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    It’s everything but party time

    Not all the JR West employees who partied the day of the derailment were so downmarket as to go bowling:

    On 6 May, JR West released information that the number of its employees known to have been mindedly involved in inappropriate behavior since the Fukuchiyama Line derailment on 25 April has increased to 185, with approximately 18 new incidents including banquets with liquor and the continuing of golf competitions.

    Last night, one of the news programs–I don’t even remember which one I was watching, since I was kind of mopey the way I always am when Atsushi takes off–showed some JR West employee around my age apologizing for the bowling party. Presumably, he’d organized it; I didn’t catch that part. Having him out front was an interesting gambit, but someone should have prepped him in PR. (Well, he needed some prep in simple morals and ethics, too, but I think the PR problem could have been fixed more quickly.) What he said was, in effect, “We had 35 people invited whose convenience [I think he actually used the word 都合, though I couldn’t swear to it] we had to consider.” That’s great, huh? Picture the headlines the next day: “JR West: Convenience of 35 revelling employees more valuable than lives of 100 dead passengers.” They practically write themselves.

    The reason I say it was an interesting gambit is that a lot of Japanese people are expressing sympathy with the driver who caused the accident. Sound odd? I think most readers with Japan experience will get it. Look at this from the Mainichi:

    Residents and friends of people who died in the horrific JR West train derailment on April 25 that claimed 107 lives have reacted with anger over the train operator’s response to the disaster.

    Although speed was found to be the deciding cause of the fatal accident, JR West officials initially suggested that the placement of stones on the railway tracks could have caused the collision.

    Several people who visited a memorial near the accident scene where people lay flowers expressed anger at the railway firm.

    “I want JR to become conscious of the ‘crime’ that it committed. It has done nothing but make excuses,” said one 32-year-old woman who was acquainted with a 34-year-old person killed in the accident. “Going bowling is unforgivable. It’s inconceivable. I suspect it wasn’t the driver, but the people above him who are rotten.”

    Another 29-year-old resident who was friends with a victim the same age also blasted JR West.

    “The driver (of the train that derailed) was also a victim, and it was JR (West) that created those conditions (for the accident to occur),” he said. “Who were they trying to blame with the placement of stones? It’s a pathetic company, a really pathetic company.”

    The Japanese love their country and, in my experience, believe that the cultural tradeoffs their society requires are worth it.

    But the strange dance in which a superior orders an inferior to cut corners on quality for the sake of procedure–but covers his own ass and remains unaccountable by not actually spelling out the request–is a familiar one to many workers. “If we all refrain from talking about it, it’s not actually happening” is one of the governing rules here. The public is weary from coverups (Mitsubishi Motors, the nuclear power industry) and safety risks (the air system). It’s not really surprising that many people are seeing last month’s derailment in terms of self-serving, out-of-touch managers squeezing workers on the ground.

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