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JR East keeps us safe by pointing and shouting

JR East is Tokyo's lifeblood. The city would choke to death without its railway network: 40 million passengers use it daily.

Read that again: forty million passengers use Tokyo's railway network daily. The subway system, incidentally, represents 22% of that figure with 8.66 million using it daily
.

It's a staggering figure, which makes the company's safety record even more astonishing. It's not perfect, but very few mishaps are caused by JR personnel. The most recent serious accident that I could find was a 1988 rear-end collision on the Chuo Line at Higashi-Nakano Station, in which two passengers died and more than a hundred were injured. If you're aware of more recent accidents caused by personnel oversights, please leave a comment. (The Amagasaki rail crash in 2005, which killed 106 passengers and injured 562, was a JR West accident.)

The Ginza Line, Tokyo's oldest Metro line, recently introduced new trains.
They're VERY yellow.

This is what the old Ginza Line trains looked like.
Currently both designs are being used.

The shinkansen does have an unblemished safety record: over its 49-year history, carrying 7 billion passengers, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions, despite frequent earthquakes and typhoons.

JR East's safety record can be maintained due to cutting-edge technology, a generally well-behaved public …

Let me interrupt myself. We all love to complain about Tokyo's rush-hour commuter trains, but generally speaking most commuters exercise considerable self-restraint, even if it's just refraining from clobbering one another despite relentless provocation. Show me one other system that manages this passenger load this efficiently. Gwan. I dare you.

This safety record can be maintained due to cutting-edge technology, a generally well-behaved public and … gestures.

Yes, gestures. It's called "pointing and shouting" or, in Japanese, shisa kanko (指差喚呼), shisa kakunin kanko (指差確認喚呼) or yubisashi koshō (指差呼称). The illustrations below were taken from the website of the Japan International Center for Occupational Safety and Health.




If a conductor wants to check that the doors are clear and that the train can depart, she points her hand in both directions, makes sure everything is OK and shouts out that it is. Before the train departs, the train driver does the same: he points down the track, checks that it's clear, checks his control panel, shouts out that everything is OK and off we go. This combination of pointing and shouting requires the co-action and co-reaction between the operator's brain, eyes, ears, hands and mouth; and has been proved to reduce mistakes by 85% when doing a simple task. The technique started with JR East, but has been adopted by several other industries.

I quote from the website of the Japan International Center for Occupational Safety and Health:

Pointing and calling

This activity involves pointing at target objects by stretching your arm and stating out loud "such and such is OK" at important points in the work in order to proceed with work safely and correctly.

Pointing and calling are methods for raising the consciousness level of workers and confirming that conditions are regular and clear, increasing the accuracy and safety of work. This method for ensuring safety is based on the philosophy of respecting human life and can be achieved only with the full participation of the workforce in practice activities across the whole of the workplace.

You've all seen and heard it, and now you know why it's done. What do they shout? You can hear many different expressions, but one word that even non-Japanese speakers should be able to recognize is "yoshi", pronounced "yossshhh". It's an all-purpose word that means OK.

Read more about JR East's safety procedures here:

Japan International Center for Occupational Safety and Health
Notes

1) I wrote this post in response to Lina's current post about train personnel. She's got great photos of the people who keep us safe, so head on over there. Wait! First ... strike the pose with spirit! Check that nothing's in your way. No? Yoshi!

2) I've also embedded two videos. The first one shows a conductor pointing and "yoshi-ing" at Omiya Station. The second is a 50-minute long documentary about the shinkansen's safety features. You don't have to be a train otaku like Ru to enjoy it.


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