Daily Archives: 3 June 2013

Wordcatcher Tales: hagitoriya, ekiben daigaku

I learned two new Japanese idioms related to transport in Delayed Departures, Overdue Arrivals: Industrial Familialism and the Japanese National Railways, by Paul H. Noguchi (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1990), on pp. 41 and 46-47, respectively:

Hagitoriya 剝ぎ取り屋 ‘peeling-taking-doer’
or hagashiya 剥がし屋 ‘causing.to.peel-doer’

Commuter culture is a common feature among all transportation systems. However, the JNR worker had to contend with the intensity of this culture in Japan more than his Western counterpart. Twice a day the major urban centers in Japan become transportation madhouses which pale the images of New York’s Grand Central Station. Commuters have acclimated themselves to a high tolerance for discomfort in an over-crowded mass transportation system and have devised complex strategies for coping with these stressful conditions. They have learned the technique of sleeping while standing as well as the best way to fold and read a newspaper to minimize the use of space….

A direct result of this overcrowding on commuter trains was the creation of a specialized occupation, the oshiya ([推し屋] pusher), whose job it is to make sure the commuter is safely shoved into the railroad car before the doors are closed. The counterpart of the oshiya is the hagitoriya [剝ぎ取り屋 ‘peeling.off-taking-doer’, or hagashiya 剥がし屋 ‘causing.to.peel-doer’], or the one who pulls out passengers who insist on boarding an already overcrowded train so it can depart. Some of these trains carry more than than 200 percent of their rated capacity.

Ekiben daigaku 駅弁大学 ‘station-boxlunch-college’

Another part of the culture complex of the railways in Japan is the various box lunches (ekibentō) sold at many stations. For some older Japanese they are symbolic of railroad transportation itself. The box lunch sold at any particular station is distinctive to that station, and some have achieved considerable fame throughout the country…. These box lunches have persisted into modern times; even on the bullet train one can purchase a bentō as the train passes through a geographical region famous for a particular kind of box lunch…. A number of idioms built around ekiben have crept into the Japanese language. For example, in the postwar period after higher education was made more available to the Japanese masses, the nation witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of colleges and universities under the new educational system. Obviously, these were not of the same calibre as the prestigious national universities and the selective private colleges. As station box lunches could be found almost anywhere, so, too, could these fourth-rate institutions be discovered throughout Japan. Hence they were labeled ekiben daigaku (station box lunch colleges).

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