Google+ Sandra's Stories: Footpath

Monday, 18 February 2013

Footpath fury

One thing that I was looking forward to when I moved to Japan was a life free from road rage. Since I never have to drive here, I’m pleased to report that my dream has come true. Instead, I expected to be traumatised by the crowded commuter trains, however catching the train has actually turned out to be a pleasant experience. The other passengers are polite and considerate so there is no reason to get angry. What I didn’t count on was a different type of rage… footpath fury.

I live in Central Tokyo in the business district so to get to my local train station in the mornings I am joined by a swarm of salary men walking to work. After finally emerging from the jam-packed trains onto street level, people are quite keen to get on their way. The footpath becomes a passive-aggressive battlefield. Each person has their own strategy for getting ahead, whilst at the same time, everyone politely feigns innocence and pretends that they aren’t doing anything.

Footpath crowds near my local train station


For example, my tactic is to take extremely small, fast steps to fill in any tiny space that is in front of me. This way I can continually move forwards, even if there isn’t enough room for me to take an adult sized step. It also prevents other people from darting into the tiny spaces in front of me.

‘I’m-the-fastest-walker’ arm pumping is another strategy. This is when someone pretends that they are an Olympic walking champion. They run a few steps to overtake you and then pump their arms quickly to demonstrate that they are faster than you, and thus had a right to jump in your path. The trick is that their leg speed doesn’t match their arm speed so they gain your front position in the footpath crowd but still get to walk at a leisurely pace.

However, the most effective tactic that I’ve seen so far is footpath chicken. This is where someone walks headlong into oncoming pedestrians (pretending not to see them) so that the other pedestrians have to jump out of the way. It is a high-risk, high-return strategy. The other day I saw two salary men playing footpath chicken with each other. As the pair approached each other they built up speed to scare the other person off. Unfortunately neither of them pulled out at the last minute. They slammed into each other head-on at full speed. It was pretty funny to watch, especially because afterwards they both looked really angry but were too polite to say anything. They just stood there flaring their nostrils at each other for a few seconds before walking off.