The Quietest Crowded Place on Earth

There is a very clear and distinct difference between the way that the people of the United States and those of Japan participate in the utilization of the public transportation medium known as the train. From the moment one prepares for the train’s arrival until the moment that he or she steps off onto the platform of his or her stop, there seems to be a commonly accepted etiquette that is to be observed. There isn’t any written rulebook that preceded the natural socially established practices that one heeds during his or her ride, but they were rather just a natural outgrowth of the general culture of Japan, which puts strong emphasis on the consideration towards others. Some of these social guidelines are so commonly observed that train companies will make written notices requesting that people abide by them when necessary.

Boarding the train in Japan is a very straightforward process. As I am from California, where public train networks are few and far between, seeing trains with a crowd of people getting on or off at any given stop was not a common thing for me. Usually, a couple people will disembark the train while few board it soon after. Though, that may not be the case for those who use with bigger networks in places like Washington DC and New York. Anyway, when the train slows to a halt in front of you at your station, you step to and line up at either side of the door, not in front of it. It is very likely that a crowd of patrons will be herding out the door and you really don’t want to be in their way.

During the rush hours of the morning and evening, when people are going to or home from work, the process gets a bit interesting. There seems to be no capacity limit on trains (or it isn’t very strictly enforced). For instance, there will be an occasion where a seemingly full train stops at a station, and at any given door, around ten people are intending to board that train. Regardless of whether anyone gets off or not, the people that were waiting will put forth as much effort as they need to get themselves through that door and on the train.

What they do is; get on and start pushing or get pushed/nudged further inside by the people behind them. There is a fair amount of getting squished up against or onto the people around you, but there won’t be any audible complaints from any one around. You might spot a terse or annoyed look here and there, but people seem to have a general understanding and acceptance of the fact that all the riders at that particular time have to forfeit their right to personal space in order to get where they’re going.

Behavior on the train looks a lot like that of which you would see in a library. Crowded or not, it’s a very quiet place. There could be more than 50 people in a train car at a time, and one would still be able to hear a pin drop. “What is everybody doing,” you ask? Well, some are reading, others are engrossed with whatever it is they’re doing on their portable electronic device, a few might be sleeping, and others are just patiently biding their time by looking out the window or at the advertisements strewn throughout the car. It can actually be a very relaxing place (save for rush hour of course). If people are talking, they are doing so in low tones and volumes. There are those that will be noisy, but there are various reasons for their lack of consideration and such situations aren’t the norm.

Of course as the entities that occupy the train are human, there will be occasional significant transgressions that disrupt the tranquility that others are trying to maintain and enjoy. One major such misstep is talking on the phone. Don’t do it! No one is going to bother the person who decides to take a call, but I can assure you that at least 80% of those around you will find such behavior as grossly inconsiderate. Another lapse that draws lots of complaints is women doing their makeup on the train. Again, if someone starts reforming their face on the train, no one will go out of their way to tell that person to stop, but the larger proportion of the passengers will definitely take issue with what’s going on.

There is a lot more to be said about the total experience of the Japanese public train, but this entry has gone on long enough. Hope that you enjoyed this rough overview of what one may experience on the different railways of Japan. Let me know if there’s more you’d like to know!



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