Educating Japan: How the Public Health Train was able to Meet the Demands of a Time Conscious Population.

Trains within Japan are an important factor in life because they meet cultural standards which ensure efficient time and promote a work lifestyle. However, due to how integrated trains have become in the everyday life of Japan, they have become spaces which people use for socializing and practicing social etiquette. Trains are also a vital source of advertising and educating, therefore, therefore, allowing the idea of the ‘Public Health Train’ to be established. In 1947, the public health train was used as an exhibit to educate people on issues such as nutrition, dental hygiene, and how diseases can spread. What this train also provided were details of employment within the medical field.1 This train would tour Japan, which allowed an estimated number of 900,000 people to view the exhibit and be granted a better understanding of their own health. Although this train only toured Japan for two years, it changed how space within trains can be used, not only for transportation, but as a source of vital information.

Not only was the space within the train used for education, but by placing this type of exhibit within Japanese train stations, it ensured that it was within the route of workers and students who would have perhaps missed the opportunity to view the exhibit if the exhibit had been placed elsewhere. Therefore, what can be argued is that the public health train was only successful because it met the cultural demands of Japan. By placing the exhibit within a train station, it became accessible to busy workers and students who were expected to comply with strict time schedules.

‘An impressive and colourful ceremony was held November 1 at Harajuku Station, Tokyo, Japan, in commemoration of the opening of the Public Health Train exhibits. The train then moved out to its first three-day stand at Tokyo Central Station and was host to more than 15,000 persons during this period.’2

Alisa Freedman’s Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road highlights what could be referred to as the waiting culture within Japanese train stations because of how accustomed people had become to using train stations as meeting points and primary methods to get to work or school.3 Therefore, what can be noted is why features such as shops, restaurants, and exhibits were normalized within this space. The notion of waiting allowed this space to be used in a way that would occupy people who were waiting.

Train stations within Japan were and still are a space that occupies perhaps the largest amount of people waiting and this is perhaps why using an exhibit within the form of a train seemed most appealing to its audience. This type of exhibit might have worked within America’s subways or Paris’s metro stations, but not as successfully as in Japan and this is because spatial factors have ensured that cities have room to accommodate the popularity of cars as a means of transport, therefore creating a decline within the usage of trains. Whereas Japan’s narrow streets disenable the prospect of cars becoming high in demand. Therefore, allowing trains, buses, and bicycles to remain the main mode of transport.

  1. Public health and welfare in Japan (1939-1949) p.77. []
  2. Weekly bulletin, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Public Health and Welfare Section (1947) p.7. []
  3. Alisa Freedman, Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road (Stanford University Press, 2011) p.11. []