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densha dassen

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This was the headline from Asahi Shinbun this morning:

  dassen   go-juu hito shibou
JR 脱線 50 死亡

dassen is a new Japanese word I learned today, in advance of my class tonight, meaning train derailment; I already knew the words for electric train, densha, and for the kanji for people, hito. JR is short for Japanese Railways – they use the English acronym.

shibou means “perished” in this context; the first of the two symbols, 死, is distinctive, meaning death. Even the sound “shi” is considered unlucky, yet it is one of the (Chinese-origin) ways of saying the number 4; hence the superstition against the number in Japan – you won’t find sets of 4 of anything in shops or homes.

Back in 1997 I missed the Southall train crash by a stroke of luck. I was working in Reading, it was a Friday, and I had requested a half-day off, but my departure was delayed for some reason – probably the same reason I’m late leaving work most days, the work itself. News of the crash came as I was heading out the door, and Reading station was already in an uproar when I got there. There was an alternative slow train route to London that let me get home OK, before the real rush hour, but it was rather quiet on that train that afternoon.

To be fair: even if I had been on the train, I probably would have been OK, since I prefer to sit in the quiet area of those trains. On trains into Paddington that is the rear of the train, the part that didn’t even come off the tracks in 1997. Still, the UK’s rail network has not had such a great safety record in the last decade, has it? I’ve only taken one trip by train here in Ireland, apart from the suburban DART service, and neither service that can be called “high speed” even by Edwardian standards.

So, Japan’s worst train wreck in 40 years is an opportunity for me to learn a new word. Their rail safety record is still the best in the world, with their Shinkansen high-speed network having an unblemished record.

Written by brian t

April 25, 2005 at 10:13 am

Posted in japan, language

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