One of the most appealing things about visiting Tokyo so far is that its transit system is highly developed and particularly useful because it allows for efficient transit at both the city-wide and local levels. For getting across the different districts of Tokyo, the Yamanote Line was incredibly convenient. Additionally, due to the private rail lines’ ownership of the area surrounding each of the major stations, many of the important stores and buildings that anyone would wish to enter are clustered around the stations. These closely-packed attractions help to promote walking and cycling, which are more healthy alternatives to using automobiles. Over the first two days, most of the transit time that I spent was walking between locations at areas near the major stations.
It is important to find a good balance between densely-packed transit systems that have a smaller footprint while also ensuring that individuals have adequate room to ride comfortably. The Yamanote Line was continuously packed throughout the day, which made it somewhat uncomfortable to ride at times, as there was little personal space. However, the Yamanote Line was very efficient and effective at transporting large amounts of passengers to a number of destinations across the city. Additionally, the railway system has a small footprint, with much of the railway existing underground. One related aspect of this I found interesting was the multiple floors for railways overlaid on top of one another, allowing for easy transit between lines while ensuring that the lines’ paths do not interfere with one another.
All the transit systems that I rode on were swift and timely. The trains would almost always arrive within 2 or 3 minutes of waiting, except for the local Sangubashi station, in which express trains often passed by the station. The monorail was likely the slowest of the rail systems that I rode on, but even that wasn’t all that slow and gave a nice view of parts of the city, as its small footprint allowed it to be built aboveground. Adding to the fact that the transit systems were timely was the fact that information was always available on what routes to take to get to your destination, when to transfer lines, and how long each ride would take. This came in handy for me many times, particularly when my plans changed and I quickly needed to figure out how to change destinations.
The main thing that I took away from the system of transit in Tokyo is that the Japanese know how to maximize the space in their city, whether it be aboveground, belowground, or on the ground itself, to make their transportation systems as efficient as possible. Given that the Tokyo Megaregion is incredibly populous and space is at a premium, this makes a lot of sense. Ideas such as multi-level stations, underground vehicle storage systems, and small-footprint monorails allow for the limited area in which Tokyo exists to be used to its full potential in terms of transit.
Today, we took trips to the Japan Railway Museum and the Japan Rail (JR) East Research facility. We got to explore the history of the railway and get sneak peeks into the makings of the present of the transit services and get a glimpse of the future of the JR. From these trips and the information gained from them, I can now see what makes a good and sustainable transit system and how Japan’s rail system compares to the good old USA.
The JR and US transit systems differ greatly, with Japan having a very far lead in transit sustainability over the US. For the US, it seems as though the US transits are more concerned with having the most updated technology available for passengers, without taking an equal amount of concern towards on access to these systems, easier understanding of the stations themselves, and efficiency of the trains in general in reference to timeliness, cleanliness, and safety. For Japan railway systems, it is the complete opposite. Their main focus is on providing a safe, understandable, convenient service to the passengers to ensure they get to their desired destination on time, without confusion or interruption. Furthermore, the technology being used is nothing to turn a blind eye to, as Japan’s technology is very up to date with new innovations in more efficient transit travel on the way in the near future. These focuses prove to make the JR transits far more sustainable than their US counterparts, purely because they stick to the critical elements to provide good transit service.
Now, what are these critical elements to provide good transit service? Well these can be summarized into four simple points: mobility must be a service, space is a priority, service is first, and knowledge is power. If travel is a utility, then mobility must be a service. A transit system has to create seamless travel with collective transportation as the backbone in order to make a system efficient, and good information and minimal delay has to be provided to have mobility transformed into a high-quality utility. Spatial priority must be given to collective transportation modes with exclusive right-of-way given to transit services, for with our current society, efficiency of travel is interrupted by regular workday traffic with no incentive to share the road. The focus needs to first be on service, then on technology, because if you have the best tech but then no way to use it efficiently or to even get people to have access to it, then how does that prove sustainable in the long run at all? (it doesn’t) Lastly, knowledge is power, and before applying the latest tech, knowledge on how to improve the sustainability of the current system is crucial to master, because once you understand what you have and what you need, then you can work to improve the problems already present to even have the availability to add new tech in the future.
