I fell on a crowded train in Japan and lived to tell the tale

There’s a special kind of train etiquette in Japan.

Be quiet. Converse minimally. Don’t chat on the phone. Set your phone to silent. Mind priority seating. Don’t smoke.

It’s pretty simple.

Unless you’re a klutz like me.

What I don’t understand is that I was a dancer for 10 years. I am the product of poise and the outcome of grace. I should have excellent balance and agility. Despite this, I still tripped down the stairs at Inari Shrine. And dropped my camera while stuffing myself into a Japanese tour bus (it broke too, RIP). And FELL ON A CROWDED JAPANESE TRAIN.

Yes. You read that correctly.

I fell on a crowded Japanese train. DURING MORNING RUSH HOUR. And it wasn’t just a little trip, with a casual dust off like nothing even happened.

It was a dramatic, awkward-turtle-stuck-on-his-shell type of fall.

Here’s what happened.

Eric and I were in a rush to attend our sushi making class. We rode the shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo and were hastening to deposit our luggage at our hotel before the class. We were running late. Really, really late. This tardiness created a feeling of panic. Speaking of Japanese etiquette, being late is bad manners.

So here we were, the rude American tourists each with large luggage and overstuffed backpacks trying to squeeze our way onto a busy commuter train during morning rush hour. Also sweating, because rush, rush, rush.

Well-dressed businessmen donned black & white suits while we wore cotton t-shirts and jeans. In the Where’s Waldo of “Find the Unprofessional Tourist,” we were easy to spot.

So let me explain something about positioning, which really is the whole reason why I fell on the train.

Maybe I should draw you a diagram.

Gosh, I missed my calling as an artist!

So my big suitcase went first. Then me. Then Eric’s suitcase. Then Eric. I turned around so my backpack stayed on my back, but rested on my suitcase. Ah, back relief. Eric reached up at the hand rails for support.

I tried to reach. I couldn’t. Literally nothing was in my vicinity to hold on to. I’m barely over 5 feet. #shortgirlproblems for life.

The genius of using a suitcase as a backpack rest. And the unassuming stranger in the corner…

Well, I didn’t think it was a problem at first. Sure I’m short, but I was a dancer for 10 years, remember? I have this awesome skill called balance. I’ll balance my way on the journey. Easy.


The train took off. No problem. Then the train stopped.

Oh god.

The train stopped. The train stopped SO FAST.

Gravity took over. The weight of my backpack pulled me back with force. My suitcase rolled beneath me, causing me to trip.

I fell. I fell on a crowded Japanese train during morning rush hour.

It happened so fast. Yet it happened like slow motion. I could hear my brain shout “noooooo!!!!!” as I plummeted backwards to the ground.

The worst part was that man who stood behind me. I caused him to fall too. He was cornered on the train, beneath the weight of me, my backpack, and my suitcase. Like human dominoes.

And I couldn’t get up.

My backpack was so heavy, full of camera gear. I was at the world’s most awkward incline. I couldn’t reach anything to pull myself up. I WAS STUCK. Like a turtle on the back of it’s shell.

I reached out to Eric, fear and embarrassment in my eyes, begging him to pull me up. The train was still coming to a stop. One hand held his suitcase, the other held the train handle. He had no third hand to help me up. He kinda just looked at me, helpless.

awkward turtle

So I laid there.

I literally laid on my suitcase and crushed this guy for like, 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds is a long time when you’re being crushed by a foreigner. Or when you’re the foreigner doing the crushing.

And I didn’t even have the neck mobility to turn around and say I’m sorry. Nor did I have the language skills, but that’s a different issue. So mortifying.

When the train finally came to a complete stop, Eric came to my rescue. He pulled me up, heavy backpack weighing me down. I snatched up my suitcase so fast. The poor Japanese businessman got up. It was our stop. Thank god. I bowed at him and said “Sumimasen; I’m sorry” about 10 times as we gathered our belongings and shoved our way off the train.

My pride still hasn’t recovered. That was completely embarrassing.

I fell on a Japanese train during rush hour.

And somewhere in Japan, someone is telling the story, “an American tourist fell on me on a train during rush hour. And I lived to tell the tale.”

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