A part of what makes Japan’s bullet trains’ service so great can also save lives.

On the evening of 9 June chaos broke out on the Nozomi 259 train running between Osaka and Tokyo as a person with a knife began randomly attacking passengers, killing one and injuring two. News reports since then have told several stories of the panic and fear that survivors experienced, and among those were mentions of passengers using the seats as shields.

However, according to a report by Asahi Shimbun, those holding seats weren’t doing so out of desperation. They were following instructions from the conductors on board who themselves had been trained to use the seats this way in the event of an attack.

On most Shinkansen trains, all passenger seats have the ability to be easily removed by pulling up from the front with your hand to lift it off. The seats have a 44 square-centimeter (7 square inch) surface area, are six centimeters (2.4 inches) thick, and weigh about a kilogram (2.2 pounds).

Although handy as an impromptu instrument of self-defense, that wasn’t the original intent of making these seats so easy to pop off.

Longtime readers might recall a story we did about four years ago highlighting the Shinkansen’s cleaning staff and their seemingly impossible task of cleaning the entire train in only seven minutes during stops at terminals such as Tokyo.

In instances where a seat is severely stained or damaged, there would be no way to clean or repair it in such a short window of time. So, with the grace and skill of an F-1 pit crew, they just slide the whole thing off and replace it with a new one in a matter of seconds.

It’s simply a tragic matter of coincidence that these time-saving tools are now being presented as life-saving shields. Hopefully, you’ll never need to know this, and the most offensive encounter you’ll ever have on the Shinkansen is with Mr. Sato drinking a cup of smelly meat dumplings.

But if you ever do find yourself in a horrible situation on the Shinkansen, don’t forget that your first line of defense is right underneath you.

Source: Asahi Shimbun
Top image: Wikipedia/Tennen-Gas