On this note, for JR East specifically, some of their newest initiatives in improving their transit systems are more centered around the areas of customer convenience and safety. We were shown a new project on the gating systems when boarding and departing the trains. Currently they have a simple sliding door system that activates when a train arrives and departs. The project they showed us however is actually a whole fence-like barrier between the passengers and the train that ascends and descends upon arrival and departure of the train. This will increase customer safety and further decrease the chances of people committing suicides on the railways. Another project shown was an improved version of the Suica card scanner where the scanning part is at an angle and also above the customer suspended from the ceiling. The tilted gate gives easier access to handicapped passengers in wheelchairs and shorter customers to scan their card with less strain, and the suspended scanner eliminates the need to touch a card on a scanner at all, as the scanner will just scan your card from your pocket! With these new innovations, I am confident this will keep Japan in the lead for sustainable transit systems, and will make an example of a transit network the rest of the world should take notes from and replicate.
Today we had the chance to visit the Railway Museum and JR East's Research and Development facility in Saitama, a prefecture northwest of Tokyo. Since it was far away, we spent a relatively long time on the train. During this train ride I realized how well connected the Japanese transit system is. We headed back towards the youth center we were staying at a little past 5pm and got to see the large amount of people that use this system. The connectedness, ease of use, punctuality, frequency of trains, comfort, reach across the nation are some of the critical elements of a good transit system I thought the Japanese transit system did a great job in providing.
When I heard we were going to the Railway Museum I thought it would be boring, but little did I know that the museum would show me the amount of passion that the Japanese have for trains. The museum had a history section that showed the evolution of the Japanese railways, and a future section that showed how they plan to further improve this already amazing system.
I found the visit to JR East's Research and Development facility incredibly interesting as R&D is something I have thought about as a career choice. The tour of the facility showed me how important safety of passengers and bettering technology to make it easier for riders is for JR East, some of the things that they were in the process of developing were: better ticket gate for handicapped passengers, better safety gates on train stations, and solar power windows for train staions. Learning about the different things they do and what some of their future projects are made me wish I worked there as I had some ideas that I think could be implemented to make the train system better.
While touring the R&D facility I often thought about how an R&D facility might be for a train/transit company in America. I know the US Government has regulations that the train companies must follow but I have not seen any American company make improvements to their trains and stations to ensure the safety of the passengers. The biggest difference I have noticed in (my 5 days of using) the Japanese transit system and (my 2 commuting semesters of using) Marta is that the Japanese Transit System is something every rider wants to come back and use. I think America knows how to imitate what the Japanese are doing, has the technology for it, and definitely has the money to recreate something as good as it, what it is lacking is the push from the government to improve the transit system.
A wall from the exhibit of the history of trains in Japan.
Tokyo’s transit system runs seamlessly and efficiently, even while serving a massive population, making it one of the most impressive transportation systems in the world. Even after using the railway only once, I was struck by how a system so expansive and complex runs so smoothly and effectively, especially when compared to simpler systems I have experienced in different cities. While I have only been traveling on it for a couple of days, I feel more confident in my ability to navigate and more impressed by its efficiency after every use.
One of the first things I noticed about the train stations was that they are busy, but not as busy as you’d expect in a city as densely populated as Tokyo. We learned that around 8.5 million people use the Tokyo Metro each day, but you’d never feel that congestion when riding it. While the rail system is undoubtedly frequented by many, the quick turnover of the trains alleviates a lot of the crowding. One of the stations we visited, Shinjuku station, serves 260,000,000 people per year. They even have employees called “pushers” that will push people onto the train in peak hours. The train cars themselves tend to be pretty packed, but people arrange themselves facing the windows to optimize the space. The use of private cars seemed to be low relative to the population density of the city. From what I observed on the bus ride to Shinjuku on the first day, bus transportation is popular but is only really useful for specific routes. Overall, it seems the metropolitan railway system is the most feasible and busy transportation in Tokyo.
Inside of a Train Car on Yamamote Line Bus in Chiba
All forms of transportation we used were extremely timely. While I didn’t actually time the arrivals and departures myself, there were no noticeable delays or interruptions that occur on other public railway systems. The cars on the trains and monorails also have a screen showing your transit in progress and listing an ETA for each station. It is also very clear that timeliness is a big part of Japanese culture; the locals line up for the trains well before they arrive and are quick to hop on and off. It is convenient that the trains arrive very frequently in case you miss the line you were hoping to take. The commitment to timeliness and cooperation of the riders make the transportation system very reliable.
