Better living through hair.

Japanese buses operate a little differently from those in many other countries and can be tricky to use for first-timers. Buses can vary but in general, when boarding through the rear door, there is a ticket machine from which you simply grab your ticket. That ticket will have a number that corresponds to a fare displayed on a screen at the front of the bus. When you get off through the front door, you just dump your ticket and its corresponding fare into a little plastic box beside the driver that automatically checks if everything is all right.

▼ An instructional video on how to ride the bus in Japan with a slight variation that the passenger boards through the front door

The disembarking tends to happen so fast, it might be hard to appreciate the small technological marvel that just happened. Passengers can drop their tickets and coins at the same time into the same box and they all somehow get sorted and tallied in a few seconds. The coins are sorted by size much like they would be in a vending machine, but the paper ticket is an additional complexity that has been solved thanks to the miracle that is Indian people’s hair.

The trick to separating the coins from the tickets is by weight and creating a type of brush that would catch and support the paper but yield to the coins and allow them to pass through. Various materials were attempted such as plastics or animal hairs, but it was human hair that led to the best results. Indian people’s hair in particular had just the right firmness and electrostatic properties for the job.

▼ This video tour of bus fare collection machine maker Lecip is cued to the part showing how everything gets sorted

They weren’t the only people whose hair could do the job. In fact, there was a time when Chinese people’s hair was sourced for ticket machines, but in this current economy hair from India seems to provide more bang for the buck.

This design has been around for decades, but as an odd little bit of trivia it tends to trend on Japanese social media every so often and has surfaced once again with comments like the following:

“I’ve heard that before but I never knew if it was true or not.”
“I thought that was just a joke.”
“I wonder how long it lasts.”
“When I watch Indian movies, their hair seems very thick so I guess it’s possible?”
“Some people in India offer their hair to the gods, and because its very serious they keep their hair in very good condition.”
“There are temples in India that have warehouses of human hair that they sell.”

As those last two comments pointed out, human hair is big business in India where pilgrims donate their hair to a temple as an offering to the gods. The temple then sells the hair to factories which process and export it, mainly for the creation of wigs or extensions.

▼ A tour of a hair processing factory in India

And it seems a small amount of that also goes towards running the fare collection machines on buses all over Japan.

And since we’re on the topic of fare machines, I’ve always wanted to give a shout-out to those train ticket gates. They’re really under-appreciated as technical marvels in that you can haphazardly insert one, or even multiple tickets, in the slot straight, sideways, upside down, and backwards, and they’ll always come out the same way instantly.

This is the work of a complex gauntlet of scanners and belts that check and reorient the tickets as needed in about a second.

▼ A video demonstration of the inner-workings of a train station ticket gate. The demonstrator inserts tickets and passes in various ways and the machine sorts it out at lightning speed.

With the advent of cashless systems, prepaid cards, and even the occasional facial payment system, these ticket machines are probably not long for this world. But at least we can always scare our grandchildren with tales of how “Back in my day, buses were made with human hair…”

Source: Norimono News, Togetter, YouTube/岐阜新聞社, My News Game Flash
Top image: Pakutaso
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