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.
The Japanese transit system is something most people have heard about. The reason it is famous is because of its efficiency as well as ability to support large scale ridership in a way that seems so effortless. The transit system is used by most of the locals which usually causes a lot of rush and business, especially before work starts and after work ends for the white-collar workers. The punctuality of the trains, as well as ease of usage is a big reason the system is loved by locals and tourists alike.
When I landed in Tokyo and was eager to explore the beautiful city, I got nervous about the language difference, especially when it came to the transit system as that was what my primary method of transportation was going to be. Turns out that was not something I should have worried about because all the transit stations have an English sign and announcement for everything that they have in Japanese. This accessibility of information, especially for a non-Japanese speaker such as myself, made traveling in this transit system easy, and easy traveling is a big indicator of whether a transit system is successful.
After spending an entire day traveling around Japan with my fellow classmates in a ‘Tokyo Transit Tour’ led by Dr. Kari Watkins, I realized how important the punctuality of trains was to the transit system. All the various transit companies do their best and work together to ensure all train arrivals/departures happen exactly when they are supposed to. This timeliness is what I believe to be the biggest reason this transit system is so successful as it gives people a reason to rely on it which makes people want to come back and keep using it.
I made a lot of observations during the rides on the various lines we took with various types of trains (Heavy Rail, Monorail, and Automated Guideway Transit) and learned a lot. There were very few flaws that I found about the transit system, them being: low handicapped accessibility, no water fountains, few trashcans, and interchanging sides of walking in the station (which confused me occasionally). During my rides I also became curious about the product design of the ‘grab handles’ on the trains and why they were designed to move as freely as they do. Overall, everything that I saw from the transit system impressed me and provided me with better insight of what any transit system should aim to be like.
Example of Japanese and English signs in the Shingawa Station.
People lining up to enter a train, between each green line on the floor is exactly where the door will be when the train stops.
Sign on the display screen in the train informing passengers of a delay of another transit line.
A map of the network of lines around the Tokyo mega-region, the path of the ‘Tokyo Transit Tour’ is highlighted with the red and blue lines. (Network map taken from JR East website)
Due to the extreme efficiency and ease of utilization of Japan’s transit system, it comes as no surprise that the nation boasts the two largest train stations in the world, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station respectively. Although I have yet to experience Japan’s train system after 8:00 at night, the citizens of Japan appear to be incredibly loyal to the usage of this mode of mass transportation during the daylight hours. The lofty rate at which the Japanese use mass transit was made evident to me by how frequently I found myself unable to find a seat due to the sheer volume of passengers. The commotion that occurred during the lunch and end-of-the-workday rushes was reminiscent of the New York subway; passengers were packed into each car so tightly that it was impossible not to come in contact with another person.
The perfect illustration of the timeliness of the Japanese transit system is the fact that a Japanese train that arrived at its station only one minute later than scheduled was a story worthy of making the news. Dr. Woodall cemented the efficiency of Japan’s rail system with an anecdote about how if one left a wallet in a train car, one could simply wait for that same car in the same spot at the station, because within about forty-five minutes, that exact car would return to that exact location with the wallet most likely still in its possession (although he did not recommend testing this claim). Furthermore, Japan has attempted to make the mass transportation experience as efficient as possible by increasing the proximity of train stations, such as Shinigawa Station, to commercial areas, making it easier for commuters to get to work or to find places to eat or shop.
Despite having only been in Japan for a total of two days, after yesterday’s transit tour, many of our group members were capable of navigating Japan’s train system because of the ease with which we were able to locate information (although I will not crown myself as one of those successful navigators). Within each train car, among the rows of lively advertisements, small screens display important information including maps to show the order in which the train will arrive at each station as well as the number of minutes until the next stop. For those of us with little to no knowledge about the Japanese language, we were relieved to find that this information was also available in English. In addition, announcements were also made in both Japanese and English. Perhaps the most pleasant way in which information is relayed within the Japanese train system is through the utilization of hasa melodies, which are catchy jingles that are unique to each respective station and are played to signal that the doors of the train car are closing. Thanks to the instruction of Dr. Watkins and the excellence of the Japanese in orchestrating their transit system, our group will be sure to master this mode of transportation by the end of our stay in Tokyo.
Study sustainable development in amazing Japan, with superb mass transportation, low crime, and endless things to do and see! This ten-week summer program is home based on the campus of Kobe University, one of Japan’s premier institutions of higher learning. One week of the program is devoted to exploring the beautiful Japanese countryside, including visits to Fukushima, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Himeji. Through field trips, lectures, and multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural problem-based learning, this program aims to equip students with the tools needed to understand and respond to the broad issues of sustainable development.