It’s relatively easy to find information about the transit systems if you have a general idea of the layout of the city. When you enter each station, there’s an overhead sign showing the trains and their arrival times. Before the card entrance, there are color-coded posters depicting the lines between each city. They also have platform information posters that list the locations of each line and give you an estimate of the travel time between your current location and desired destination. Once you’re on the train, you’re able to see the number of stops until your destination along with any announcements of delays. They also have an English announcement system that comes on as the train approaches the station that tells you which trains you can connect to at the upcoming station. We even had a local man assist us in the Shinjuku station when he saw us looking at the maps and struggling to determine the quickest train to Tokyo station. All of these factors together make the transit system much more navigable for both locals and first-time riders.
Three summers ago, when I visited Japan with my family for the first time, I rode numerous subways and buses, but I never paid attention to both the transit tour and busy service until the transit tour. It was approximately 10:30 in the morning when we entered Harajuku station and although it was not rush hour, there was still a myriad of individuals commuting to work. Further into the tour at around 2 to 3 PM, I noticed that the crowd on the subways remained the same. This time, however, there were fewer dressed in professional attire and more tourists and students riding the subway, during these off hours. Despite the crowds of people, it was still relatively quiet on the trains, with everyone minding their own business and no one talking loudly or disrupting others.
Moreover, the trains always arrived and left in a timely manner. At most stations, there are overhead screens that list the specific train, its line, and platform number as well as the exact time that it will arrive. Given this information, I was able to easily check my phone to see if the train really arrived at the specified time. For instance, Shinjuku station is at the end of the Odakyu line, so the train stops there for a several minutes before departing. I noticed that the doors on both sides of the train were left open, and one minute prior to the departure time, the driver first closed the doors on one side. A few seconds before the scheduled time, the driver closed the remaining set of doors, and the train left exactly on time. Furthermore, I learned that a unique alarm at each platform alerts commuters that the train is about to depart. At first, I did not notice these sounds at all until we were halfway into the transit tour. I was standing right under a speaker when it suddenly played what was more of an odd than pleasant tune. Every time I rode the metro in Shanghai, China several months ago, I could always hear the loud, cacophonous beeping right as the doors close, but during this Tokyo transit tour, it always took me a while to realize the euphonious tune that was currently playing at the platform.
Despite the seemingly infinite number of transit lines owned by private companies, there were many signs hanging all over each station we walked through. I realized it is easy to find your way around as long as you have the directions to your destination with the specific lines and exits to take. It was easy to follow the signs, and there were also numerous maps and information centers at your disposal if you get lost. In addition, all the signs have English, Chinese, and Korean translations to aid foreigners and tourists navigating Tokyo’s public transportation system. These translations are also provided on the digital screens found in most trains which display the next few stops of the transit line, in addition to how many minutes it will take to arrive there. However, I noticed that train for the Odakyu line did not have these digital screens, which made it difficult for me to determine whether or not I was going in the right direction. Finally, I think that the most important aspect that I pulled from today’s transit tour was a glimpse at how Tokyo’s transit system takes into account equity. At one of the stations, I noticed a handicap sign painted on the ground, specifying that the subway car that stops right in front of it has a designated area for the disabled. On most of the train cars that I rode on, there was also priority seating for elderlies, pregnant women, women with kids, and anyone with physical injuries or disabilities. With the Tokyo transit tour, I am increasingly interested in learning more about the country’s approach to equity in its various modes of public transportation.
