My name is Jim, and I'm an American currently living in Thailand.
Before moving to Thailand, I had the pleasure of living in Tokyo, Japan for many years.
My time spent there were some of the greatest years of my life, and I'd like to share with you through this article some of my most memorable moments.
I hope to meet you soon!
Foreigners Living in Japan: Trains and Subways
For new arrivals in Japan, riding trains quickly becomes a necessity of life. Taking on the challenge of a crowded morning rush hour train is a rite of passage, and foreigners who pass this grueling test are promoted to the ranks of those tenacious individuals able to adapt to this country's major form of transportation.
Scenes viewed on television or in magazines of white gloved conductors pushing throngs of commuters into crammed compartments are unfortunately a reality, and anyone bold enough to literally jump into this melee will experience the claustrophobic's worst nightmare.
My initial encounter with rush hour in Tokyo was on a Monday morning, and I was due to report bright and early for my first teaching job thirty minutes away by train. With the naivety of a novice rider I patiently waited for the crowd on the platform to disperse, convinced there was no possible way to physically enter the packed carriage. Allowing several cars to pass I realized that if I didn't board the train soon I would be late for my first day of work.
Eventually forcing my way into the compartment I was engulfed by a multitude of bodies compressed into one cohesive mass which swayed uncontrollably with each erratic surge of the train, my freedom of movement relinquished entirely within a vortex of chaos that possessed a will of its own.
This seemingly endless ordeal continued until the next station, when for a brief moment passengers would frantically disembark, only to be replaced seconds later by another group vehemently intent on entering the car at the same time.
I realized I would never survive thirty minutes of this pandemonium, and found myself fighting my way off the train at the next stop. I decided that the only solution to the dilemma was to find accommodation within walking distance of the office, or to establish a schedule that would allow me to avoid the inevitable crowded conditions that exist in any major Japanese city from the morning hours of seven to nine.
In addition to the horrors of rush hour there are other pitfalls that newcomers should be aware of when riding trains in Japan. Although trains in Japan are an engineering marvel, oversights were obviously made when designing the tracks in relationship to certain platforms.
A number of stations contain very large spaces between the train and platform, and upon entering the carriage you find yourself carefully stepping over them like a mountaineer negotiating crevices. Some of the gaps are large enough to consume an adult or child, as I was witness to one spring afternoon in Akasaka station.
Sitting near the entrance I suddenly heard a shrill scream of panic erupt from a female passenger attempting to board. Apparently as she and her young daughter entered the compartment, the girl inadvertently slipped between the train and platform onto the tracks, the distraught mother desperately pulling her trembling daughter back onto the train seconds before the doors shut automatically.
Despite the crowded conditions and negative aspects of riding trains in Japan as previously mentioned, the Japanese rail system still maintains a reputation as one of the most efficient in the world. Punctuality is almost guaranteed, and frequency of departures and arrivals is truly impressive, with a waiting time of only a few minutes between trains, and a maximum of only ten minutes on smaller lines servicing outlining areas. Japanese trains are also among the cleanest and safest in the world, and accidents or breakdowns are almost nonexistent.
See you next time!