Red, orange, blue and green lines intertwine like roiling snakes in a pit. It’s Tokyo’s underground rail system and not unlike deadly vipers, they’re scaring the heck out of me just by looking at them.
I really didn’t have a choice though; to get from one place to the next, it’s either the trains or the taxis. Both are expletively expensive, but the underground is considerably cheaper by miles. So the rails it is.
The first thing I noticed during my first incursion inside the Tokyo Subway was the almost zero absence of English translations for the signboards. There were a few, but they were sorely lacking for a tourist lost in Japan’s Hiragana and Kanjis. Asking around also proved futile as most Japanese don’t know how to speak in any other language beside their own.
The best person to ask for directions are the uniformed guards (err, I’m not really sure if they’re guards) manning the stations near the turnstiles. They can understand and speak basic English. But it’s infinitely better if you have a map; simply point your location and destination and wait for them to nod or shake their heads.
The next challenge is operating the ticket vending machine. On my way to Shibuya, it took centuries to figure out how to get my ticket. I looked at the list of places above the machines and their corresponding fares then it’s the machine’s turn. I pressed the screen and everything appeared in Japanese. I’m screwed.
By some miracle, I somehow figured out which buttons to press after minutes of paralyzing analysis. At last, my precious train ticket. I’m not sure though if I’m just too stupid or too excited to go exploring on my own that I didn’t notice that the screen can be translated into English with a single press of a button.
Tokyo has a total of thirteen lines from various train companies. Each one has its own tickets and stations. So if you plan to make connecting rides from one line to the next, you have to purchase a separate ticket or day pass from each line. I was able to try out the Tokyo-Metro Ginza Line which plies the Shibuya-Asakusa route quite a number of times during our stay in Japan.
Unlike in the Philippines where train fares are dirt cheap, a minimum ticket for a ride inside in the subways cost ¥160.00 and covers a maximum of seven stations. Go farther and the fare rises from ¥190.00 to ¥230.00. In hindsight, I think it wasn’t that bad considering how fast and efficient they were.
But not unlike in the Philippines, the trains also get crazy during the rush hour. I didn’t experience severe pushing and shoving but one of my companions got it pretty hard inside the train as the doors were about to close. Apparently, there are assigned individuals on train stations that pushes in passengers inside trains, it is their job and sworn duty to do just that. Crazy, right?
Despite the crowd, I was again taken aback by the discipline the Japanese people possess. The train was packed like sardines but the seats intended for the elderly and the disabled were amazingly empty. There was nobody guarding the seats yet everyone were disciplined enough not to take them for themselves.
One of the things that surprised me when taking the trains were that the coaches in Japan are not as glitzy and modern as I imagined them to be. They actually looked old and yellowing; our country’s MRT is honestly more modern than theirs. But I like how clean it is despite its age. And I love how the seats are actually softly cushioned, almost like a mini sofa, and not made of hard plastic.
The same thing also applies to their maze-like stations. Most of them, especially in lesser known areas, looked dated and cramped. But the stations in more cosmopolitan districts are a different story. Take the one in Shibuya; it’s as spacious as a grand hall, complete with gargantuan murals and sleek designs.
I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be able to manage commuting by train through Tokyo. I get dizzy and confused simply by looking at all those snaking lines representing the city’s massive underground network. But I did it (thanks partially to Jorudan, a real-time train guide through Tokyo), tourist that I am, and was actually comfortable enough with Tokyo’s trains come our third day in Japan to go wherever my feet fancies to be.