At first glance, Tokyo’s public transportation systems may seem more efficient than most, but nothing of a systematic wonder. This first glance, however, does not even begin to do the system justice. As we experienced today in our tour of said transit system, every finite detail is expertly crafted to function in the most harmonious way technologically possible. As a first testament to how smoothly (literally) this operation runs and one of the first things I noticed upon boarding, the trains themselves were so smooth that while running, people were walking through the cars with no stumbling incidents. The information offered aboard the train was also incredibly useful and well laid out- with everything from stop names (alternating between languages so at least one screen was English at all times), to minutes it would take to arrive at each stop, to rail names, etc. The on board experience as a whole was made pleasant not only due to the written information around the cars, but also due to auditory cues. Japanese people, as a social rule, do not speak loudly on trains; thus, it was very easy to hear the easing female voice announcing which stations were next (once again, in English and Japanese). This is a testament to how much the Japanese people are integrated into and mindful of their own public transportation. If so much as a handful of people were rowdy in such a small, crowded area, no one would comprehend the routes, but this is not the only aspect in which people impact their own transportation. Some other cultural phenomena which aid the smooth rail systems are the use of priority seating for pregnant women/the elderly (along with a car for females only to avoid groping), as well as the comfort with crowding in smaller spaces. While the priority seating is meant to be out of respect, I also noticed that it makes things faster; the in-shape people are free to get off without the obstruction of slower-moving peoples.
This cultural integration into the system is not a choice in Japan, either. If anyone does not follow the cultural cues, chaos could be insued, and the main reason for this is the sheer business of the stations and rails themselves. Even the smaller lines that we went on were filled nearly to the brim with people packed in like sardines, but there was no panic in people’s eyes as there is in even a half-empty MARTA. Despite the crowded nature of the trains and stations themselves, the stress levels seemed relatively low. Another set of details gone unnoticed by the untrained eye- and ear- comes int the form of stress-reduction methods placed thoughout stations and trains, from pleasant lighting to keep people from committing suicide, to jingles which indicate trains leaving as opposed to harsh buzzers preventing accidents, to lively colors which promote happiness and calmness. These solutions maintain short-term sustainability in an incredibly efficient manner; however, these are all psychological tricks, not solutions, and psychology is not necessarily stable. This means that perhaps citizens’ brains will eventually become numb to the destressors or future generations will have less inclination to register the noises as pleasant since it will be normal to them. The changes are very effective, but even a slight slip in their effectiveness could put a stop to the whole system.
That being said, there have yet to be many slip-ups with the system in its current state, and the timeliness of the stops is impeccible. Even from ten stops away, I timed one of the trains I was on and it got the exact minutes between stations (not to mention that they actually have times for the stations readily accessible).
This is to be expected from a system which had to apologize for being one minute late, but the question does still remain of how long these psychological tricks will uphold. Possibly, there could be no break in the seemingly unbreakable system, but resolving serious psychological epidemics with lighting tricks and catchy tones is not ensured to hold up forever. Even with their faults, however, the bells and whistles (and jingles) are incredibly impressive and well thought out for immediate resolution. Some credit must be given, after all, considering the harmonious workings between every miniscule part of the operation is, indeed, the Japanese Way.
It is well known that Japan has incredible transit systems in operation. On the daily average, Tokyo hosts 8.5 million transit riders. It is no surprise that they have refined the art of public transportation. But just how good is their transit system? And what makes it so good? I consider the pillars of a good transit system the cleanliness, safety, efficiency, environmental impact, and equitability. Just like the rest of Japan, Tokyo’s transit systems are extremely tidy, punctual, and safe. In many of the stations, there are barriers and gates in place around the edges of the subway platforms, keeping the public off the rails. The transit systems are proven to reduce pollution and emissions, making the city much more environmentally conscientious. Japan is also very conscientious of people with disabilities, providing textured strips on the walkways and very clear announcements on the trains to assist the blind. Every station I have experienced is equipped with an elevator to improve accessibility. In Shinjuku, the busiest station in the world, I saw a station attendant escorting a man in a wheelchair, ensuring he was able to navigate safely through the crowds.
With 8.5 million riders utilizing the Tokyo subway system daily, I found it incredible that I didn’t feel cramped the entire time. While I haven’t experienced the subway at peak hours, I expected to be packing into the subway by “pusher,” with little room to breathe. During my time traveling, I felt more crowded in the stations than on the train cars, counter to my expectation. People grouped at the edges of the station platforms and pushing their way off and on trains was the foremost reason I noticed the amount of people. On the subway itself, I found that in most cars there were one or two seats open. Only around 5 p.m. on the Yamanote line (the “Beltway” around Central Tokyo) did I struggle to find a comfortable place to stand on the train.
