Riding the subway in Tokyo was a real adventure. The most intimidating part was the sheer number of people (though I found the crowds much less oppressive than the ones in Beijing).
The system was hard to figure out at first, but eventually we figured out how to buy a ticket. Depending on how far you were riding, the price varied. A short ride was about 190 yen (about $1.90) and a longer ride (going about an hour away) was about $10.
The hotel gave us a map in Romanji, or English letters spelling out how to pronounce the Japanese words. That made it a little easier to figure out which stop was ours. But it was still pretty complicated!
In large part, the crowds on the subway were manageable because Japanese people are very respectful of each other. For example, when people are trying to get off the train, it is customary for others to get off in order to make it easier for those around them to exit. I noticed that not only did people get off as a favor to others, but then they got in the back of the line that was waiting to get on. I don’t think people in America would do this! You can see people doing this nice thing in this little video which I filmed:
Actually, once we got on the train, it felt very relaxed. Riding the train was fun when it wasn’t super crowded. I even made some balloons on the train on a rainy day, when there were some kids sitting across from me.
There were other days when it was hard to move around at all because there were so many people. On these days, I certainly wasn’t able to take out balloons!
The hardest part to navigate were the stations themselves. Shinjuku Station was like a big underground mall, with many levels deep underground. There were plenty of chain stores that I recognized, lots of tunnels, and all sorts of foods that you can’t even imagine. Yum!
Even though riding the subway was sometimes confusing, overall, it felt very safe. Many stations had these protective doors to keep people away from the moving trains:
And there were special seats for people who needed to sit, like the elderly or pregnant women. I sat in one once when the rest of the train was packed and nobody else seemed to need it. I got some glares, but it seemed silly to stand when nobody needed the priority seats!
Japanese people tend to be short, so that meant that there were low handles for short people like me! I liked that a lot. In fact, they had lots of different handles for people of different heights! One of our tall teachers, Brad, towered over the Japanese people on the train, and there wasn’t really enough space for him.
Overall, I found the subway system to be organized, clean, and well maintained. I think the people of Tokyo are lucky to have such a great system!