Let's learning new Japanese word today!

急行 ("kyuko" or more accurately "kyuukou", but whatever...) is the most essential word of the whole Japanese language...
Along, maybe, with the word 酒 (sake) which is also critical to your survival in Japan.

Actually, both concepts combined together have enough power to crush even the strongest gaijin spirit... But let me explain:

Kyuko means "express" in Japanese, it is used to indicate those commuter trains that, in Japan as in western countries, do not stop at every station but, instead, make giant leaps from one area to another. On most regular lines in Tokyo, both regular and express share the railway in the station during peak hour (which is roughly all day long). Not much, in appearance, seems to separate regular from express trains, except for the annoying fact that the latter will simply blaze past your station to only stop sixty miles away in some godforsaken part of the Kanto region. It is actually unfair to berate these areas, as they usually offer unexpected, though mostly unasked for, opportunities to discover the beautiful Japanese countryside. Then again, being stranded at the end of a twelve-hour day at work in a sweaty overcrowded train car quickly heading away from your house, helps little in keeping a contemplative attitude toward nature...

This is where a perfect understanding of this word, both in writing and speaking, is essential to you not waking up from your commuter haze three hours away from home. See, this is all too easy if you have been capping your exhausting day at work with the infamous salaryman after-work drinking session (that's were the other concept 酒 - sake - comes into action). A few pints of asahi or kirin ichiban conjugated with the oppressing heat of Tokyo's summer would easily affect the navigational ability of even the most experienced Japanese commuter, let alone an illiterate foreigner who can barely read the name of his own train station in kanji.

Of course, untimely finding yourself stranded in Yokohama or in the vicinity of the Fuji-yama every other week is likely to dramatically improve your ability to comprehend train announcements in Japanese... But why learn the hard way when all it takes is a few minutes of looking at and memorizing these two magic little signs: 急... 行...

Like me, you might be rather unable to learn even the most simple construction of wriggly lines if you can't figure what they stand for. Hence, allow me to present you with what, I have been told, is the rational behind the construction of these two kanjis. Please be aware that I am no eastern language specialist and this might be entirely wrong (I'll gladly accept any comment or correction regarding this), but at any rate: it's damn helpful to remember them correctly.

So, it goes like this: a hand pressed against one's heart (心) to try and calm it down means "quick", "hurriedly" (急), while a small road intersecting with a bigger one (行) gives the very common kanji root for "going", "to go"...

QED: 急行 = "going quick" = "express"

As a side note, the ubiquitous Tokyu (東急) railway company draws its name from the contraction of Tokyo and Kyuko: Tokyo Express...

Now, upon seeing these kanji on a train sign or hearing the word "kyuko" pronounced in an announcement, you ought to make sure that you really want to be heading straight for the terminus and nowhere in between, before you step inside .

Maybe a Berlitz-style canned phrase can't hurt either. Just to make sure, you can always ask some other grumpy passenger:
すみません、この電車は急行ですか?
S'mimasen, kono densha-wa kyuko des'-ka?"
Excuse me, is this an express train?

To which you should get an answer along the line of: "iee" (no) or "hai!" (yes) but a confirmation by body language would be recommended...

All right, now make sure you are on the right line and the right direction and you can read your station's name in Japanese and you might get home before dawn...

Gambatte ne!

Note: there are actually half a dozen other words to describe "express train", "semi-express train", "regular train" etc. But going over all of them ought to be rapidly boring and you should be able to do with only "kyuko"

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