Japanese Rush Hours and Japan’s Crowded Trains

Learning about Japanese Public Transportation

Public transportation in Japan may pretty well be the most efficient and organized in all of Asia and the Japanese take pride in this. This is also one of the reasons why the majority of Japan’s population prefer taking the public transportation than taking a car. This is added to the fact that there is a significant lack of parking space in major cities like Japan. There are different means of transportation in Japan like taking the taxi, the bus, or the train. All of these are very much convenient and accessible even for tourists.

This preference over public transportation is a reflection of the kind of effective government the Japanese people have. This means that the government did its part in ensuring that taking the public transport is just as reliable as bringing one’s car. In fact, it may have been proven to be less stressful, faster, and cheaper. This applies to all modes of transportation in Japan may it be by bus, by subway, by major metro rails, and the like.

By Tkwave [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Japanese Rush Hour

No matter which city to visit in the world, the rush hour hype will always be the same – crowds, sweat, running, and all that hassle. Many people who do their daily commute go through this almost all days of their working life. It is no different in Japan, the rush hour can get pretty hectic since most people take the public transport.

In Japan, the morning rush hour usually starts between 8 AM and 9 AM. In the afternoon, it starts at 5 PM and ends at 7 PM. This does not mean that there are no train passengers in between these time frames. It just means that there is a concentration of passengers during this time. What is also interesting is the fact that the number of passengers is much greater during the morning rush hours than the evening rush hours. This may be due to the fact that some employees go home much later than the required time, or they have errands to run before going home.

What’s Up with Japan’s Crowded Trains?

Unlike other places in the world, it is still crowded in Japanese trains during Sundays and Holidays than most days of the week. Because this is the time when the family can take advantage of a rare free day to run errands, bond with family, take a vacation, or visit family members. Train lines are more specifically crowded during the afternoons between 5 PM and 7 PM, compared to weekday rush hours where there are more people taking the trains in the morning.

What is interesting about crowded trains in Japan is the fact that there is platform personnel which is on standby to help in closing the train doors. People think that they can only see this in anime but what is depicted in most Japanese literary is a clear copy of what happens in real life.  As rude as it may sound, there are people on the platform who are willing to push people into the train so they would not be popped out. Most train doors work on sensors and will not close unless it is cleared.

Crowds on the train do not just happen on the train itself. It starts with the passages going into the station, the lines for passes going into the platforms, the platform crowd, before the crowd on the actual train. There are ways to avoid these crowds and that is to take a reloadable or reusable pass or ticket.

Based on a survey, the most crowded lines are those belonging to major cities like Tokyo. These lines include the Nakano to Shinjuku route of the JR Chuo line, the Kinshicho to Ryogoku section of the JR Sobu Line, and the Kawasaki to Shinagawa way of the JR Tokaido line.

What is interesting is that the Transport Ministry of Japan has provided congestion rates to inform passengers of the real-time condition of the trains. These are usually flashed in bulletin boards all over the station and is a means to provide information for passengers. They can use this information to assess if they will use other modes of transport. The rates are as follows:

·         100 % - Passengers still have an option to sit or stand. There is enough personal space for everyone. There is enough space for people to read the newspaper, use their phones, and walk around.

·         150 % - There is still personal space available for passengers but the crowd has significantly grown. The good thing is that there is still space for newspaper reading. There is still enough space to move around.

·         200 % - There is double capacity now and all the space inside the train is occupied. Passengers are now forced to be squished with one another but there is still space for entry and exit.

·         250 % - This is the most dreadful condition of the railway and usually happens during rush hour. The passengers are like packed sardines with literally no space to move about. Those who cannot get a hold of straps should not be afraid of falling back. It is so tightly packed there is no space to fall over.

Etiquette to Follow when Riding Trains in Japan

·         Never hang around near the doors. This actually applies to all train passengers all over the world. Hassle for the commute gets lessened when there is ease in ingress and egress, something that many people seem to forget. Blocking the doors will not only become difficult for other passengers getting on and off the train, whoever is blocking it will surely get some unnecessary bumps, elbows, and squeezing from people riding and alighting the train.

·         Avoid Eye Contact. This is a weird but helpful gesture when riding crowded trains in Japan. It is unavoidable to lose one’s personal space and be eye-to-eye with a random stranger. There is a clear, yet, unwritten rule that both parties must look away. This is to avoid unnecessary awkwardness, and it is actually deemed to be pretty common.