The punctuality of the trains, however, did live up to the global excitement. I didn’t personally time any of the trains or compare the actual time to the assigned arrival time of the subways. However, on every platform, there were screens displaying the arrival of the next train. There were boards posted with the train’s arrival times for all days of the week. Announcements throughout the station alerted attendants when trains were arriving. On the train, screens display the duration to the next few stations. Apparently, it made national news when a train was one minute late. I’m always pleasantly surprised when a MARTA train is on time.
An aspect of the Tokyo transit system that I found most helpful was the abundance of information available. Almost every sign in the stations has an English translation or counterpart. There are subway maps printed in every station and in some subway trains, although I have yet to acquire a personal map of the subway. On the trains, above every door, screens display the current line, the next few stations including the time to those stations, and the current station’s layout. There were also very clear announcements broadcasting the current subway line, the next station, and which doors will open in both Japanese and English. I have no doubt the ease of obtaining information on the Tokyo transit systems keeps things moving efficiently.
Despite how overwhelming and expansive it may seem, the transit system in Tokyo is actually efficient and easy to use. After our tour today, I understand why the trains and subways are the best and most popular forms of transit in Tokyo. In fact, I think the reasons for this are high efficiency and accessibility to information about the system.
Tokyo’s transit system is probably the most efficient transit system in the world. The most obvious and famous reason for this is how timely the trains are. It has even been national news when a train was only one minute late. Now a one-minute delay would not usually seem like a big deal for people in other parts of the world, but it is for Tokyo transit. This is because their transit system is designed to eliminate as many delay factors as possible. For example, using rapid transit, trains cannot be slowed down by street congestion or other types of traffic. The monorail represents this well because it operates above other infrastructure and is completely independent of traffic. Tokyo transit even tries to prevent external accidents, such as accidents while boarding and suicide attempts on the tracks. By replacing normal train alert sounds with a short, peaceful melody, the transit system reduced the amount of accidents that were caused by panic and rushing on and off trains. This is in addition to the blue platform lights that promote happier thoughts and feelings which has led to a large reduction of the amount of suicide attempts on the tracks.
Along with heavy accident prevention, Tokyo’s transit system is also good with handling the large amounts of people that use it. Millions of people use Tokyo’s transit system every day, however, I think that the business is handled well. The main way this is done is by having trains depart every few minutes. Another observation I had today was that the stations had multiple entrances and exits which prevented large crowds from gathering in one place to enter and exit. Having a prepaid card such as the Suica card made moving in and out of the stations even easier and prevents long lines from forming for tickets.
One final reason I have to explain why Tokyo transit works so well is how easy it is to obtain the information you need to travel. Along with signs and announcements, there are also other sources of train information that provide even more details. For example, there are many signs that have clear animations that show everything related to the train you are on such as the line, stops, direction, and more. However, if you want to take it up a step, I learned that Google Maps will even tell you which train car to use to get in and out the quickest. All of these little tools help made riding the trains in Tokyo a lot less stressful. Even when I didn’t know exactly where I was, I still felt confident enough to navigate on my own.
As I spent the day navigating Tokyo’s elaborate transit system, I was extremely aware of my lack of personal space as I shared walkways and train cars with thousands of other people. Although I felt cramped and hurried as commuters rushed past me, I also felt comfort as I observed the constant and orderly movement of these masses of people. I felt small in comparison to the large numbers of people surrounding me, but I did not feel cramped or lost. Rather, I was in awe at how efficiently the crowds around me moved from place to place. Specifically, in Shinagawa, it dawned on me how massive the sheer number of people flowing through the station per minute must be as our group walked against huge flows of people walking out of the station, as can be seen in the picture below.
Tokyo’s public transportation systems are incredibly busy. However, their system is also incredibly efficient. They achieve this by making it a very swift and easy process to enter and exit train stations as well as board and exit the trains. When I scanned my Suica card into a station, I didn’t have to stop walking or even slow down, which keeps people flowing steadily. Also, train users have socially accepted norms that help increase efficiency, such as people lining up in certain spots as they wait for the train and everyone standing on the left side of the escalator so that others may pass on the right. Many factors contribute to the efficiency of Tokyo’s transit systems, and it is easy to tell just how efficient it is by simply observing the number of people that flow through the stations each day.
