Tokyo is huge… massively amazingly, huge. And so is the Subway system.
In one of the guide books the system is compared to a plate of spaghetti and I would have to agree. It isn’t that there are a lot of lines and a lot of stops and a lot of intersections…. It is that there are several different systems that all share lines and stops and intersections. There is the Metro which is different from the JR line which is different from the Transit line which is different from the line…. And it just goes on and on and on.
Thankfully there are conductors and ticket people (in easy to spot uniforms) that will help you. Thankfully there are signs in English (occasionally).
There are also subway stations that are the size of city blocks with shopping malls and thirteen stories of confusing building on top and six stories of shooshing whooshing trains underground.
Sometimes you would get off the train and just run for the nearest exit uncaring if it was in fact the South, the North, the Main, the East or any of the other seventeen different named exits… you just had to get out of the never ending hallways and corridors. In cases like this, it would take you about 5 minutes to get out… and then a good 20 minutes to half an hour to circle the building looking for something familiar.
You could also spend half an hour in the subway station looking for the right exit.
We got to the point where we were managing the system pretty decently by the end of 8 days. We still would occasionally have to stop, look around, retrace our steps, and make double and then triple sure we were about to get on the right train… but for the most part we were doing all right.
In fact, I was a little proud of us for managing as well as we did. The Maifan-San got really good at reading the maps and I got really good at flagging down conductors and pointing helplessly at the train.
Here we are on the train feeling that strange mix of pride and exhaustion.
Really though, the system, for all its complexity and hugeness, was a lot like the ramped up on steroid version of BART.
Except for the people.
All the many many many many people.
Now, I ride the Light Rail everyday and am not a new hand at the Silicon Valley’s public transportation system. I have been on my share of crowded busses and trains. I have been squeezed between people who hadn’t used Dial or any other form of cleaning product. I have been part of a mass of people all moving together on or off some form of transportation.
But nothing like Tokyo.
There were people, everywhere. And they all seemed to know exactly where they were going. They all walked really fast (staying to the left rather than the right like we do in the States) and they all marched with a seriousness of purpose and the blank drone like expressions of weary commuters. In other words, safety came in staying out of the way and trying not to get mowed down.
Here are a few delightful videos of the subway system in Tokyo…. (The third one is the best)
The first video is of us leaving Shinjuku Station.
Next we have us just a sec later at “our” intersection.
And lastly, proof that this is a culture that takes the idea of “maximum occupancy” to a whole new level of OMG.