Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

Trains play a rather vital role in Japanese society they really do not in many other cultures. Although certainly public transportation is available elsewhere, and in many cases quite capable and prominent—as it is in Europe—it just isn’t as ubiquitous as in Japan. And if compared to what’s available in the United States, the difference is stark. Odakyu train line’s sponsorship of Just Because is not merely savvy marketing through product placement, but a very real recognition of just how important the trains are to the characters.

The First Episode of Just Because Accurately Captures the Listlessness of Many Japanese Adolescents

The beauty of Just Because is to be found in its accuracy to life in Japan at this moment in time, and specifically for those connected in any way to secondary education in Japan. It is the story of a student named Eita Izumi who, in the very last term of his last year in high school, has transferred back to his hometown. His father had been abruptly transferred to Fukuoka, on the opposite end of Japan practically, when he was in junior high school. His return leads him to end up at the same high school as his former best friend and baseball teammate, as well as the girl for whom he has always had deep feelings. He finds them in a state of half-living, but his arrival seems to have disturbed this trend.

Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

Just Because doesn’t really have that deep of a premise because it doesn’t need to have one. Ultimately, the series is about life and all the details of how daily life occur for a particular group of people. Eita and his social group exist in a suburban area not too far from Tokyo where public transportation coverage is comprehensive. In some rural areas, trains still play a role, but they aren’t quite the everywhere presence they tend to be in urban and suburban areas. That said, most Japanese live in areas with density enough that they are well served by prominent train and bus lines. This is certainly true of the protagonists in Just Because. In Japan, you cannot drive until you are at least 18 years old—and honestly, many young Japanese don’t even bother. Sometimes they may, like Komiya Ena, choose to get a scooter. Yet even this is not usually necessary.

Melancholy Seems Here to Stay in Just Because

This means that many of the settings for life’s details and events, from the smallest bit of ritual commute, to the most significant arguments, confessions, triumphs, or failures occur in and around public transportation. Sometimes this means buses (and the characters certainly do spend time on buses) but the area is served well enough by trains that many of the key moments occur on trains, next to trains, on train platforms, at train gates, or outside train station entrances. They allow for both planned an unplanned meetings, serve as landmarks and rendezvous points, and are constantly in the background. Even when the characters aren’t physically interacting with some aspect of the train system, they often walk along or under the monorail tracks, or raise their voices as a train passes with its unique sound of whining metal and “clackity-clack” of wheel on rails.

Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

If we talk about the the “soundtrack” of our lives, there’s significantly more to this concept than just “sounds.” Although certainly, sounds are important, like the “clackity-clack” mentioned earlier. In fact, when I moved back to Texas for graduate school, the lack of train sounds actually kept me awake and feeling off kilter for days. Our brains are constantly taking in stimulus and making decisions about whether we consciously consider it and how to connect it, consciously or otherwise, to memories that we make and keep. After a decade in Japan, I have a wide variety of memories easily recalled when I am near or on a given train line or stopped at a specific station. Sometimes these are memories I haven’t thought about in years, as it may have been a long while since I have been on that specific train or in that particular station. 

How Just Because’s Bleak-yet-Detailed Backgrounds Play with Your Emotions

Thus, perhaps we can talk about trains in Japan as part of the “texture” (rather than the “soundtrack”) of lives in Japan, and thus, the “texture” of the lives of the characters in Just Because. It would be easy for those in an international audience to think that due to Odakyu’s sponsorship, scenes have been specifically written to place the characters in close proximity to trains. While this is true to some degree as writing is deliberate, it would be unfair to consider the rate of this proximity to be unrealistic. It’s not. Even without sponsorship by a train line, it’s hard for me to see how these scenes could have been written differently without actually becoming unrealistic, just due to the sheer amount of public transportation access in the area in which the characters live. 

Image source: TVアニメJust Because !公式 on Twitter

The various events in the series would play out very differently if the story took place in a very rural area where train service is limited to one station serving a wide area—where even busses might be rare. It would drastically change the dynamic. Several of the accidental meetings or sights seen could simply not occur. Nor could they occur as easily in a suburban or urban area dominated not by trains or busses but by car. Cars have a tendency to section off and separate individuals from one another, but mass transportation has a tendency to throw them together. This is especially true given the scheduled nature of public transportation. And indeed this is how much of the plot progression occurs in Just Because.

Trains are a crucial aspect of the lives of the characters in Just Because, and not knowing or understanding how trains exist in Japanese society means a diminished understanding of the characters themselves.

Just Because can be watched subtitled on Amazon’s Anime Strike.

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