Underground in Tokyo: The Subway

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!


Categories: Japan

19 replies »

  1. This is a comprehensive and thorough exposition on the subway in Tokyo! I appreciate you creating this, Sarah. I will show it to friends, family and students 🙂

  2. I’m surprised that you found the subways of Tokyo to be very organized. Especially when the Japanese got off for other people to get on/off, then got into one of the lines to get on. The few subways that I’ve been on were very crowded and messy. Also, it’s very smart of the Japanese to put those gates and doors between the train and the people; nobody can accidentally fall!
    Cute balloon hats!

  3. I think a clean subway station would be very unusual in America I am very surprised how they keep everything so clean and organized. And I bet those children you gave the balloon hats were overjoyed to be given such a thing.

  4. Are subways an important part of Tokyo’s transportation system? I was wondering because the subway was so crowded. Or was that just because Tokyo is so big?

    • Yes, it’s a busy city and so a lot of people don’t have cars. Of course, some do, but it’s pretty easy to get around without a car. Public transit is good, and cars are expensive and hard to park in the city.

  5. These remind me of the monorails in Disney World. It is a little different in Disney because the train is a little smaller. The seats are like booths, and they are the length of two regular size chairs. There are two seats and then five poles to hold onto. The buses in Disney remind me of the subways as well.

  6. I think the subways in Tokyo would be much safer because of the protective doors outside the train. I think these would be a good thing to have in Boston so people wouldn’t get hurt. I think I would like the subways in Boston better if people were as polite and respectful as the people are in Tokyo.

    • I would like to see a Subway like this in Boston. Amanda is right, if people treated each other right like they do in Tokyo, lines and people would move a little better and be more organized. Even though there were a lot of people, it was organized.

  7. I liked that people got off the train and went to the back of the line. People in America don’t usually make lines or get off the train for somebody else because they are often in such a rush. I went to Boston a couple of weeks ago and my sister kept running up to the yellow safety line. I wish we had the protective doors here so that my mother wouldn’t have had to worry about her so much and keep reminding her to back up.

  8. That sounds so nice and safe I love how you made kids balloons that was very generous. Everyone sounds so polite and I love the doors for the train so no one gets hurt.

  9. I believe this means that compared to the U.S., People in Tokyo most commonly uses public transportation than personal transportation because in the photos posted you could tell it’s more populated subway stations.

  10. The subway looked busy and sometimes not. Was it usually more crowded then not? It looked clean also the people on the subway looked like they respected each other. I could tell the stations were more crowded and big then the ones in the U.S.

    • Hi Spencer — it really depended on the time of day. During rush hour, it was very crowded! Also, just a reminder not to use your last name when you comment (I’m going in and editing your comments to take out your last name). It’s just an internet safety thing!

    • Good question, Dan! They wear those masks generally for one of three reasons: 1) if they are sick and don’t want to spread it, 2) if they are worried about getting sick, and 3) if they have seasonal allergies and are trying to keep out pollen. They are very common in Japan! I’m going to write about that in a future blog entry but haven’t had time yet.

  11. From what I have observed from most of your posts from Japan is that Japanese people like to keep things very organized and quick. The transitions that happen when people are getting on and off the train made everything go much faster and seemed like it was very easy. How do the people in Japan know how to transition smoothly off and on the train? Who taught them?

    • Great observation, Julia. I think it is part of their culture, and they learn it by watching others around them. In schools, I was told that teachers don’t really act as the disciplinarian. They think it’s better for teachers to take the role of mentor or friendly coach, and they really encourage students to be monitoring each other to ensure that their peers are acting appropriately. So, people learn a lot there by peer coaching. Pretty neat, right? I think that’s a great way to learn!

  12. Evan S.
    In our train in the US we don’t seem to have as much safety. I really think the safety of using the barriers between the train and people would prevent people from getting hurt. Every year there are reports about people falling onto the T train rails. I also think that it must go a lot faster in Tokyo to get on and off instead of in America where everyone is pushing and barging to get through the doors. If people do this in a more calm and organized manner it would go much faster!

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