“You can’t understand a city without…”

Standard

“Using its public transportation system.” Or so said an author off a Pinterest post. But it does ring with a certain truth. I think I have picked up on more cultural nuances on just observing the transportation here in Tokyo.

Take bicycles for example. They are the equivalent to cars in the U.S. and a large portion of the population ride one. They even have registration and should you be caught with a bike that does not belong to you, woe unto you. However, it is understandable that with such a large population, small streets, and reliable subway/train system cars are less efficient.

Bikes

A small section of the bike parking at the LIFE supermarket.

From the cars that I have seen and even the trucks (And speaking of cars, Japan is one of those countries that drive on the left side. Just a tip to avoid accidents), vehicles are all tiny compared to the U.S. Back in America, it isn’t uncommon to see 16-wheelers and large SUVs, but in Tokyo, the cars are about the size of smart cars and the trucks aren’t that big either–about the size of a small pick-up. Considering Japan is an island with a fairly large population, they have become adept at conserving space as there really isn’t room for expansion.

In regards to Japan’s public transportation, it is truly remarkable–highly efficient and reliable. With the number of people who cram in during rush hour, there is a sort of unspoken etiquette in which there is near silence while riding and no eating. When it comes to boarding, people part to the side to let passengers disembark and there is minimal, if any, pushing or shoving. But there’s an exception. Tokyo is well equipped to handle most natural crises, but when it comes to snow, which doesn’t happen particularly often, public transportation gets hit hard as I found out firsthand. My morning trek to the station was slippery and full of slush and snow. In the snowy areas of the U.S., this would already have been shoveled out and salted which goes to show how often it snows in Tokyo.

Snow

The view from my balcony. It snowed the night before and rained the rest of the day.

As for the actual train ride, I have never been squished that much before, but other than the extremely long wait for the train, the actual ride wasn’t particularly unpleasant. The train, always clean with good ventilation (I’m always amazed at the cleanliness because back home, public transportation is really gross), may have been jam packed with zero wiggle room, but everyone bore with it quietly. It seems really odd to bring it up, but I can’t help but also appreciate that it didn’t smell off, because in the U.S. the trains and the stations always smelled unpleasant. Despite being smothered with other bodies (I’m not particularly tall), nothing smelled bad. I’m not too sure if this has to do with the diet or if people here have particularly good hygiene, but I had a moment where I obsessed over it.

To reiterate how considerate people here are, even riding the escalator involves manners. If you aren’t in a hurry, you are to stand on the left side, leaving room on the right for people in a hurry to run up. And there is a line to wait should there be a lot of people. I’ve seen this done in China, too, so this might not be exclusive to Japan, but it is still way more courteous than the organized chaos found in the U.S.

Honestly, I wish that the public transportation system in the U.S. was as nice as this since it would make my college life so much easier. I don’t have a car at my home campus, and it feels like a chore to endure every time I take the bus or train. But with how dependent we are on personal vehicles and our vast highway system, I don’t think that will change any time soon. Not to mention, the U.S. is a large country so I suppose it would not necessarily be as applicable as is in Japan.

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