BlogTV: Shihatsudensha, The First Train

BlogTV presents the latest slice-of-life video from Japan, about shihatsudensha, the first train to leave the station every morning. Let’s hang around the trains at 4AM and see what kind of strange people we can find.

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We first encounter a young woman, dressed to the nines, she is on her way into an after-hours club at 4AM. Most people are getting ready to go home at this hour, but she’s just getting ready to start partying. We watch her enter the trendy Velfarre nightclub, and dance til she’s ready to drop, or 6AM, whichever comes first. Then she emerges from the club, dressed in a business outfit, and heads off to work. Her eyes are puffy, her hair is in disarray, but she’s ready to start her day of work at the office.

Now back to the station, where we find a variety of drunken salarimen sleeping on the benches. Their faces are blurred to prevent their wives and families from embarassment. The reporter gingerly goes up to prod at a couple of them and asks one of them if he can tell us why he’s sleeping in the station. He yells out “Provider!” which makes no sense in either Japanese or English. But one salariman is awake and alert. He is climbing the escalator in the wrong direction, apparently he needs the exercise to sober up. After a few minutes he heads off on the train.

Suddenly, there is a huge influx of people dressed in identical white pants, shirts, and hats. The all get on the train, but where are they going and who are they? They are fanatical devotees of rajio taiso, an exercise program that originated on radio and migrated to TV. It is an institution that has endured for decades, in almost any place in Japan you can see people doing calesthenics before work. Two of the women say they’ve been doing this every day for 20 and 25 years. Hundreds of rajio taiso fans have gathered in a stadium for a group event, they exercise together, and drift away back to their lives. Surely most of them spent far more time getting to the station and back than they spent exercising.

As we head through the station one last time, we encounter a rarely seen figure, ryoushou obaasan, an old peddler woman. She has a burden strapped to her back, it is almost larger than she is. We see other ryoushou obaasan passing through the station, some of them cannot stand up straight even unburdened, after all those years of carrying such heavy loads. This woman is carrying rice and vegetables from her rural home into town for sale, packed in boxes and wrapped in a cloth in the traditional manner. A young woman comes to try to strap on the boxes and she cannot stand up, she is surprised at the weight of the package. We follow her through her trek, arriving at her peddling spot, and back home again. We learn a bit of her history, of how she was forced to peddling to support her family, due to poverty. She has been peddling for 40 years, and declares atashi wa kotsu kotsu kotsu kotsu yatteimasu (I will keep going on and on and on). Her children gather around, expressing their gratitude for her unending labors with a nice back massage. In closing, we see her trying out the load she will carry tomorrow, the same time, same train, same destination, the same as she has been doing for the last 40 years.

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