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.
Tokyo has by far one of if not the most efficient transit systems in the world. It’s timely behavior and clean track record despite it’s overwhelming company aboard is astonishing to say the least to an observer of the system. Today we went on many different lines and many different kinds of transits to see first hand just what makes the system run better than most transit systems across the globe.
The Tokyo transit system, while being the most sustainably developed compared to the rest of the world, is also one of the busiest transits. The Shinjuku station in particular, that we visited today, is the world’s number one busiest train station serving approximately 1,260,000,000 people per year! Along with Shinjuku, Japan is home to many of the worlds most busy train stations, some being right here in Tokyo that we got to travel on. So, from these statistics and from the many people that bumped into me today, there is no question in saying that the transit service in Tokyo is indeed busy.
Regardless of the amount of people rushing in and out of the stations, the Tokyo transit systems are actually very timely. The most a train will to delay is less than one minute past its listed arrival time, but seeing that this rarely happens, the train for the most part arrives right on time consistently. Having a timely transit system is not only good for the reputation of the trains, but also convenient and beneficial to the people using the transits. This way people know they can count on the trains and trust in the fixed time from when the train departs, without any traffic or interruption between the two points in order to arrive at their destination on time.
With finding information, for our group, let me say that it was very nice to have three people who knew their way around the stations initially so there would be no need for guessing. However, for a newcomer to the transit system, I suspect it would be a little challenging and overwhelming. While yes there are many maps and signs instructing passengers on which line is which and where the lines go and what stop to get off at, I would be one to possibly argue that the size of the stations and the amount of people rushing around can maybe confuse an individual very easily and very fast. On the other hand, like I said before, there are many signs and maps and even transit employees to help someone in need of guidance, so that person should be smart to take a breath and ask for help if needed in order not to get lost. Despite the possibility of a person overcome by all the action, I do still believe that there is a multitude of information and guidance available for passengers to ensure safe travels to their desired destination.
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.
After a long afternoon travelling to different bridges in northern Japan, we were ready for some sushi. Sitting outside the restaurant, we saw what a night would be like in Tokyo as a young person. Very tastefully dressed men and women walked in groups from restaurant to restaurant, while smiling, chatting, and laughing. The city was alive.
We kept pretty close tabs on the different parties inside the restaurant too. Watching as couples and friends gracefully ate fish, rice, and veggies with their chopsticks; a skill we were all still working on. After a few more glances inside and after receiving the gift of an umbrella from an older Japanese man, we were in.
The four of us got lucky and snagged seats together at the bar where we could watch the chefs prepare the dishes. Ordering food in Japan is easier than expected because almost all menus have pictures of what you’ll get on them. After a few menu points from each of us, the chefs began preparing our rolls and sashimi while we sipped on some hot sake.
There were lots of travelers in this restaurant; all in awe of the sushi chefs.
Without a doubt, this meal ruined American sushi. The fish was so fresh and the presentation was so simple and clean. The whole experience, from the ease of communication even with the language barrier, the beautiful scenery, and the freshness from the fish felt extremely Japanese, and these values of acceptance, beauty, and freshness followed us for the rest of our time in the island country.
Despite the short, three-day stay in Japan, many different dishes were sampled in a variety of locations. At a rural rest stop near Sendai, the group stopped for lunch and ordered items such as tonkatsu (とんかつ), udon (うどん), and Japanese curry (カレーライス). These are all classic comfort food dishes that are often cooked at home, and they make wonderful, hearty lunches for tired travelers. Typical meals come with side dishes that may include items such as pickled vegetables (漬物), miso soup (味噌汁), and savory rice seasoning (振り掛け).
On the second day after a 4.5 hour Shinkansen train ride to Hiroshima, the group tried another comfort food dish, Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き). Hiroshima has its own type of Okonomiyaki pancake (different than Osaka-Style Okonomiyaki) which primarily consists of soba noodles, a crepe, cabbage, and pork belly slices. After it is fried on a griddle, savory Okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese style mayonnaise, and bonito fish flakes are placed on top of the pancake as a garnish.
Other dishes sampled along the way include ramen (ラーメン), conveyor-belt sushi (回転寿司), sashimi rice bowl (ちらし丼), and yakitori style beef tongue (焼き鳥), all of which were eaten in in places around Tokyo, from the train station to the fashionable Ginza area.
Traditional Japanese sweets (和菓子) are often not as sweet as other Asian or Western desserts. They are typically made with mochi, red-bean paste, and fruit. One of the most common types is Daifuku (大福餅) which is mocha filled with with red-bean paste. It may also have different flavored powders on the outside such as matcha, powdered green tea.
