For the first time in ten years, I don’t have a car! Never ever have I lived in a place where you could fully rely on public transportation to easily get you everywhere you need and want to go.
In Rolla, for example, the idea of public transportation really meant finding the closest sober driver for a ride home from the party, hoping you could convince him to stop at one of the town’s finest fast-food restaurants.
Houston had just one lonely, pathetic light rail that travels in a straight line from downtown to Reliant Stadium. This was useful once a year to attend the rodeo, but otherwise a complete joke. During my short stint in DC, I really enjoyed having the metro available to get around on the weekends and took advantage of it whenever I could.
Tokyo takes it to a whole new level. Let me introduce you to the greater Tokyo subway and rail system.
A little scary at first glance, right?! I thought so too. One unique thing about Tokyo is that unlike other cities, the subways and trains are not all operated by the same company. There are a variety of different private lines, types of trains, subways etc. If you come to Tokyo, getting a Suica or Pasmo card is a must. These are an all-access card that are accepted on all trains and even some taxis and vending machines. Here’s my Pasmo card, see it even has my name on it!
It works like a debit card, I load it up with about 8-10,000 yen/week and scan it each time you enter and exit a line. There have been a couple times where I get the big red “X” when I scan the card, and I’m unable to enter or exit the station. When this happens and I know there is money on it, I walk over to the attendant, give him my card, he’ll say a lot to me in Japanese (which I won’t understand) but then, more importantly, he’ll do something on his computer, give me my card back and it always works!
I’ve zoomed in on my daily commute below. I take a subway from Roppongi to Hatchibori station, then switch to a JR train (which is mostly above ground) at Hatchibori and exit at Makuhari. It’s about a 35km distance and takes around 40 minutes from Roppongi to Makuhari. Not a whole lot different from Houston to Baytown, for my TX friends. I’ve figured out which car to get on at each station both to and from work so I’m sure to get a seat! While it can get pretty crowded at rush hour, I have yet to be on a “pusher” train (one where a man with white gloves on physically pushes the people into the car like sardines in order to get the doors to close) and I’m really in no rush.
Other interesting observations about riding around Tokyo:
- 3G service is available at underground stations and sometimes even in between if stations are close together. You generally always have service on the above ground routes. I usually hit very few dead zones on my daily commute.
- Talking on your cell phone is not allowed while on board. You may text, but your phone should be set to silent or vibrate.
- The trains are extremely timely! They stay on the time-tables exactly, don't be late. Well even you are, there's a good chance you will only have to wait a few extra minutes for the next one coming.
- Most announcements are in Japanese but there are electronic boards on most trains that let you know the upcoming stations in English. Haven’t gotten off at the wrong stop yet!
- People are very orderly! When there lots of people on the platform to catch a train, they line up by two’s and board in this order. Also when you're moving about the station, it's good to know the left side of the escalator is for standing, the right is for walking. Don’t confuse!
- Everybody sleeps. In the morning and after work, I’d say a majority of people are sleeping on the train. It’s really amusing to watch people sit down and within 30 seconds, often less, they are asleep. I mean falling-over asleep. I still haven’t quite figured out the polite way to wake-up your neighbor when they fall asleep leaning on you. For now I just do the awkward, sudden movement til they come-to and adjust their sleeping position. There is also this art of magically waking up at your exact station. How do they do it?! I am still a little too paranoid about missing my stop, so no sleeping for me ..yet. I'm working on a montage of people asleep on the trains and other random places...pics to come soon.
Overall, while the vast number of trains and routes looks pretty confusing, it’s really pretty user friendly! I am really enjoying having some time in the morning to read the news, play games, watch a tv show or listen to music. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel trading in my 328 for the 7:14am train, but life without car payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance isn’t so bad!