Tokyo is Japan’s New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, all rolled into one giant megalopolis. Although 50% of Japanese adults own cars, Tokyo is a public transportation city, and the system is a very good one.
The Tokyo metro system uses trains, subways and buses. Make no mistake, this is a massive operation. The Tokyo metro is a giant bear of a system-- the Amazon river of train systems, stretching out forever. In truth, Japan itself almost feels like an extension of the Tokyo train system with train lines running out of the Kanto plain to all over Japan. There are trains that take you right to the beaches in Kyushu, the ski slopes in Sapporro and trains that take you right to the base of mountains for hiking. There is not a train right to the base of Mt. Fuji, but the Train Cowboy believes this is more a gesture of respect to Fuji-san’s surrounding nature, than a shortcoming of the system. (Fuji-san is well served by trains to a nearby town and by buses to the trails.)
Like everything in Japan, the Tokyo Metro is incredibly clean. Everything is spotless. This is the cleanest metro system the Train Cowboy has every seen. Add to this the fact that the Japanese as a people have something of an obsession with cleanliness both environmentally and personally, and the whole experience is rather sweet smelling. While many metro systems feature a lot of body odor, Tokyo’s smells great. Everyone on the train is clean, well groomed, and quiet.
The Tokyo subway is however incredibly crowded. Shinjuku, the city’s most busy station, handles well over 2.5 million people everyday, making it the busiest metro station in the world. Occasionally, there are even strong young Japanese men, wearing white gloves, who are employed to push people onto the train. Incredibly, this works rather well and gets people onto the trains more efficiently. (The Train Cowboy chuckles at the idea of New Yorkers being pushed onto their trains.)
The Tokyo trains are so crowded in fact, that you really cannot move. Add to this the facts that the average train commute in Japan is 90 minutes each way and that many Japanese must get up extremely early to get to work and an interesting phenomenon occurs. Frequently, people will fall asleep standing up. The Train Cowboy actually mastered the technique. The general practice is to put one hand up on a bar or handle above the head and then cracle one’s head in the elbow crook. In truth, many people manage to sleep even without having an arm up to hold their head.
(In addition, there are always many people snoozing away in seats they have managed to grab.
The ultra low crime rate in Japan means this is safe—don’t try it on most metro systems… you may wake up without a watch, belt, shoes or worse…
On an historic note, Shibuya station is the home of a statue honoring Hachiko the dog. The story of Hachiko is one of loyalty. Hachiko would meet his owner, a University of Tokyo professor, each day at Shibuya station. Sadly, his master died at work one day. Hachiko continued to come to Shibuya station at the precise time to meet his former owner's evening train. Hachiko continued to do this for 10 YEARS. Now, there is a statue, commemorating the loyalty of this sweet dog. The statue, which is very beautiful, is now a vibrant meeting place for young and old. At any given time there are more than 50 people around the statue waiting for their pals. There is a wonderful atmosphere. The Train Cowboy loves to tell people, “I’ll meet you at Hachiko at 9pm!”
While most people keep to themselves on the Tokyo metro, The Train Cowboy likes to get to know the locals, and as a gaijin, this is easy, and accepted. (In fact, the Train Cowboy has met some very beautiful women on the Tokyo trains… but that is material for a different blog… 8>) Still, if you are visiting, this is a fun aspect of the trains of Tokyo. Another cool ritual of the Tokyo system involves the employees, who benefit from an excellent esprit de corps. One example involves the drivers of buses, who always wave to one another as their buses pass, and the caboose monitors on the trains, who wave to their caboose counterparts as trains trail off away from each other in opposite directions.
The Tokyo metro has pretty good coverage, with the city’s central region particularly well serviced. The circle running Yamanote is the system’s most famous, and for many the most desirable subway “address”. One negative is the great size of the system, and number of different trains has lead to some integration problems. The Train Cowboy was shocked to have to leave the rail system and walk several blocks to reach a privately run subway system. These stations should be integrated and connected, even if you have to pay for entrance separately.The other negative is that the trains do not run all night, stopping around midnight most nights and not starting up again until 5am. This results in late night partiers having to stay in their nightclubs, even after they just want to sleep. A city with Tokyo’s global stature should have trains that run all night.
Trains 9 out of ten (one point taken for not running all night)
Buses 10 out of tenCleanliness/Art 9 out of 10 The cleanest and sweetest smelling metro system in the Universe! But lacks art.
Usage 10 out of ten
Timeliness 10 out of ten, the trains run to the second.
Crown Jewel: Hachiko the Loyal Dog.
Total: 100% A+