On March 20th and 21st, we drove from the Chengdu University of Technology in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China through the Qionglai Mountains to explore key locations affected by the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. As we drove towards the epicenter, I noticed the near vertical slopes along the roads. These steep soil slopes were cut to place roads and build terraces on which to place buildings and plant crops. To stabilize and protect the slopes, cast-in-place, lattice-like concrete structures were built. This method of stabilization is easily constructed with basic molds, cement and water, therefore it is suited for this geography, where there is limited vehicle access. Different lattice geometries such as rectangles and diamonds are used. The examples below are from the side of the highway near the Wenchuan Earthquake epicenter and the Wenjia Gully.
On March 23rd, we drove along the coast line of the Miyagi Prefecture near Sendai, Japan to visit key infrastructure damaged by the tsunami induced by the Tohoku earthquake in 2011. The interesting slope structures I noticed were the articulated concrete mat slope protection systems. These heavy duty and extremely resilient systems are used to protect slopes from erosion and scour caused by high velocity flows and are common for coastal regions. The example below is the channel below the Shida Bridge.
While China and Japan both have a long former history of rule under Emperors, both countries differ in their royal residences.
In China, the Forbidden City formerly housed the Emperor, the family of the Emperor, and significant members of the government from about 1420 until 1912. The Forbidden City was closed off to the general public, hence the name, and the Emperor and government elite rarely left the walls of the compound. The vastness of the city and its incredible detail struck me first. In the Forbidden City, carved animals on the buildings marked which structures were most important, and the ornate decorations and carvings within each building also denoted importance. Today, the Forbidden City is open to the public and serves as an important part of China's history, and I am glad we got the chance to see it.
Gate of Supreme Harmony - Forbidden City
Animal Figures - Forbidden City
Mountain of Accumulated Elegance - Forbidden City
In Japan, the Tokyo Imperial Palace still houses the Emperor. Today, the Emperor serves as a ceremonial figure, and the Emperor's residence remains to be in the Tokyo Imperial Palace. I accidentally wandered into the park housing the Imperial Palace and as it turns out, thousands of people flock to the palace at the end of March because the gates to the palace open to the public for everyone to see the cherry blossoms bloom in the Imperial Gardens. The Imperial Palace overall felt more like seeing the White House than seeing a historical site as the Forbidden City felt like in China.
Days 1 and 2:
Nonstop would be an understatement for how this day went. We left our airport in China at 6am to catch our flight to Tokyo. We arrived at Nairita airport at 3pm and only got to Tokyo at 6pm. After we dropped our bags off at the hotel it was 7pm — our day would finally begin. We decided to embark on a journey to climb Mt. Fuji in time to be at the top for sunrise. However, we hadn’t eaten the entire day and decided to stop at the most reliable food source of them all. McDonalds. After a quick happy meal, we left for Fuji.
Kieron had done quite a bit of research prior to the trip on how to get to Fuji. None of the paths were ideal but we ended up going with 3 trains and a taxi cab that put us right in the bottom of the 5th station of the mountain. Stations were small rest area points for hikers to recuperate before progressing further. The hike was a 6-hour journey so we knew that we had to start immediately as the sunrise was at 5am.
We got off the cab at 1am and the journey began. I had been suffering from a fever and food poisoning and almost immediately fell back from the rest of the guys. We decided that since we all had our own paces we would just aim to meet up at the top. The terrain seemed to change its mind on how to make the ascent difficult every kilometer. There were switchbacks – type of walkway that goes back and forth in mind numbing fashion that makes it seem like no progress is being made. There were also large rocks that we had to quite literally get on all fours to get across and even forest understory to cut through. Yet were all able to watch the sunrise at 5am and even though we weren't together then, each view had its own beauty. At 8 am we all stood proudly side by side grinning from ear to ear at the summit.
At this point we were dehydrated, had altitude sickness, and were incredibly sore from the ascent. After an hour of taking pictures and resting, we were ready to go home. Little did we know what laid ahead of us for the descent. There were 100 switch backs with rocks that collapsed at the slightest touch. It wasn't the difficulty of traversing the switchback that made this hard. It was the sheer repeated was of the task. Imagine completing a very difficult task only to see that a another variation has presented itself to you – again and again. With that being said, it was super cool to walk through clouds on our way journey down.