Efficiency is not the only thing that makes for a good transit system. Other factors, such as timeliness, information transfer, speed, and environmental impact of the service matter. All of these are done impressively well by Tokyo’s transit system. As far as timeliness, each train arrives at the exact minute it was scheduled to arrive – every single time. It is clearly shown on the signs inside the stations as well as within the train cars how long it will take the train to reach a certain station, and the exact 24-hour time it will arrive. Tokyo’s system also transfers information well by clearly marking the directions to the different rail lines as well as detailing the stops and destinations of each line (see picture below). As someone who knows absolutely no Japanese aside from “Konnichiwa”, I was able to navigate the train stations fairly easily and quickly, which says a lot about how well Tokyo transit is able to communicate information to people. Even when I still found myself confused about what route to take, there was always someone close by that worked at the station that was able to help me and my friends find the right way.
When our group took the automated train, I had the opportunity to sit in the first car and look out the front window. I both saw and felt how fast the train moved from station to station as I noticed buildings quickly passing by. I appreciated the fact that it took less than 10 minutes to get between stations, which is a big plus for working commuters. Looking down at the tracks as we traveled, I also thought about how the train was electrically powered (see picture below). To me, the question of whether electric or oil-burning engines are better is a tough one to answer, because often, electricity is produced by burning oil anyway. However, the carbon footprint of multiple oil-burning cars is much less than that of the electricity made to power multiple electric cars. When I thought about this in the context of Tokyo transit, I thought of how environmentally friendly it is to transport hundreds of people at a time on electrically-powered trains. This carbon footprint is significantly less than the footprint would be if all of the commuters drove gas-powered or even electric-powered cars to work.
Overall, I was very impressed by the efficiency, timeliness, ease of use, speed, and environmental friendliness of the Tokyo transit system after observing its different forms during the transit tour.
Over the past few days, I have had the opportunity to experience Tokyo’s mass transit system. This transit system is known for being the largest in the world, and it is planned effectively to accommodate Tokyo’s dense population. I was initially amazed at how the transit system was extremely easy to navigate. There were signs everywhere to direct passengers where to go. In fact, there were multiple signs placed overhead, on walls, and even on poles to indicate where specific platforms were. The color of the signs also corresponded to the color of the line on the map, as shown with the lime green Yamanote sign below. These signs included English translations, which I appreciated as a non-Japanese speaker. Even on the train itself, there were screens that clearly indicated the train’s next few stops, with an overhead speaker also announcing the upcoming destination. Maps were also placed at every corner of the station, which allowed passengers to find an optimal route for their individual travels. Apps such as Google Maps even provided specific suggestions on which car to take in order to arrive at the closest exit. Information was very much accessible for both natives and tourists alike.
An important aspect of effective transit services is reliability, and Japan’s public transit system provides this reliability with its timeliness. As shown in the picture below, the signs specified the time of arrival of various trains. The station ensured that those trains did indeed arrive at the times provided. Additionally, the wait time was minimal as trains would arrive frequently. I think we waited a maximum of around ten minutes for a train to arrive! Within the station, there were also various lines owned by different operators. However, I still was able to use my same Suica card to pay for each trip so I could not even tell that a different operator was being used. The seamlessness of this system provided a smooth traveling experience.
The stations were crowded with people rushing to work or students traveling to school. However, despite the busyness of the stations, it was not chaotic as you may expect. Before the train arrived, people stood in single file lines by the entrances. There were also arrows on the ground and on the walls to direct the flow of people. In order to reduce the frantic rush of people, the rail operators also played hassha melodies, which are short jingles played when the train is about to depart. These calming sounds prevented the frenzy that usually occurs. At some stations, there were also high-frequency sounds that were emitted. Apparently, these sounds can only be heard by younger individuals and are designed to prevent loitering. I was able to hear these sounds in person, and I can confirm that these sounds do in fact serve as a deterrent. Therefore, despite the mass number of people that the transit serves, there are mechanisms in place that prevent disorder from occurring.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Tokyo’s transit system. Its ease of use and its precise timing made navigating Japan a much more pleasant experience. The ingenuity that went into creating this transit system is incredible, and I am privileged to be able to reap its benefits. As I continue my study-abroad program in Japan, I am excited to continue to partake in this convenient form of transportation.