Why Japan’s Rail Workers Can’t Stop Pointing at Things

It's hard to miss when taking the train in Tokyo — white-gloved employees in crisp uniforms pointing smartly down the platform and calling out — seemingly to no one — as trains glide in and out of the station. Onboard it's much the same, with drivers and conductors performing almost ritual-like movements as they tend to an array of dials, buttons and screens. Train conductors, drivers and station staff use a variety of physical gestures and vocal calls as they perform their duties. While these might strike visitors as silly, the movements and shouts are a Japanese-innovated industrial safety method known as pointing-and-calling — a system that reduces workplace errors by up to 85%. Known in Japanese as shisa kanko, pointing-and-calling works on the principle of associating one’s tasks with physical movements and vocalizations to prevent errors by “raising the consciousness levels of workers.” It's such an integral part of Japanese transportation that direction boards at the Kyoto Rail Museum even feature characters in the classic point-and-call stance. Japanese workers do sometimes feel self-conscious when it comes to pointing-and-calling, although with training it soon becomes an accepted part of the job.