Commentary on the JR West train tragedy has an interesting article up today about how the commuter train derailing in Amagasaki says something about Japanese culture.

It has taken an accident that killed 107 people to motivate the company to apply the brakes on its policy of “more and faster trains.”

Perhaps our society’s unceasing quest for greater convenience also needs to be braked.

The kanji for ben means “whipping people into docility to make them serviceable,” according to Shizuka Shirakawa’s Jito etymological dictionary for Chinese characters. Hence the meanings of words we usually use, like benri (convenience) and bengi (facility). Benben means doing obediently as told.


Sad to say, benben is the epithet that applies to the way many employees of the railway company behaved, including the two drivers who were aboard the derailed train, but went on to work instead of participating in the rescue of injured passengers.

I’d like to learn more about Japanese essay-writing, because this piece doesn’t follow any structure I’ve learned for writing essays in English. It was somewhat difficult to read, and it ended with a completely unrelated point instead of a conclusion. When I read the piece, it felt disorganized and improperly supported. It makes me wonder if translators should do some rewriting rather than just literally translating, to fit the standards of the language they are translating the piece into.

In any case, I feel that the main thrust of the piece was a cry to break out of docility-mode. I’m interested to see this opinion coming from a Japanese person, as opposed to from the many foreigners who’ve discussed the issue.