Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Random Memories #2

The item pictured above is a subway ticket. Those who live in Japan now may see it as slightly anachronistic because most people use pre-paid cards like Suica or Pasmo. Tickets are still used, of course. You can buy one from a machine, feed it into an automatic wicket on the way in and have it sucked into the machine on the way out. Close observers will note three things which make this ticket and having a scan of it unusual in this day and age.

The first point is revealed in what I said in the first paragraph. At most modern stations, you don't get to keep the ticket at the end of your journey. In the old days, used tickets would sometimes be scattered around the area around the wickets because people would forget to leave them at the wicket and there was no demand that you relinquish it by the personnel manning them. You had to show it, but you didn't have to surrender it.

The second and third points can only be known to those who have lived in Japan for a long time. Old hands at life in Japan may want to take a moment to guess at what they are... OK, times up. :-)

One is that the ticket is for only 140 yen ($1.78). When I left Japan at the end of March 2012, the cheapest price for a ticket was 160 yen ($2.03). They didn't go any lower than that. Incidentally, this was a ticket for a relatively longish subway journey from Kita-Senju to Ikebukuro. I'm not sure, but I believe the cheapest ticket back in those days (around 1988) was 120 yen ($1.52).

The last significant reminder of the past on this ticket is the one that I associate most nostalgically with my earliest days in Japan. That is the little hole in the top. When I first visited (and lived) in Japan, the slick automated technology that is currently in use did not exist. There were men in dark blazers sitting or standing at the wickets with a hole puncher who would take your ticket and manually punch it and give it back to you at your departure point. This situation created an aural atmosphere that is now long gone. These men would continually click their hole punchers in a rhythm rather than simply wait for someone to hand them a ticket. This helped them more speedily process people, but perhaps it also relieved some of the boredom of sitting there with nothing to do or keep them entertained. Back in those days, they didn't even have continually updating digital schedules to flash shiny lights at them on a regular basis.

I realize that efficiency is important, but I rather missed that old human touch when taking the train or subway. It's not only that I know that men lost jobs, but also simply that sound is so important in memory. The little beep of a machine is sterile and artificial whereas the clacking of the punchers was a human rhythm which varied slightly with every man at the wicket.

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