“Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”
Luke 8: 1
Trains are widely regarded as the cheapest and simplest form of travel for newcomers when they visit Japan. This popular form of transport is greatly facilitated by the purchase of what is known as a rail pass that is only available for visitors to Japan. These passes are sold online at a reasonable cost in 1-3 week increments and are a tremendous bargain designed to maximize one’s time in Japan.
But before hopping on a Japanese train, it is good to be aware of what is considered to be good manners for passengers. For example, it is customary to wait for all the passengers to disembark from the train before boarding. Once on board, set your smart phone to silent mode and avoid talking on the phone while in transit. Eating on a train is generally considered to be impolite except on the bullet trains, which typically involve a longer journey. Courteous behavior calls for one to be mindful of their seating posture so as not to take up too much room or inconvenience other passengers. Any bags should be placed or carried in such a way to not interfere with the movement of others entering or attempting to leave the train. In addition, one should avoid using priority seats set aside for the handicapped, elderly or pregnant women.
It is good to keep these tips in mind, but one must also understand that riding on a train in Japan is much more than getting from one point to another and observing proper etiquette. While Japan is famous for the sheer volume of passengers its transportation system accommodates, and the amazing network of rail lines, it also offers a number of unique entertaining train experiences for all ages. In fact, a prime-time TV show, called the NHK Railway Journal, regularly features some of these fascinating train lines. For example, there is a “Pokémon with You” train line in Iwate Prefecture full of Pikachu images and hosts several creative play areas designed to please young fans of this famous cartoon. The “Toreiyu Tsubasa” bullet train, that travels between Fukushima and Yamagata Prefectures, offers artfully decorated footbaths for passengers to soak tired feet while enjoying the beautiful scenery on the journey. The “Sagano Romantic Train” near Kyoto features large glass viewing areas and one fully open car to enhance the breathtaking views of the picturesque countryside and exquisite foliage for which the area is famous. Children are thrilled to ride on the “Hello Kitty Shinkansen” bullet train, “Thomas the Tank Engine” train, and the “SL Ginga” steam locomotive or other “character trains” as they are commonly called. A popular train among adults is the “High Rail 1375” which runs through Nagano Prefecture and ascends to the height of 1,375 meters (4,511 feet). The route of this train includes panoramic mountain scenes or star gazing at night and even an onboard mini planetarium.
Travel seems to be a necessary element in biblical events, particularly in the Books of the Pentateuch, which feature the birth of the nation Israel, and in the Book of Acts, which focuses on the birth of the church. Jesus’ ministry was also characterized by extensive travel as he went from town to town to share the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:1) Of course, travel was much more difficult in those days without the convenience, comfort and speed of modern trains. Perhaps this is why the concept of travel is a common metaphor when applied to characterizing the people of God and how we are to relate to the world around us. Many Bible translations use the term “sojourner” to describe our position in our present life. The word melds together the ideas of foreigner, temporality and movement. A biblical sojourner then is someone who has been granted a “rail pass” to temporarily engage in this present world, fulfilling the purposes of God, while remembering that another, more perfect world is our final destination. All aboard!