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Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008
What's all the shouting about?
By AMY CHAVEZ
I boarded the shinkansen the other day and couldn't believe what I saw: everything! Yes, things I never used to see in the shinkansen are now extremely visible, in your face, in big, bold letters making it very hard to avoid reading them. The aisle and seat numbers were all in much larger fonts. Even the explanation of the "seat tray in front of you" was in large Japanese letters. Apparently, they've moved from the "silver seat" on trains to the "silver car." It seems that the aging population has influenced font size in shinkansen trains to such a degree, that it's like looking into a train car through a magnifying glass.
As I walked down the aisle to my seat, the train car rather reminded me of a nursery school with posters on the walls with the names of bugs and days of the week enlarged.
Could it be that so many old people forget to bring their glasses that they can't find their seats? What if there is an emergency? Could we count on someone coming out with giant flash cards with large arrows that say "Emergency exit this way"?
As soon as I sat down in my seat, I noticed that the seat back was ramrod straight. Nothing like forcing a bit of good posture on the public. Maybe it's something like the new metabolic guidelines the government has issued, but for posture. Perhaps the Japanese government has decided there is a certain angle that all people should adhere to for good posture. But what about the poor bent over obaachan? If their backs were forced to align with the back of this chair, their feet would be up in the air.
I quickly reclined the seat to a more comfortable position and started reading a book. But I found it hard to read. I couldn't resist reading all these letters and words invading my peripheral vision. The tray on the seat back in front of the empty seat next to me, was telling me "Please refrain from smoking on the train."
"But I'm not smoking," I told the seat and went back to my book. A few minutes later, there it was again in my peripheral vision, "Please refrain from smoking on the train."
"Look," I told the seat, "I do not smoke and never have smoked, so please, stop reminding me! You need not repeat yourself."
Not only were the letters staring at me, but as they didn't have eyelids, it was impossible for them to just close and go to sleep. Now I understand why they have electronic signboards. You can turn them off — shut them up.
It did occur to me, however, that slowly expanding the abilities of the peripheral vision could have advantages. For example, maybe with expanded peripheral vision, we could read two books at once, as long as the one in our peripheral vision was in a larger font.
Shortly, the electronic signboard at the head of the car came on — in humongous kanji! The Chinese characters raced across the board from left to right as if they were horses. The font was so big, you could have read this signboard all the way in Okinawa. The Okinawan citizens are probably petitioning for JR to turn that thing off after 10 p.m. so they can sleep.
While I eventually got used to the neighing kanji on the electronic signboard, I never did get used to the large fonts surrounding me. They were just a little too close for comfort, like a person who stands too close to you when you're talking. Or maybe I'm just not so comfortable snuggling up to kanji. As a result, I found myself wanting to step back a bit for more distance. But when you are sitting down, this is difficult.
And this is when it hit me. This is likely JR's preparation for the onslaught of Alzheimer's and the day when everyone will forget their glasses so often, that they are preparing us to be able to survive without them. Even if you do remember to bring your glasses, with everything so enlarged, no longer will you have to say "Just a moment while I put my glasses on." We'll save entire seconds with this new method. They'll call it "Focus on the people!"
At this, I closed my eyes, the only way to escape the invasive letters and words. I sighed as I realized the old people are taking over the world.
Then I took out a pair of ear plugs and placed them in my ears. Because if the fonts on the train are this big, I can just imagine how loud the train announcements are going to be.