The Excited States: Japanese Tourist Removed from Train for Taking Pictures of the Passing Countryside

The Excited StatesAs a guy who loves to travel and take lots of pictures of all sorts of things while doing so, this story and its implications about what a nice country like America is turning itself into are disturbing. It’s about a Japanese tourist on an Amtrak train from New York to Boston. He was taking photos of the passing countryside through the window when…

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures.

“Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.”

He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence.

The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.”

She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!”

He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat.

“Sir, we’re removing you from this train.”

“I….;” “I……”

“Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train.”

“I…,” “I…..”

“Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically.”


Nearby passengers stir. One says, “It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help.” Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory — a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. “The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train.”

The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled.

Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention.

The officers explain, “After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train.” The woman translates.

The passenger replies, “I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule.”

“Our task,” the police repeat, “is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train.” The woman translates.

The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

As the author of this story notes, the first thing that a traveller visiting the U.S. will assume is that the entire country is peeing its pants in terror. Fly into O’Hare and within five minutes, you’ll hear a voice that sounds like wrestling announcer Gorilla Monsoon (deep, loud and indicating that either a major wrestling bout or terrorist attack is imminent) telling you that the current terror level is “orange” or “elevated”. Turn on the news and you’ll see so-called “analysts” linking whatever they can to terrorist activity — even the recent California fires. Worse still is the fact that these reactions of fear are being promoted as acts of bravery and sold as the “courage” to face an enemy massing at the gates.

Here’s how the article closes:

We can no longer differentiate between terrors. Is this our generation’s enlightened contribution to American culture?

Watching police escort a visitor off the train, I felt anger, not comfort. This action was beyond irritating. It is intolerable, unacceptable. If it bothered me, it paled in comparison to the way it inconvenienced, and will long trouble, this visitor to our country. We disrupted his travel plans and family reunion. Even greater than the psychological damage we inflicted is the harm we’ve done to ourselves. We missed an opportunity to show kindness, to be ambassadors of goodwill. The visitor will return home. He will indeed impress many people – not with pleasant memories and pictures of a quiet morning trip along the New England coast, but with a story of being removed and detained by American police for taking pictures. Do we imagine we’ve gained anything because a single visitor returns home with stories of mistreatment?

We engage in diplomacy whenever we have contact with visitors or travel abroad ourselves. If we conduct ourselves poorly as daily ambassadors, it is no wonder our country suffers a tarnished relationship with the world.

[Found via Reddit]

6 replies on “The Excited States: Japanese Tourist Removed from Train for Taking Pictures of the Passing Countryside”

Something is screwy with this story, and I have to wonder if it’s fake, or at least exaggerated.

Assuming it’s true, here a response fro m Amtrak that one commenter posted:

Dear Amtrak Customer,

Thank you for your inquiry.

Photography is allowed onboard the train, and passengers are permitted to take pictures.

We hope this information will be helpful.

Customer Service

I tend to chalk it up to bureaucratic zealotry than pant-peeing anti-terrorist response. I’ve taken photos on Amtrak trains loads of times, operated laptops and so on, and never been accosted by the staff or security.

That said, all it it takes is one union-backed stubborn idiot to put a crimp in a passenger’s day.

Twelve years ago I used to see passengers get heaved off certain Mississauga Transit routes for talking on their cellular phones. Not in any particular violation of the rules, mind you. The bus driver would just pull over and refuse to move until the phone-using passenger ended the call or disembarked.

Seems pretty clear that in this case, an employee got a bee in their bonnet and wasn’t going to be happy until this guy left the train.

@Chris Taylor: It is a case of “Bureaucratic Napoleon Syndrome”, but the problem is that the conductor invoked national security and the person about whom she “got a bee in their bonnet” was a foreign national.

While conductors, as public-facing operators of national infrastructure do have watchdog responsibilities, they also have ambassadorial ones.

In an ideal world, I’d agree with you. But I’ve also ridden the VIA-Amtrak code shares long enough to realise that the staff (conductors or otherwise, Canadians or Americans) tend to look on the pax as an inconvenience at best.

This summer I was treated to the spectacle of two VIA employees discussing strike options (which would be invoked in a day or two) at full volume in front of a completely full pax car. One gent was off-duty, travelling with his family, and the other was on-duty, in uniform. And for a good couple of hours while the train rolled along, they discussed their union’s strike posture, mutual hatred of management, and how they could hardly wait for a good long strike to interrupt rail traffic and strengthen their bargaining position.

I agree that this particular case sucks large. Doubly so that the arraigned individual was a foreign tourist with little-to-no command of English.

But ah, conductors as ambassadors? Maybe in 1960-something; not today — they are considerably more cranky. And let’s not even get into how un-ambassadorial the average airline attendant is!

Chris Taylor’s got a point, but when I travelled from Winnipeg to Vancouver on VIA, I found that there was a huge variation in the staff.

The ones working first-class near the “end of the train” nearest the bar-car tended to have less seniority and better attitudes. Those working first class nearer the dining car seemed snootier and the one staff person working coach class that I interacted with had me mumbling “What a dick!” under my breath.

The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the bad apples, which spoils the entire barrel.

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