107 People Died, But Is It All the Driver’s Fault?


Today marks the second anniversary of a tragic train crash in Hyogo Prefecture that killed 107 people and injured over 500. They had a gathering commemorating the dead, but excluded the 23-year old driver, Ryujiro Takami’s name from the ceremony. Takami died too, of course. But Japan Railways is making the point that the accident was his fault, and hence he should not be honored–honoring him would marginalize the regret that the company is trying to express to the victims’ families.

This is interesting. What do you guys think of this decision by JR? Kinda cold, or appropriate given the circumstances?

Tangential thought: After last week’s Virginia Tech shootings, 32 stones were laid out on the campus lawn, each one representing a victim. On the fourth or fifth day after the tragedy, a 33rd stone was added to honor the death of the killer himself. Was VT claiming him as a victim too? Maybe. Maybe it means that anyone’s death, regardless of his mistakes or fuck-ups or psychosis, is a tragedy, no matter what. Or maybe it’s acknowledging that he, too, was a victim of something, even if it was just something in his head. Of course this is highly controversial, but I’m sure Cho’s family is deeply moved by the fact that someone thought it appropriate to mourn him, too.

In any case, I do feel bad for the train driver in the 2005 Hyogo incident. There is a lot of pressure on train drivers, especially in Japan, to be not a second late and barely a centimeter off in arriving at train stations. If there wasn’t so much pressure to be on time, he might not have lost control and everyone might still be alive. And how can that be just that one guy’s fault? In NYC, subways are late all the freaking time. But isn’t that because the MTA prioritizes safety over timeliness? I think the right approach would have been for JR to say, yeah. Our driver messed up. But instead of scapegoating him, we are doing our best to protect our employees and customers from this ever happening again.

I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud.

4 thoughts on “107 People Died, But Is It All the Driver’s Fault?

  1. I agree with your thinking out loud. He didn’t do it on purpose and he was really trying to do his job without getting scolded.

  2. it does seem really cold. as you said, it was a tragedy, for everyone. JR West is trying to deflect the blame from its institutional culture, where misdemeanors are punished by demeaning tasks. Instead some poor inexperienced kid with an undoubtedly devasted family, is the scapegoat.
    Having said that perhaps JR West has learnt soemthing from this. The train between Sannomiya and Kyoto doesn’t seem so dangerously fast anymore.

  3. I agree with you Lisa. It’s a little harsh that the JR West folks think they can just blame it on the poor driver. I can’t imagine being killed in an accident and having the company I work for use me like that. Poor guy. I think that the folks at Virginia Tech have the right idea – they are showing remorse for the loss of ANY person, not just the victims. Loss of life is a tragedy in any form.

  4. I agree, in this case, the driver was very much a victim. This sounds like Japanese corporate strategy rather than any sort of true morality. They want to make a statement to angry families that they are in a sense, victims as well – of a bad employee.