Reub's journey

18 July 2012

Trains in Japan

John's photo
Trains in Japan are amazing. I loved them, although as you see here it is a challenge to be on  a commuter train in Tokyo during rush hour.  Nobody looks at anybody else, there's always room for one more, and during rush hour there are women-only cars (so that the crush doesn't become a grope). After John took this picture I counted at least 5 more people getting aboard!

Our rail pass took us all over the place. John decided to order beer and nuts on the Shinkansen ("bullet train"), just like the Japanese businessmen. Yep, that's us, fitting in with the locals. The bullet trains were so great.

Since we're probably going at least 150mph, I suppose this 30-second video covers at least 2 miles. It was taken out the window about an hour north of Tokyo  and shows a few things: the train's quietness, it's speed, and the unbroken urban development that extends for hundreds of miles north and south of Tokyo.

 And then there is densely-packed Tokyo itself. Here we are, rolling into Tokyo station.

 Check out this series of 3 pictures taken in Tokyo station as we waited for an incoming train:

You know it's about to arrive when the spiffy-looking clean-up crew appears.

Everybody in their places. Checking the time. The train will not be late.

And arriving passengers are always greeted with a bow: this happens in bus stations too. I was astonished by this! Nobody had ever bowed to me on public transportation before. And unless I go back to Japan it will probably never happen again.


  1. I could never, ever board a train or any small space with that many people crammed in. Even if there is someone to bow at me afterwards. :) I am feeling claustrophobic just looking at that photo. Thanks for sharing your experience in Japan.

  2. Haha Gail! We didn't board it either. It looked full to us! We waited and got on the next one, which became packed as well.

  3. wow! love that clean-up crew!

    funny how your video almost had me (train)car sick! :)

  4. I envy their system, crowds or no.

  5. imagine! clean up crews for trains and buses. but I'm surprised the oh so proper japanese have a problem with groping. human nature I guess.

  6. twg: uh-oh, don't get sick! The second video is easier to watch b/c the train has slowed down.

    Chrystal: These pictures must seem every-day to you, such familiar sights. Aren't the trains awesome?

    Laoch: I know. It seems like we should be able to have trains like this. Why not? Oh right, Iraq and Afghanistan, that's why not.

    Ellen: I was surprised by the groping thing too. I never was groped on the crowded trains, but then again I'm 62 and it's unlikely at this point thank god.

    Or maybe they created the women-only-cars as a pre-emptive thing. Japan is a very safe and rule-abiding place, so I can see them developing this strategy to keep it so.

  7. My friend who used to live in Tokyo says that in certain key stations, there are people whose job it is to push people into the train cars! good lord. So NOT American, hey?

    Great videos! Why DON'T we have bullet trains in the U.S.? Maybe at some point we will.

    I read about foxes and Japanese culture after reading your last blog. So very fascinating. The nine tails ... wonder if that's how cats got associated with having nine lives?

    And one more thing - your banner. Dog paws are truly the best thing in the world, aren't they? Bullet trains and dog paws. Yeah.

  8. Reya: Oh wow: people-pushers! We didn't see that! But the passengers packed themselves in, always entering a crowd side-ways or backing in, like the young woman in the picture.

    California is still planning a fast rail, but there are a lot of people against it.

    Foxes with 9 tails? I saw some drawings with forked-tail foxes, but I don't know if they had 9 tails. (Must look this up myself!) Foxes seem to be common in Japanese stories, and for sure in contemporary manga, where characters may transform into foxes or have fox ears.

    And thank you for your comment about dog paws. I truly love dog paws, and animal feet in general. A slight animal-foot-fetish.:)

  9. It's such a different culture, isn't it? The clean up crew made me laugh.

  10. The packed compartment reminded me of Mumbai,India: there it is mostly grope:) Thanks for the train ride into Tokyo station.The Japs are always rushing - they have no time to relax and enjoy(at least a majority of them. The videos were fabulous and gave us a fleeting glimpse of the Japanese country side. I too love beer and nuts like John. Tokyo station looks very pleasing and charming - and very neat,clean,hygienic and disciplined.

  11. Amazing place, Japan. And how silent the trains are. Does nobody speak? It could the tube during rush hour, where the only sound comes from the little plugs in people's ears.

  12. While the size of Tokyo frightens me to death I do love Japan and the Japanese. Such a strong and solid culture.

  13. I forgot to add that I had read about the grouping issue a number of years ago and that is why they went to women only cars. Being that crowded I can 'almost' understand it.

  14. Hilary: A different culture for sure. I loved the clean-up crews too, so polite and efficient.

    Friko: We were struck by the quiet atmosphere on all of the trains: dead silence. Nobody talked. On commuter trains people checked their phones or played phone video games, but no speech.

    Tabor: Tokyo is enormous & I'll have to write about it.

    Interesting what you say about the groping issue from years ago. Those trains are so tightly packed that at times it would be hard to distinguish between forced-touching and actual groping.

  15. RR: Oh I bet the trains and buses in Mumbai are packed too, yeah.

    The train stations are spic-and-span, but then with so many attendants (and also the Japanese are extremely tidy in general) I guess it's not surprising?

  16. Even with a bow, I don't think I could handle the crush of rush hour!

  17. I think when I get to Japan I'll probably pinch a few butts on the train. Because I can.

  18. Rebecca: The bow helps, though!

    ALRN: They're gonna love you in Japan.

  19. I love it, it is called "RESPECT" an unusual thing now a day... wow what an experience you had.

    1. Linda, I wish we bowed more. Nobody ever bows here.


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