?

Another train on its way to Tokyo had also been delayed, and people waiting for these two were the only ones left in the station. In general, the Japanese are hyper-disciplined. There are marks for queue locations painted on the station platforms, and most times the Japanese would queue up on these marks even there were only a few people waiting for the train.

But on this Friday night, waiting to go home at the end of a long work-day, discipline slowly eroded. Everywhere, ties loosened and high-heels came off. One man practiced a golf swing, while several slept standing. Another, imitating Ugolino, was literally biting the head of a woman who was huddled against him for warmth. Worst was a woman whimpering into a cell phone and squatting between the yellow safety line and the edge of the platform. Drunk or over-tired? Impossible to tell. As the train finally came into view in the distance, I tried to get her to stand up and back, but she shrugged me off. I wasn’t the only one concerned, however, that we would witness our own human accident damage, and another passenger came and stood behind her, waiting to pull her back from the edge, until the wind of the passing train, blowing their hair, signaled that the danger had passed.