Have trains lost the romanticism that used to be associated with them?
I’m not talking about the leisure trains like the Orient Express which have been maintained to retain the old charm of the steam trains and the sense of adventure and beauty of passing scenery.
I’m talking about the trains of the 21st century , the subways and mass rapid transits that we take on a daily basis.
I think about the trains that I had taken in other countries and what they bring to mind.
In the US, I normally associate subways in the cities with possible crime locales and the homeless. In UK, with small carriages and endless delays. In HK and Taiwan, a good way to get around. In Singapore, with convenience, cleanliness and body odor at peak hour.
Japan’s trains evokes memories of effectiveness, possible molestation and the need to breath while being pushed by two station attendants into a packed train.
Yet, Japan’s modern trains are the only ones that also bring to mind nostalgia for me.
Trains have been in Japan since the 1800’s, as steam locomotives give way to commuter trains and the Shinkansen (Japan’s express train), Japanese literature and media did not give up its romantic ideology on the commonplace machinery. There are still tons of literature written with settings on the train or on the platform either in the city or some rural locale.
When exposed to these ideas and images, it dregs up feelings of yesteryear, no matter the age of the audience.
Japan’s trains make me think of my schooling years (despite the fact that I took the bus to school throughout my years of academia). The time when I could take it slow when class was dismissed at the end of the day, when I would try to stand close to the boy I have a crush on , the color of the trees that changes gradually throughout the year.
The platforms also remind me of the quiet afternoons in summer as I wait for a train.The rush of wind that blast through when the train arrives.
So what’s the difference?
I did not grow up in Japan, yet strangely, their trains are able to conjure up emotions and images in me that I was not aware I had.
Is it because most of the trains in Japan are above ground? Is it because the trains in Japan are built so close to buildings and houses that each time you make that daily commute you feel as though you are a part of the lives of people inhabiting them?
Or is it simply because trains are so integrated into Japan’s society that the memories and emotions conjured up are written into literature and scripts rather than the other way round?