Oh God. Look, people know all about Road Rage, even non-drivers. We get the concept that being behind the wheel of a machine that literally runs on exploding dinosaurs can do strange things to your head, especially when you encounter another human who is less good at driving their dino-explosion machine than you.
Commuting to and from Tokyo everyday, however, has given me whatever the pedestrian version of road rage is. So…Feet Fury? Yeah, Feet Fury, I like it. Well, I mean I hate having Feet Fury, but in a country that is so densely populated and so reliant on public transport, weaving your way through hordes of people on a daily basis, it’s kind of par for the course.
No, it’s the stupid people I have to weave around that ignite my fury on the commute. Seriously, I don’t know why but morning Japanese commuters seem to have a complete lack of spatial awareness. Is it the density of the crowds? The sleep deprivation? The overall slower walking pace compared to mine? Is there a cultural more I’m missing where it’s good luck to bump into more than 50 people on the way to work? Because that’s what happens. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And I call these evil, evil people “Walkblockers”.
And walkblockers come in all shapes and sizes. If for some unfortunate reason you find yourself in a big city station during rush hour (or you’re a masochist and want to find out for yourself), here’s some of the classic walkblockers you can expect to find in Japan:
The spread eaglers
Look, I get it: I walk fast. I have no problem with people who walk slower than me. I can just walk around them, no problem. The problem comes when there’s more than one of them. And they spread themselves across the length of the pavement while they chat idly about crap, blocking everyone behind them like a dam on legs. The number of times I’ve been held up behind a line of prissy old Obaachans or schoolgirls blissfully unaware of the Feet Fury boiling up behind them is staggering, and I hate to recall them lest I incur PTSD.
Sometimes I’m impressed by their skillful walkblocking, though. I mean, this could be a sweeping boulevard wide enough for three horse-drawn carriages, and somehow two people can still manage to strategically spread themselves out across said boulevard and still block everyone behind them. Sounds ridiculous, but believe me it’s a thing. You will believe that the fundamental laws of space and time can be bent when you see two snail-paced old people successfully hold back the tide a hundred angry commuters.
For the professional walkblockers with no comrades, however, rest assured that they can absolutely operate on an individual basis. And their most brutal technique is the class “start-stop” Essentially this is walking in a certain direction at a certain speed, then just…well, stopping. Sounds innocent enough until it’s deployed on platform 5 of Shinjuku station, then all hell breaks loose, which can form a backlog of misery that takes hours to straighten out.
A common version of the “start-stop” are the people who press themselves right up against the doors of if the train when it pulls up to the platform. Now you, dear reader, as a reasonable and sexy human, will think quite reasonably that this fella is in a rush and wants to race off of the train as quickly as possible. But no. The second the doors open, he steps out and…just stands there. Like a rocky outcrop in a river as people have to pour around him while he takes 30 minutes to get his bearings. Which he probably will never find: they were long lost along with his common sense and feeling of self-worth long ago.
The same is true when you’re boarding a train too, when the person in front thinks she’s the last person to get on the train and will casually saunter over the threshold, forcing you to push her so you can get on the train and not get you leg cut off by the closing doors.
Or how about the start-stopper who is walking along just fine, just in front of you, when he stops just suddenly? Then he acts all surprised when you bump into him. Sorry sir, I didn’t realize that your dumb-ass batteries would wear out so suddenly. If you need solar power to recharge, I strongly suggest you head into a nice well-lit corner where you can recharge and can’t hurt anybody, including yourself.
But the most dangerous start-stopper of all has to be the ones who stop at the end of escalators. Seriously. You can have an escalator rammed full of people rolling up, and the guy at the front will step off and miraculously forget that the floor doesn’t move automatically. Thus people will have no choice but to crash into this fool, creating a chain reaction up the escalator that looks like a slow-motion explosion. And not the cool kind of slow-motion, no: the dull, pathetic kind. Which makes it even more unforgivable. A cousin of this escalator start-stopper are the people who will head to the exit at a reasonable clip but immediately slow to a halt once they get through the ticket gate. As if they think it’s a race they’ve won. Which I wish was true: at least then they’d win something and have something to their name, rather than merely being a thick as cheese start-stopper.
You don’t even need to be walking to be a walkblocker! You see, the trains in the morning and evening can be rammed to the point that you must all breathe in to fit in the carriage. Generally, the vast majority of the good people of Japan are civil to each other, understanding that we’re all as miserable and space-deprived as each other so we’ll all quietly bear with it until we can get home and drown our collective sorrow in beer.
But no. That occasional Space Hogger thinks she’s special and requires twice as much space as everyone else – presumably fit that massive ego on the train. She aggressively defends that arm’s length of space before them no matter how much the people around them are crushing together so tightly they threaten to turn into paste. These are even more frustrating than your traditional walkblockers, because at least when you’re moving around you need only deal with them for a few seconds. WIth Space Hoggers you have to put up with their area greed for much longer. Thankfully, if you’re on an especially packed train it won’t last long: they’re crushed into submission and forced to surrender their space eventually.
These are possibly the strangest walkblockers of all, because they aren’t actively trying to walkblock you. No, they think that they can circumvent the basic laws of science, and in doing so block your way.
Picture the scene. You’ve managed to secure a seat on a packed train. Nice one! As the train steadily fills up and weary salarymen loom over you you appreciate that seat all the more. But now your stop is coming up. You make to stand, willing to offer your seat to the person standing immediately over you (as is the unspoken rule on Japanese trains). But does he step aside to let you move away? Heck no. Such is his paranoia that this rare-as-gold dust seat you just vacated will get snapped up by another savvy commuter that he stands in your way, as if he hopes to perform osmosis through you and park his butt on the chair immediately after yours left it.
Sorry mate, but the atomic density of humans is a little too high for that kind of thing, and in your case I imagine it would be even harder seeing as you’re just that little bit extra dense.
On the whole, Japanese people are calm and civil during the packed rush hours – and in Tokyo every waking hour is a rush hour. But when you share your route to work with a million other people on a daily basis you’re bound to bump into the occasional hapless walkblocker. Don’t say you weren’t warned.