Tokyo Trains: 5 Tips to Survive Your Daily Commute - Vikingess Voyages

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tokyo Trains: 5 Tips to Survive Your Daily Commute

A messy glimpse into a regular day's commute in Tokyo
Photo: Anette

Eight years ago, when I had decided to study in Japan, I sat down and made a list of the universities I wanted to study at. Although I had many different criteria on my list, the most important to me was that the university wasn't located in Tokyo. Why, you ask? Well, that's simple: too big, too noisy, and...Packed trains
. Little did I know that a few years later I would make this city my home, and in turn have to face my fears of the packed Tokyo trains on a daily basis. Throughout the years I've learned a thing or two about commuting in Tokyo, and I hope that the tips below can be of help to you too!
One of those lucky days where you get yourself a seat

1. The train is packed? Push yourself inside!!

Japanese people are known to be some of the world's most polite people, but during the rush hour, there's nothing that can stop Mr. Sato from getting into that already over-packed train. You can, however, learn a thing or two from his technique: simply wedge one foot onto the train, place both your hands on the frame of the train door, turn your back to the other passengers and push yourself in as hard as you can! If you're lucky you'll manage to eke out enough space for both yourself and your bag, and if not, those train pushers will be there to give you the final push you need to succeed. Just be aware that when you use this method, sometimes, when the door closes, you won't have enough space to take your arm down until the train reaches the next stop.
The guy in the middle demonstrating how it's done

2. The train is packed? Avoid getting squeezed into the crowd

Since a lot of businessmen and women use the tactic described under point number one I've developed a second technique to avoid falling victim of other train pushers and getting squeezed into the crowd. When entering a packed train I try to position myself at the very edge of the wagon's entrance, sometimes having half of my body outside the train with one foot on the platform. This makes it look like the wagon is fuller than it is, and 1) makes passengers pass by in search for a wagon with more space, or 2) push on the passengers standing next to you instead. Might work best if you're a gaijin (foreigner) though. Securing the window spot is so much better than ending up in the middle of the crowd, as you'll be able to not only breath but also enjoy the view of the passing city. Or just close your eyes and repeat to yourself: "I'm at the beach. I'm at the beach". Anything to avoid going crazy.
Barely enough space to move my arm

3. Be aware there's no such thing as "personal space"

Yes, daily commuting in Tokyo in the rush-hour will most certainly involve you being rubbed against, squeezed, smashed and at times nearly suffocating. There's no such thing as personal space, as people will do anything to get onto that packed train. If you're fortunate to be tall you might be able to secure yourself some breathing space above the heads of the average 171 cm tall Japanese men, but if you are short you should mentally prepare yourself to have to breathe in sweaty armpits. Oh, how many times have I not felt like a cow on the way to the slaughterhouse when commuting to work in the rush hour surrounded by all those hopeless-looking faces... It is also not uncommon for passengers to sleep on the train - which is fine until you find yourself used as a pillow for some random stranger.
Hi there stranger...

4. Got an injury? Avoid rush-hour

In all Japanese trains, you can find an area dedicated to passengers with some sort of a handicap (yusenseki - 優先席), whether it is an injury, old age or pregnancy. My hard-earned experience from traveling with a broken leg during rush hour is that in many cases the train is so packed that most likely you won't be able to get a seat, let alone reach the area where the priority seats are located. And if you manage to squeeze yourself all the way up to the priority seats you'll soon discover that a majority of passengers there either are asleep or even pretend they don't see you. Even if you're able to use flexi-time the trains are pretty much packed till around 10am so with an injury you'll still have to travel with your heart in your throat. If your company allows work-from-home you should without a doubt choose that option. Or else, be aware that you might be at risk of worsening your injury or getting a heart attack from the added stress.
Sometimes not even a broken leg and a crutch can land you a seat during rush-hour.

5. Snowy Day? Stay home!

Tokyo is not a city that is used to dealing with snow, and only a minor snowfall can turn to your already tiring commute into doomsday-like chaos. Trains get delayed or stop running altogether, and with 20 million passengers commuting daily in the Great Tokyo area you can imagine the human tsunami waiting to break every single bone in your body to debris as soon as that train door opens. My best advice to survive the day: Do yourself a favor and call in sick.

Do you have any advice to ease the daily commute in Tokyo? Please let me know if the comment section below.
- Anette

Related blog posts

Recommended Hotels in Tokyo

Robot Hotel - Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay
Henn na Hotel
★★★★ → review
Centurion Classic Akasaka
The Centurion Classic Akasaka
 → review
Hundred Stay Tokyo Shinjuku
Hundred Stay
 → review
Kaisu Hostel
Kaisu Hostel


This page contains affiliate links, and if you follow a link and make a hotel reservation through these links you help support this blog without any additional cost to you. Thank you so much for your kind support!

Author Image

About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

  • 0Disqus Comment
  • Facebook Comment

Leave your comment

Post a Comment

comments powered by Disqus

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
・Read more →

Recent Posts


Random Posts