Shinkansen arriving at the platform
In just two weeks, I’ve had more pleasant public transit experiences in Japan than I’ve had over the course of my life in the United States. Effective transit is the vessel that drives all of Japan’s productivity and innovation. The type and frequency of transit systems differ slightly throughout the country in order to meet the needs of specific regions. In Tokyo, we relied heavily on the Tokyo Metro and its extensive network to get us around the city. During the travel leg, we have primarily been riding the Shinkansen bullet train to cover longer distances more quickly. We also purchased bus passes in Kyoto and used their bus system to explore opposite ends of the city. In Hiroshima, we even rode the electric streetcar a short distance to get to the Peace Park faster. While these forms of transportation certainly have differences, the key elements common to all of them are what make Japanese transit efficient and sustainable.
Hiroshima Electric Railway
Source: Wikimedia Commons
My experiences with the passengers on the Tokyo Metro and Shinkansen have been largely the same. Riders arrive to the platform early and line up, then quickly file on and off of the trains. People are extremely cleanly, quiet, and respectful. A major perk of the Shinkansen is the assigned seating, which makes the ride more comfortable and prevents you from bothering other riders. This is very different from the transit I have experienced in Western countries. While riding Marta at home or traveling in Europe, I’ve experienced pushy crowds, loudness, and uncleanliness. The user-friendliness of each of these forms of transportation entices people to use them and consequently reduces the number of private vehicles on the road, even in less densely populated areas.
Additionally, the various transit we’ve used during the travel leg has been nearly as timely as the Tokyo Metro. The one exception was a delay coming into Kyoto – an issue with the tracks caused several trains to get backed up, causing us to miss our connecting train – but one holdup out of countless perfect trips is a much better track record than that of American transport. The rest of the transit systems have been excellent, with the trains and buses arriving exactly at their expected arrival time.
Subway arrival information at Tokyo Station
One thing that has decreased since leaving Tokyo is the accessibility of transit stations. With 179 subway stations, you can’t walk very far in Central Tokyo without finding a metro stop. The Shinkansen, however, is designed to cover larger distances more quickly, so its stations are further spread out across inland Japan. To access the Shinkansen so far, we’ve either had to walk or take a separate train to a bigger station. The Kyoto bus line had many frequent stops, but the system was difficult to understand and required several connections. Overall, transit is easier to access and understand in Tokyo, but the other networks of transportation outside the city work just as well once you get the hang of using them.
Shinkansen cars on display in the Transit Museum
In general, the various transportation systems throughout different regions of Japan all possess shared elements of timeliness, reliability, and accessibility. I haven’t yet had much firsthand experience getting reserved seats on the Shinkansen or coordinating connecting rides because of the travel leg itinerary, but I hope that over the course of weekend trips I will learn how to navigate new transportation systems.