It took us about two and a half hours to get through these as we were all suffering from weak knees and severe headaches. We then had a short 3km walk – a period of 20 minutes that has never felt longer in my lifetime get back to the car and bus loading tea. After a bus and 3 train rides where we fell asleep I desirably – we finally got back to Tokyo. By the time we got dinner and got back to our room it was 6pm. 36 hours had passed in this journey with not a single hour of sleep. One of the most difficult experiences any of us have been through but definitely one of the most fulfilling experiences.
Today we traveled to Sendai. Joining our group was Professor Satoshi, a professor at the Port and Airport Research Institute and Seth, a PhD candidate at GT. We traveled to areas where the 2011 Tsunami had caused major damage. To get Sendai we took a 2 hour long high speed train and then rented a large van to go around the area. It was fascinating to see the different structures that were able to withstand the water damage as well as those that had completely collapsed. Dr. Frost had shown has pictures he had taken 2 years ago and we were able to see the progress in the area since then.
However, we soon went from being fascinated to heart broken. In one of our stops, we happened to come by what I can best describe as a makeshift mini-mall strip. We soon found out that this area used to contain a thriving town with many markets. One of the shops’ owners, an elderly woman, came down and gave us her account of the tsunami. She had pictures before, during, and after the disaster. Even through her retelling, she never lost her positive attitude. She always had a large smile and it was inspiring to see someone at her age stay so strong.
On the way back we stopped by a ramen shop and had a famous piping hot bowl of hot ramen.
Hiroshima was the last part of trip in Japan. We knew it would be a hard sight to swallow but all of us looked forward to learning more about the bombing from a perspective we had never seen before – the Japanese side.
After 3 long train rides, we finally arrived in Hiroshima. At first sight, the town is just another tourist location. You have your Pradas, Tiffanys, and food carts at every corner. However, a few bus stops into the city, the Hiroshima memorial comes into play. Surrounded by a river, this memorial is best described a park with many monuments. The whole area is tastefully created and the sense of “tourism” slips away and is instead replaced by a feeling of peace and respect. The whole park preaches peace and removal of nuclear weapons.
Inside this park is a museum that housed a lot of the artifacts from the bombing. It told the shocking stories of the people before, during, and after the fact. There was even a pledge that people could sign near the exit of the museum where people could pledge against the usage of nuclear deterrents.
Our travels to Japan started this past Tuesday at 5:00 am. Getting ready for our flight from Chengdu, China to Tokyo, Japan, we had high hopes to be standing on the top of Mt. Fuji 24 hours after our departure. Our more than gracious and helpful hosts were of course up again to see us off. The unwavering hospitality of Chengdu University of Technology and the State Key Laboratory for Geo-Hazard Prevention and Geo-Environmental Protection (SKLGP) was one of China’s most impressive qualities. It has become readily apparent that the Chinese culture strongly encourages respect and kindness to each other, and especially to guests. The SKLGP’s extraordinary support reflected the quick-to-help attitude of the locals we interacted with in Beijing and Chengdu. It's hard to leave when we are eating and living like kings, but I think we are all really excited for Mt. Fuji and the tsunami research in Sendai, Japan.
The Chengdu International airport was very thorough with security. By thorough, I mean, imagine going through security check three times. Before entering airport, you and your bags are scanned. Approaching customs, your bags are scanned. And finally, before entering the terminal, everything, head to toe, is scanned again. I think I provided my passport and ticket at least four times throughout process. You may think, what a nightmare, but I think I got through to the gate in same amount of time. The longest line I stood in was to get a boarding pass from the airline provider. So I got through security in the same amount of time as US TSA security, and I was checked three times. Effectiveness, efficiency, convenience, deterrence – these are all give-and-takes. I'm sure everyone will form their own opinion, but be ready if you intend to travel to China.
The first thing noticeable in Japan is that when the plane descends from blue skies, they stay blue on the ground. This was the start of our 9 hour journey to the base of Mt. Fuji. After a plane, a train, an urban stroll, a subway, a “rocket” train, a 100 meter dash to catch another local train, and a $130 taxi at midnight, and we had made it. Now for the easy part. THE CLIMB. I can’t begin to describe the mental and physical challenge of completing a six hour climb in three hours and 15 minutes in order to make sunrise by 0500. We snapped the photos to prove it, so if you've got ten minutes, hit one of us up on campus. Though Trevor Clark (our classmate and communications plan organizer) didn't come with us this trip, he has previously made his own all-day journey to the tallest point in Japan. Can't wait to see all that Japan has to offer. Spirits are high – about 12,389 feet high.