JAPAN The thoughtless action of Japanese railway staff to ensure the safety of passengers.
The Japanese railway system serves about 12 billion passengers a year on trains with precision to the second. When a high-speed train stops or is about to leave the station, white-gloved station attendants will begin pointing and calling – though not speaking to anyone. Even the train driver or the conductor on the train pointed at the dashboard and electronic screen.
Passengers who first see this scene may think they are doing “stupid” things. However, this is actually a popular safety method
The method is called shisa kanko – pointing and calling to “strengthen workers’ awareness,” according to Japan’s National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety. Instead of just relying on human eyes or habits, certain tasks must be “reinforced” by pointing at important numbers and saying aloud describing the state. As a result, the workers’ brains, eyes, hands, mouth, and ears all have to work together.
For example, when it is necessary to check the speed of a train, the train driver does not simply look at the dashboard, but must also shout “check speed”, announce the location, confirm the correct parameters. For station staff, only visual inspection is not enough to detect strange objects on the tracks or visitors violating the safety corridor. They will point their finger at the ground and eyes in the direction of their index fingers to scan the entire length of the station. This process is repeated as the train is about to leave the station, to ensure that no passengers or bags are stuck at the door.
Shisa kanko is an indispensable part of transportation in the country of cherry blossoms, even a photo exhibition in 2018 was dedicated to this classic safety method. Photo: Florian Markl.
Shisa kanko is adopted in a number of industries in Japan. According to a previous study, the point-and-call method, developed by the Kobe Railway Administration in the late Meiji era (circa early 20th century), helps reduce work-environment errors by up to 85%.
This method seems to be limited to Japan, because it is one of the quirks of the land of the rising sun, difficult to apply in the West. Many Japanese commentators hypothesize that Westerners feel “stupid” pointing and shouting out loud. A Tokyo Metro spokesperson asserted that the new staff is aware that pointing and calling is necessary for safe railway operation. Hence, they don’t feel embarrassed in front of a crowd.
One notable exception is the US metro (MTA) system. Nathaniel Ford, a leader of the American railroads, was impressed with the shisa kanko method during his visit to Japan and brought it back to New York.
Since 1996, the MTA has applied half of the shisa kanko – New York railway workers only perform hand gestures to determine if a train stops at the correct point on the track. According to MTA spokesman Amanda Kwan, the train’s “conductors” quickly adapted to the new approach. Within two years of implementation, the breakdown with the subway was reduced by 57%.
Apart from the US, this point and call method is also applied in China and Canada with some changes to suit the local railway system.