Tokyo trains


When I am out and about there is always something to look at and think about. I enjoy sitting on trains, looking around me and speculating about the people on the train. There are enough sights, sounds and even smells to give you enough food for thought for the duration of the trip.

Yet many people prefer not to look around them but instead they listen to music, read a book or do whatever it is they do on their iphones. Their fellow travellers are of no real interest to them.

I have tried to imagine how these people’s inner lives differ from my own. Are their interiors more or less interesting than mine, healthier or less healthy than mine? I find it hard to say. But one thing I feel sure of is that these people live in a world that is more of their own making than mine. They listen to their music and they read the books they have chosen. There is very little that is random or unpredictable about their mental landscape on their way to work. For all their immediate environment impinges on their thoughts they may just as well be in a prison cell or asleep in their bedrooms.

For me the world of music and novels is useful when trying to escape from a boring or unpleasant world. If I were in an unchanging environment, somewhere that didn’t have enough going on to keep my mind from getting restless, then I would resort to a book or my ipod (if I had one).

Of course, no one would ever bury their head in a book or put on headphones if they were in bed with an attractive person of the opposite sex or watching England beating Germany in a World Cup final. Travelling on trains lies somewhere between these two extremes of mind-numbing boredom and utter fascination.

For me there is enough to look at on a commuter train to not want to reach for the nearest distraction while for others there is little worth looking at.

But look at the Japanese children who travel on trains with their mums. They spend half their time staring in silence at the faces of the people around them and half the time kneeling on the seats (often with their shoes off), looking out of the window at the passing city and trains. They are not yet tired of their immediate environment. They would find reading a book or listening to music strange activities to do when there are other things you could be doing on a train. And so do I.


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