Person at a ticket gate

When I was seven or eight, in Japan, ticket gates of railway stations were still operated by human hands. At each gate, a station staff would check and punch a hole on the ticket one by one. I used to love having my ticket punched whenever I travelled by train.

On the way to my paternal grandmother’s house, there was one particularly interesting ticket gate that my mother and I used to love walking through. In order to get to my grandmother’s house, we first travelled by the bullet train all the way to Tokyo, then took a regular train westward for about an hour to get to another major station, where we finally changed to a small local train to reach my grandmother’s neighbourhood.

The access to the platform of this local train was via a department store. After going several floors up on the escalator, my mother would lead us through a corridor of women’s clothing section all the way to a corner. There, hidden behind a stack of clothing display, was a ticket gate to the platform of this local train. The way it appeared in front of us so suddenly and so unexpectedly was always magical.

This platform was so tiny that there was only one, very narrow ticket gate. One station staff was standing there holding a punch. A rhythmical sound came out from his punch as he pressed and released the lever rapidly in his hand. And when my mother and I brought our tickets to him, he fed them to his rhythmically clicking punch and the next moment the holes were marked on our tickets.

My mother and I always admired this person at the ticket gate.

“Did you see the way he was clicking his punch? So rhythmical!”

Then I would say to my mother eagerly,

“I want to do it myself someday. Maybe I’ll work at the ticket gate!”

A few years later, automatic ticket gates were introduced all across Japan, and there were no more station staff punching holes at ticket gates. Even at this tiny platform, the person with a punch was replaced by a shiny automatic ticket gate, and the sense of magic and wonder also disappeared from the place.