According to Wikipedia, the population of Tokyo is over 13 million people. 13 million! One of these most densely populated cities in the world. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Japan, specifically Tokyo most of the time. On the long 10.5 hour plane ride there, I knew what I was going to get myself into. Trains, trains and more trains. I couldn’t help but wonder what it took to move that many people in and out of the city with minimal use of automobiles. Fast forward to recently spending a few days in Tokyo, there really wasn’t that many vehicles on the road other than buses and taxis. It wasn’t Manhattan gridlock, or the 1 hour commute to go 8 miles on 101N through Mountain View and Palo Alto, Ca., but it was hectic.
Here’s a photo of the famous Shibuya crossing in the rain.
I took it upon myself to remember to make some observations of how people got around Tokyo on a daily basis. Given that I was there during the weekends and weekdays, traveled around in or around rush hour, I got a pretty good sense of what the Japanese did to ensure that everyone was orderly, and tried my best to document everything with various cameras (Nikon D7000, old Canon SD1000, iPhone 4S).
Starting from when you enter the station, you will need to figure out where to go and which platform to take the train from. There will be several signs, but they are generally easy to read. Just follow the arrows towards the correct platform for your train. To minimize pedestrians from crashing into each other, Japan’s railway system lays down arrows to keep everyone flowing in the right direction on specified sides of the walkways and hallways.
This really helped the confusion of which side you should stand on, especially during rush hour where there could be 500 people ascending a staircase, while you and 5 other are trying to go down it. Again, follow the arrows!
Eventually, you’ll need to pass through the ticket gates. The ticket gates are as simple as they appear. Enter your ticket, or slip in your PASMO then walk through. However, during my frequent observation when we had to pass through the same station several times during our stay, I noticed that the reversible ticket gates switch directions for which way you may pass depending on the flow of the commuters. That is, if it’s rush hour, it may go in one direction and flip to the other direction during the other part of rush hour.
An interesting observation I did make is how flexible this system is. Notice the arrows in this photo noting that the gate is open, and the (-) ones noting that it is close for that direction. I noticed that *sometimes* the (-) sign could just be a suggestion. During times of sudden heavy pedestrian traffic in one direction, commuters can just use their passes to pass through these ticket gates. This temporarily switches the direction of the gate to help the flow of pedestrian. So basically they let the crowds decide which way it should go!
Once through the ticket gates, you’re met with more arrows directing traffic. Eventually, you’ll make it to the platform where you should await your train’s arrival. But where to stand? Never fear!
Although this photo does not show it, passengers should be standing and lining up where the yellow and white shoes are. Some stations use this method, some use dotted lines. Nonetheless, you should stand in these locations to ‘line up’. 90% of the time, the subway car stops at the perfect spot denoted by the grey area in the photo above. Some stations have a yellow landing area. The reason for this is to open up space for passengers to disembark the subway car, keeping the boarding passengers to the side. An observation was that there is a lot of courtesy the locals give to others by leaving this space. No one gets on until passengers leave the train first.
But wait, there’s more to this madness. At the Shinagawa Station, there is a train that uses the same track and platform, and heads towards different final stops. The overhead screens provide the clear data of when and which subway goes to which station. Since this is a very busy station, they put landing areas for boarding passengers to wait on. In the photo below, one area is designated for passengers heading towards 1 location (Haneda Airport), and another area is designed for passengers heading to another location (sorry, can’t read Japanese).
What’s even more efficient about this is that the subway stops so that the doors align with the correct landing area. This is a great example of a simple solution for a potentially complex problem. And just for fun, a humorous photo of a warning sign helping prevent collisions.
So there you have it. Several examples of how simple ideas can make daily life just that much easier for everyone. This along with the incredible on-time record of the trains down to the second, makes for an efficiently run city.