While waiting for a train at Oji Station on the Keihin Tohoku Line in Tokyo today, I noticed a group of men putting a beer ad up on a trackside billboard. The glass of beer at the center of the ad, and the faces of the celebrity athletes gathered around it, were significantly larger than life-size, which made an amusing contrast to the real-life men who were putting the ad up.
So, I snapped a few photos.
No sooner had I put my camera away, than a flagman standing several meters up-track of the rest of the work crew blew a whistle and started waving his flag. A train was coming. Hearing his whistle, all the men in the work crew, whether standing down on the ground or up on a ladder, turned to face the oncoming train and raised their left arms. It was a very smoothly choreographed simultaneous move.
It reminded me of groups of Japanese schoolchildren I’ve sometimes seen crossing the street, each of them with one hand held overhead. I’ve wondered if raising a hand while crossing the street really makes a child much safer. It’s pretty unlikely to make a tiny person more visible to a careless driver, but it probably does impress on the kid’s mind the idea that, “I am crossing the street.” That thought probably heightens their awareness of their surroundings slightly, and that may add a bit to their level safety.
Kids crossing the street that way are endearingly cute. But the workmen seemed a little old for that sort of thing.
But then it dawned on me that the point was not to make sure the driver of the train saw them. Instead, it was to make sure the driver knew they saw him. If a train driver spots a group of people each raising an arm, he knows they aren’t about to step onto the tracks. But if anyone in the group doesn’t have an upraised arm, that person may not know the train is coming. In that case, the driver would probably toot the horn or tap the brakes.
Once I realized how much sense this made, I pulled out my camera for another shot, but by then the arriving train had blocked my view of all but one of the workers.
(Click on photos for larger views.)
And by the way, what I called “beer” in my opening paragraph is technically a beerlike beverage called happoshu. But that’s a topic for another time.