Denial and Back Story on the 2005 JR West Amagasaki Train Crash

December 23, 2010

If you did not happen to be in Japan in 2005 when the horrific train crash occurred in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, it is worth looking some of the background stories.

Many people remember Toyota’s troubles with the Prius and other cars, and some of the denials and lack of action that happened. On this blog we’ve mentioned before how school and other agencies will delay reporting crimes until it will be easier to cover up. Many people have an image of Japan that the top ranking person will take responsibility for what happens under his or her watch. This is not the case in modern Japan.

The trial has opened in Kobe, and to borrow a well-known quote from the NFL in the U.S… “they are who we thought they were”.

The former head of JR West, Masao Yamazaki, is denying any responsibility for the crash. We can only hope that this case will shine some light on some of the more dangerous practices of larger Japanese companies.

Even when this first happened back in 2005, some of JR’s training methods and disciplinary policies were shown to be problematic and possibly illegal. The design of the tracks, speeds at which trains traveled, speeds versus angles, and tight scheduling were all called into question.

Many people’s first reaction will be that Japanese trains are awesome for being on time most of the time, these reports show the price that is paid. (And for people who live in major cities in Japan, you have seen the lateness, crowds, and other residual problems created by JR’s “money saving” decisions.)

I don’t intend to run down the issue in full or overly editorialize, but to provide some useful links in English to help people who were not around during the aftermath to catch up. I’ll try to list the links in order from recent to older. (Forgive me if I miss links, I don’t often read Japanese news in English so feel free to leave other useful links in comments.)

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the entry… but please take the assertions in there about “Japanese culture” with a grain of salt. Needless to say those assertions are no where to be found in the Japanese Wikipedia article on the same topic. (I’ll link to both.) In fact, if you can read Japanese, the Japanese article contains more than all of the English language articles you may find. (Sidenote: so why is the English version so subjective?)

Amagasaki Rail Crash on Wikipedia

Amagasaki Rail Crash on Wikipedia in Japanese

Here is an academic report of the incident from the academic journal “Prehospital and Disaster Medicine”

Express Railway Disaster in Amagasaki: A Review of Urban Disaster Response in Japan (PDF)

Here are some useful news stories.

Ex-JR West Chief Denies Crash Guilt (on Japan Times, December 22, 2010)

Lessons of Amagasaki Rail Crash (Transport International Online, Oct 21, 2005)

Train Crash Reveals Fatal Flaw of Obsession with Punctuality (Japan Times, May 26, 2005)

There are countless other stories you can find to catch up on the issue. I hope this story gets as big as it deserves to, and that readers are informed and not left with their presuppositions confirmed.