Fair warning was given about the difficulties inherent with navigating Tokyo’s subway system. Countless blogs, forum posts and even personal correspondence warned us that the easiest way of getting around was to NOT use the subway.
Taxis are in abundance, the bus routes are reasonably easy and you can always rely on good old foot&sole.
Sometimes though you gotta throw caution to the winds and see for yourself just HOW lost and confused you can get.
The adventurous spirit is never quenched!
And no, the Imperial Palace is not the center of Tokyo as this map would have you believe.
Also, there are several different companies who own different subway lines. Meaning that one ticket may not work for certain stops, during transfers you may be required to use multiple tickets, and, I imagine, unless you have ample experience with this particular subway system there is no knowing if your ticket will work until you’re in line, holding up countless others, while reading the screen telling you whether or not your ticket will indeed get you into that station.
That’s not to say that you can’t just waltz on through sans ticket because the ticket turnstiles are always open.
That’s right, unlike Paris, London, New York and any other modern subway system I’ve experienced the Tokyo system does not actually bar you from entering. No need to test your athletic ability to fare-evade by jumping over turnstiles here, simply walk on through.
Do not cross yellow line
And unlike Paris, London, New York – I have yet to see anyone attempt this. Every single person dutifully whips out their ticket, passes it through and goes on their way. So when our tickets tell us “no” we dutifully back out, squeeze past countless others, and walk to a station that does accept our ticket.
It was our first lesson in Subway Manners. You don’t cheat the system.
Fare-evaders get handled by this guy
Our second lesson was that you do NOT talk on your cell phones on the actual subway – there are countless signs inside the cars reminding you of this – and, again, I have yet to notice someone breaking that rule (texting, however, is totally acceptable and all ages participate).
The third and most strange, although I guess it makes sense considering the no cell phone rule, is that the subway is almost entirely silent.
Completely crowded, completely silent
No loud conversations, hardly any talking, no pan handlers singing or playing music, no young people running amok or even goofing off. Just everyone minding their own business waiting on their stop.
Or sleeping. We saw lots of that. I’m kind of amazed at how instantly some of the subway riders have walked on, sat down, and slumped over Woody-from-Toy Story-style and yet take up not one single inch of their neighbors space.
Case in point, a seat opened up and a woman who had formerly been asleep notices that Adam and I are standing. I move to take the seat and she moves over to free up two side-by-side seats for both of us and immediately drops back into sleep. I thought how polite this was and only half worried that the move was in fact because I was a smelly gaijin. I’m more inclined to believe the former and chalk it up to a culture that expects politeness in public.
How civilized. How oddly relaxing.
Now if only we could figure out how to use it efficiently!