Japanese Train Commits ‘Truly Inexcusable’ Error of Departing 25 Seconds Early

The West Japan Railway Company, nicknamed JR West for convenience, publicly apologized for the early departure of a 12-car train traveling between Notogawa Station and Nishi-Akashi Station. The train, which was scheduled for a 7:12am departure from Notogawa, inadvertently misinterpreted a conductor signal and left the station at 7:11:35am instead. Several passengers who missed their boarding time as a result of the early departure had to wait six minutes for the next line, throwing off their carefully planned itineraries, and one of those passengers reported the incident to JR West.

“The great inconvenience we placed upon our customers was truly inexcusable,” JR West said in the press release posted on the railway website. “We will be thoroughly evaluating our conduct and striving to keep such an incident from occurring again.”

The train route originates in the Shiga Prefecture centrally located on Japan’s main island, and winds past the cities of Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka on its terminus along the coast.

The Notogawa to Nishi-Akashi train route winds past Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe in central Japan. Courtesy of Google Maps.

Although a six-minute delay may sound laughable to many of us hailing from more lax cultures, Japanese schools and businesses are notoriously strict about adhering to traditional values of punctuality as a symbol of respect. In fact, educational resources such as Guidable exist to help clueless gaijin better understand how and what to tell a boss when one is going to be late for work. Another article for dealing with India-Japan business relations emphasizes that punctuality is considered the first step in building trust with Japanese colleagues and employers.

Since travelers [usually] can plan their commutes to a T, that next train to leave Notogawa for Nishi-Akashi, at 7:19am, could easily have thrown off other connecting transits that would have made a number of travelers late for work and school, where serious consequences are often handed down for tardiness offenses.

This isn’t the first time an errant conductor has let down the railway system and all its patrons by departing a few seconds too early. Last November, the Tsukuba Express management apologized for the same issue: A train departing Tokyo for Tsukuba left at 9:44:20, rather than the scheduled 9:44:40. In that incident, no travelers lodged complaints, but the railway system proactively acknowledged its mistake anyway, also promising to “never do it again.”

Featured photo by JR West.