Let’s Go Underground

May 4, 2007 at 3:30 pm 1 comment

When my husband and I visited Japan in 2004, we had to quickly familiarize ourselves with Tokyo subway system, particularly the Yamanote Line that runs in one long, self-contained loop around the city. It connects the major areas of urban commerce and business: Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro.


In Japan, not only are the trains modern, heated or air-conditioned depending on the season, and on time, often to the second, but the Tokyo underground is astonishingly clean.

While riding the escalators in the stations I actually used the handrail!

(Picture for a second the subway systems in New York City or Chicago: dark, sticky, hot, and crowded. Can you even imagine voluntarily allowing any part of your skin to touch the train compartment, escalator / stair railing or windows, with all the litter, food wrappers and germs floating around? Exactly.) Riding the underground in the U.S. is a necessary element of city life, and a good way to get around, but I definitely don’t like to linger there!

Upon exiting the train compartments in Tokyo, we noticed that the Japanese people exhibited a sense of orderliness. When they reached the escalators, everyone immediately separated into two groups of riders: those who walked, and those who stood. As far as we could tell, nobody told them to do this and no signs suggested it; it was simply the way things were. It took us a while to get the hang of it, especially because, as in Europe, people pass one another on the left side, not the right.

As tourists, we were in luck because there were English signs everywhere. We were told this was a leftover perk from the World Cup some years earlier. Also, if we appeared confused (which happened a lot on the first day), Japanese passers-by frequently offered to help, and patiently assisted us in buying our tickets from the machines. The underground shops were not limited to newsstands or vendors; they were more like boutiques, sometimes with high-end products.

There was one downside to riding the Japanese underground. I’d heard rumors that women might be groped by chikan(“perverts”) on the ultra-packed subway trains during rush hour. Since the late ’90s, complaints have soared and in 2005-2006, Tokyo Metro began providing women-only cars for female passengers during the morning commute.

We never had any problems, but if you’re a woman traveling during rush hour, just look for the bright pink signs

Sarah S.

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Entry filed under: Japanese Culture.

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May 2007
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