When train companies wish you luck on school exams

February is entrance exam season for some middle school students (going to high school) and most high school students (going to university). And getting into the school you want could determine how easy (or how difficult) it is for you to get jobs in the future. So these exams are important.

JR East, too, knows these exams are important.

While on winter vacation in Yamagata Prefecture last month, I saw that the JR East employees at Yamagata Station made this impressive whiteboard filled with well-wishes for the students.

You can see in the top-right corner that some of the employees even took a trip to a Shinto shrine in the city called Yudonosan Shrine, where they prayed to the kami for all the students to get into the schools they wanted and left some ema in the shrine grounds.

The exam season regalia in Sendai Station is even more impressive.

The employees made a whole “shrine” (I put this word in brackets because I’m not sure what qualified as a shrine or not. It may well be. I’m not a Japanese religion expert) called スイスイ合格神社 by the escalators leading to the underground platforms for the Senseki Line.

The shrine’s name is quite cute. 合格 means to pass an exam. スイスイis an onomatopoeic word for something that progresses smoothly, or solves easily. So the shrine is dedicated to wishing that the students smoothly and easily pass their exams.

The meaning behind スイスイ is also why JR East’s IC card is called Suica, because you can pass through ticket gates smoothly (without needing a station employee to physically see your ticket or commuter pass at a manned ticket gate).

That is probably why you also see well-wishes to exam takers on the IC card readers at Sendai Station. Just as the Suica card makes paying for your trip as easy as can be, so, hopefully, are the exams for Sendai City’s students.

Although I didn’t see any, the 合格つり革 were also there for students to hold onto their dreams as their lives rock back and forth with uncertainty, just as you should hold onto your straphanger when the train rocks back and forth between the tracks.

Four years ago, when I briefly lived in Omurai, a small suburb in Tokyo north of Kinshicho, Tobu Railways made this delightful handmade sign for the exam takers as well.

Unlike Yudonosan Shrine (which, as I understand from its website, only has kami related to agriculture, onsen, sake, and mountains), the kami that reside in the two local shrines, Kameido Tenjin Shrine and Katori Shrine, are respectively for academics and victory. (I think Katori Shrine is related to winning in sports, but same difference.)

So the Tobu Railways staff at Kameido station were eager to remind students that the local kami were by their side in this stressful part of their life.

The paper flowers were very pretty. The flowers surround this very small sign, which reads:

Sand that stops you from slipping
Limited to 100 packets – get one for free!
Our thoughts are with the students who are taking exams when we made these packets by hand. (Please ask the station staff at the station office to receive a packet.)

The sand included in these packets is the same sand used on the 6050 series train running on the Tobu Nikko Line which helps stop the train from slipping [on slippery tracks].

– From the station staff at Kameido station

Four years later today, while the 6050 series train no longer runs to Asakusa, the Kameido station employees still blow their JR East compatriots in Sendai and Yamaguchi out of the water. It took me a little while to understand the association between a train forging through slippery tracks and a student forging through slippery exams.

But once I did, I thought this was quite cute.