I took this photo on the way back “home” to Tandy and Chris’s. I didn’t really take photos in the Tokyo subway. Not sure why. I thought the system was pretty easy to figure out. It’s big and complicated, but Dallas and I have been using public transportation on a daily basis for 10+ years each. The Tokyo system follows the same basic rules we’re used to. Here are some observations on things that were different, though:
- Everyone is very civil. There’s no running or shouting or anything crazy going on.
- The stations and trains are very clean. There’s no litter, even though there are no trash cans for safety reasons. There is no graffiti.
- The trains are on time and run very quickly. There are no stops for no apparent reason, which is a pretty normal thing in Chicago.
- The subway, and Japan as a whole, is very safe. I wasn’t constantly worried that I was going to get pick pocketed or some shady character was going to do anything crazy. That said, there were certain cars on certain lines that were for women only during rush hours.
- I didn’t see any homeless people. Actually, on the entire trip I only saw two homeless people and they were both in the same neighborhood (Shinjuku) on the same night. I don’t know where Japanese homeless go, but it’s not in the subway.
- The ceilings of the train cars are low. I think maybe because people, in general, are shorter in Japan? The train cars have ads that hang down. They hit Dallas in the head and he’s not especially tall.
- On the station platforms the areas where the train doors will be are marked and people line up to get on the train before it even arrives.
- We used Pasmo cards that Tandy’s parents left behind from their last visit. They’re like the CTA Plus card. You load them up and then just tap them to scan. I know the CTA can track you with your card, but something about having names right on the Pasmo cards was kind of eerie.
- All train stations have free wireless access.
- A lot of people were using smart phones, mostly iPhones, but many people are still using flip phones! Either way, Japanese people like to decorate their phones with funky cases or charms.
- The subway was a good place to observe Japanese trends in fashion. I noticed that many of the women were wearing high heels. Even when it was the weekend or not business hours. Way more than in the U.S. Also, everyone wears suits. And only black or blue. Unless you they were not going to work, then things could get funky. We saw a guy wearing a red and black striped suit once! But mostly during the business hours it was a sea of black and blue suits for both men and women.
- A lot of people sleep on the train.
- All rail stations had names and numbers, which was really nice. Imagine if you got on at Clark and Lake 01 and were going to Logan Square 08. You would know automatically that you had 7 stops to get to your destination. Also, a lot of trains had electronic readouts in both Japanese and English that showed what stop you were currently at and what the upcoming stops were.
- There were a lot of signs warning of the dangers of running for the train and walking on escalators. I never saw anyone run for the train like they do at home. And mostly people just stood on the escalators without moving, which I was thankful for because we did a ton of walking and I was tired! Also, some of the stations are really deep down and you’d have to take several very tall escalators to get up to ground level. One thing that I kept messing up on was that you stand on the left, just like you walk on the left and drive on the left.
- Some train lines have walls and gates at the edge of the platform, making it difficult for anyone to fall or jump onto the tracks. This was the case in the photo I took above. When the train pulls up, the gate opens in front of the train’s door. I think this is the kind of thing they were thinking about implementing in New York when people were getting pushed onto the tracks last year?
- Train cars have a lot of handles hanging down to hold on to. You’re never stuck in a spot where you can’t hold onto something. So annoying on the CTA! Also, above the seats there is a luggage rack so you can stow your bag while you ride. No one seemed concerned that anyone was going to steal their bag. The seats of the train were cozy. Cushioned and fabric-covered. I felt like if these seats were in Chicago they’d be covered with shit (probably literally) within hours. Also, the seating is New York-style.
- Train stations had vending machines, restaurants, shops, lockers, and, most importantly, clean bathrooms.
- Almost all train lines were below ground. In the whole time we were there, only once or twice were we above ground and it was only for a few stops.
- The subway was not as packed as we feared, but mostly we weren’t using it during primo rush hours. Still, everyone has this image of Japanese trains being packed to the gills and people outside the train pushing them in. Sometimes the trains were busy, but no more packed than the Chicago trains we’re used to. I’ve seen New York trains way more packed than we experienced in Japan. Then again… like I said, we weren’t on the most popular trains in the morning rush hour, so who knows.
- So, not everything was hunky dory. One downfall of the Tokyo subway is that it doesn’t run all night. Depending on the line, service ends at midnight or 1 a.m. and doesn’t start again until 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.
- It was kind of warm on trains. The AC was definitely not cranking. Chris mentioned to us once that a lot of companies try to be more energy efficient ever since the nuclear disaster in 2011. I wonder if this is a result of that?
- I never liked how you have to scan your subway pass at the beginning and the end of your ride in Washington DC and that is how the Tokyo subway is too. It’s not a flat rate. You pay for how far you go.
- Most of the stations had multiple entrances/exits, which can get really confusing when you end up blocks away from where you intended to be.
I thought these maps of the world’s subway systems were interesting. They show relative size. Tokyo is relatively small, geographically, but is actually the busiest subway system in the world, with 8.7 million riders daily and 3.17 billion annually. For comparison, New York has 1.6 billion annual passengers and Chicago does not even rank in the top 30 busiest subway systems.
Here’s a map of Tokyo’s subway system. Click for larger view.