·         Seats are for elderly, PWDs, pregnant, and children. When traveling by train (or even bus) during times of rush, it might be a good idea to downsize expectations that there will be seats available on the train. Because of this, it might be a good idea to always give up seats for those who need it most and cannot stand throughout the long journey.

·         Keep the noise down.  This is definitely one of the most important manners that foreign travelers seem to forget. It is deemed disrespectful to talk and to laugh loudly in public spaces, especially trains. Many railway lines and metro lines even disallow the usage of mobile phones inside the cars. It is discouraged to listen to music too loudly as well.

·         Keep luggage in close proximity. Not only is it out of safety against theft, but it is also very important to ensure that no one will get hit by baggage. It is also a great protection against dropping something. It is going to be very difficult to pick something up in crowded trains. For those carrying a backpack, many people are expecting to see it worn in front than at the back. That way, the owner will get to see who can get accidentally hit than not see that the backpack is already at somebody else’s face.

·         Notify when alighting. Pushing someone out of the way when alighting the train is the worst behavior of train passengers. The words ‘sumimasen’ (pardon me) or ‘orimasu’ (I’m getting off) will notify everyone that someone is alighting the train and they, as respectful individuals, will step out of the way and give the other passengers space to walk out.

Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons [GFDL 1.3 (www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl-1.3.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Tips to Avoid Japan’s Overcrowded Train

During rush hour, especially in large metropolitans like Tokyo, it is unavoidable to ride the trains along with the crowd. For those who wish to avoid these crowds during rush hours and there is time to spare, take the first or last car of the train. Many people would not have much time to walk to and from these cars and would prefer to stay at accessible cars of the train. This is especially true for cars that are found near the entrances. People want to get into and out of the train more easily so they tend to prefer spots near the entrance. They also prefer cars which are near turnstile exits because they want to get ahead of the crowd when leaving the station.

For the summer season in the months of June, July, August, September people are encouraged to ride a bike or take a walk to the station. Maybe skip a ride on the bus and enjoy the warm temperatures while they last. It is also important to remember that the crowds are much higher during the spring months of March, April, and May because this is the time when there is a ridiculous influx of tourists not only from Japan but from all over the world. Then, this will again be true for the autumn months of October and November because the change in foliage is a lovely sight for tourists.

For the winter season in the months of December, January, February, and March, people are encouraged to take public transport. But during this time, for exercise as well, they are still encouraged to walk short distances. Crowded trains will again appear during the New Year Holidays and it might be a good idea to skip the trains during this time.

For instances where major concerts of popular artists and idols are held near train stations, it might be a good idea to go on foot to the nearest station. It is a good idea to avoid stations where there are major events or tourist spots. This is because the platform alone will carry hundreds of people at a time and it will surely be crowded.

For those who wish to enjoy Japan without the rush hour, try to ride the early trains or the late trains. Japanese railway systems open in the early hours of 5 AM and close as late as 9 PM. This is a good technique for people who will be in Japan for a short period of time and want to avoid the stress of the public transport.

The Government’s Actions towards Japanese Overcrowded Trains

Based on a few news reports, the government has immediate plans to provide ease to commuters during rush hour. This is to encourage employers to provide flexible working hours for their staff. In so doing, not every person needs to go to work between 8 AM and 9 AM. They can choose a different work duration to avoid both morning and evening rush. If the company does not wish to provide flexible working hours, perhaps an incentive for individuals going to work earlier can be a better option.

The government has indicated that there must be cooperation not only from employers but also from the railways, and riders. There are talks of providing double-decker trains and the construction of platforms to accommodate such a bizarre but timely idea. Railway providers are also encouraged to provide incentives like discounts and promos for employees who would be traveling earlier than the morning rush hour. According to a report from JR East, they will be giving special extra points for purchases and transactions at certain train stations before 7 AM.

For the past decades, the increasing population in major cities like Tokyo has been a pressing issue for the government. Most metropolitan cities in Japan are absolutely accessible and that is not always beneficial. This means that there are more people concentrated in these areas than other places in Japan. Most jobs are found in the metropolitan cities and it is understandable that there is a huge population traffic during the working days. Some employees even travel from faraway provinces that through different railway lines. Likewise, methods and solutions have been searched and put in place to address issues related to congestion in public transportation. Among these is to provide additional runs, additional stations, and even track sharing to ease congestion issues.

Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons [GFDL 1.3 (www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl-1.3.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons