Why it costs 50 cents to make Japan's bullet trains run on time

Driver fined 50 cents for 1min delay highlights a ruthless work culture and obsessive perfectionism

That 50 cents stood as a measurable token of sloppiness in a segment of the transport industry that runs on absolute precision. PHOTO: UNSPLASH
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(FINANCIAL TIMES) - Petty. Embittered. Absurd. There are plenty of words that have been applied to the legal skirmish centring on an unnamed bullet train driver, a slightly overdue arrival at a depot in western Japan and the 43 yen (about 50 Singapore cents) his employer docked from his wages.

The word that feels glaringly absent in all this, though, is "bargain". Because this case - vehemently fought on the narrowest of financial battlegrounds, teetering on the cliff-edge of human redundancy and deeply revealing of the modern Japanese workplace - has also provided the country with an unusually accurate price for one of the great national intangibles.

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