Because 25 seconds early is not the same as right on time.

Japan’s trains are world-famous for their punctuality, but that doesn’t mean they always run with perfect precision. Sometimes mistakes happen, and West Japan Railways (also known as JR West) screwed up badly enough last Friday that the company felt an official apology and press release were in order.

According to the press release, on the morning of May 11, a train at Notogawa Station in Shiga Prefecture, part of the Biwako Line, mistakenly pulled away from the platform at 7:11:35 a.m. If you think it’s a little strange to see the time written like that, rest assured that it’s not the normal way of doing things in Japan, but JR West felt it necessary in order to fully disclose the damage, as the train left 25 seconds earlier than its scheduled time of 7:12.

In its press release, JR West solemnly stated:

“The great inconvenience we placed upon our customers was truly inexcusable.”

The trouble started when the conductor of the train (an express that makes its final stop at Nishi Akashi Station in Hyogo Prefecture at 9:14) mistakenly thought it was supposed to leave at 7:11, and so closed the doors of the 12-car train at that time. Realizing his mistake almost immediately, he looked down the platform, didn’t notice anyone standing there, and so decided to just go ahead and leave 25 seconds early rather than reopen the doors and have to shut them again (a process that might have ended up making the train depart later than 7:12 exactly).

However, it turned out there actually were a few people on the platform who’d been hoping to board the train, and when the conductor didn’t notice them and decided to leave, they got left behind. One of them told a station attendant that the train had left early, and when word got to JR West headquarters, the official apology was issued.

25 seconds may not seem like anything to complain about, but this happened on a Friday morning, when most passengers are people on their way to the office or school (much like with the similar incident/apology that occurred with a Tokyo rail company last fall). The next scheduled train, leaving Notogawa at 7:19, arrives at the end of the line at Nishi Akashi at 9:20, six minutes after the 7:12 train. Being six minutes late is enough to get you in trouble in with bosses and teachers in Japan, and those who missed a transfer because they couldn’t take the 7:12 would be even later reaching their destination.

“We will be thoroughly evaluating our conduct and striving to keep such an incident from occurring again,” JR West said in a follow-up, proving once again that in Japan, customer service standards, from both the company’s and the customers’ perspective, are to be taken very seriously.

Sources: JR West, Asahi Shimbun Digital via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso

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