Occasionally, I board the Yamanote Line in Tokyo, only to get off again at the same station a while later. I do this for my own enjoyment. This line runs in a loop and has a ridership of three or four million passengers per day. So many people, but I don’t think many are there just because they feel like it.
It is not especially fun, as trains go. It’s often extremely crowded, and it stops every minute or two. So why would I choose not only to board the train when I don’t really need to, but also remain in my seat for at least one full trip around the loop?
To see what happens, for one thing. What happens within the train and every time the doors open, yes, but also what happens to my perceptions of the train itself.
The longer you stay on the train, the more it feels like a place unto itself, rather than a means of conveyance between stations. After a while, a shift occurs. Station by station, the liminality mostly drains out of it.
For nearly everyone on the train, it’s just a long metal tube you ride in until getting to the desired location. That’s it. But for the deliberate rider, the means of transportation becomes the destination. A curious destination, too, in that its location is always changing.
One trip around the Yamanote Line takes about sixty-four minutes. The most I’ve done in one go is three complete loops.
Something about the experience changes once the stations begin repeating. Until then, it’s mostly like any other hour-long ride on a local train. When you see the same places for the second time, or especially the third, a curious feeling arises.
Just as repeating words enough times reduces them to strings of strange sounds that no longer feel closely associated with any particular meaning, riding a train in a loop eventually leads to a disassociation of the experience from our original perceptions and assumptions.
And once it is at least partially disassociated in that way, the experience is free to take on extra dimensions and nuances.
So after thirty or sixty or ninety stations, all while sitting in the same seat and seeing the same places roll by repeatedly, everything—the train, the stations, and even you—emerges looking and feeling at least a little different.
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