Compared to Japan, UK Train Journeys are Decidedly ‘Tekitou’ and I Think I’m Going to Miss That

Grafitti covered wall by train tracks

I’ve been back in the UK for almost a year now, and have lost track of the number of train journeys I’ve taken in that time. But I know for sure it is a lot. And one thing that has been apparent to me over that time is that train journeys here are quite a bit different to ones in Japan. Most of my initial reverse culture-shock I experienced on train journeys.

Trains in Japan are fast, efficient, clean, on-time, reliable.

Trains in the UK are . . . well, I think the best word to describe them is ‘tekitou.’

適当 (pronounced “techy tour” – ish) is a great Japanese word that has two totally opposite meanings. Positively it means ‘suitable, appropriate, fitting.’ Negatively it means ‘careless, half-hearted, lazy, noncommittal, irresponsible.’ But I’ve also heard it often used in a fairly neutral way, somewhere between the two meanings. I think the closest English word we have is ‘random,’ in that sense that it gets used to mean something that actually isn’t random at all but more unexpected (and which makes the old Computer Science student part of me bristle with quiet rage).

See, as much as I love Japanese trains – and I really do! – when you travel by train in Japan, you know what you’re going to see: beautiful Japanese countryside. There’ll be a gentle slope down to a road, across the road there’ll be a stretch of rice fields with the occasional house dotted around, and beyond that there’ll be forest-covered mountains. It’s lovely, even breath-taking, but . . . well, it’s quite predictable.

But on a train journey across the UK you never know what you’re going to see. Sure sometimes it`s just houses, but you also get church steeples, bowling greens, allotments, ponds, parks, canal boats, dry-stone walls snaking across fields dotted with sheep, cows, and horses. On a recent train journey I watched from my window for about ten minutes, and in that time we travelled past football and rugby pitches, a line of abandoned caravans, fields with sheep and horses, a windfarm, factories, and a racetrack. And my personal favourite spot was a large country home with – and I swear this is true – a helicopter parked in their back garden.

allotment next to a railway line

And this scenery flies right past your face! In Japan I always feel a bit distant from the passing scenery. It does allow you to take in the view in a leisurely manner. But I feel like in Japan I`m travelling past the countryside. Whereas in the UK, you rattle through it.

As I type this we`re going through a patch of wetlands and I mean through. If we broke down and had to exit the train, we`d literally be stepping into a bog. I`ve seen horses so close you could toss a carrot to them, and I`m sure once I looked up from a book to discover my train was going through a car park. You just can`t guess what you`re going to see when you go cross-country on a train here. It`s so random, so unpredictable, and yet somehow so very fitting. I wonder if you could even call it quaint. But as I`m not sure, I`ll stick with tekitou.

So whilst I do wish that UK trains were a bit less rickety and lot more reliable, I am going to miss these ridiculously tekitou journeys when I`m back in Japan.

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