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Frustrations in Japan Part 2 – Public Transportation

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 26 January, 2006 at

Overcrowded train in Tokyo

Part two in my series about how to prepare (and in some cases, avoid) frustrating things in Japan is about public transportation – mainly trains and subways.

First things first: trains & subways (hereafter referred to simply as ‘trains’) in Japan are crowded, I mean really really crowded. This has to do with the fact that most people commute to work/school by train, and not by car. 2.5 million passengers travel on the JR lines in the Tokyo area every day! Add the private railways and subway lines too, and you get a sense of how much people are travelling around everyday!

So, rush hour here in Tokyo for instance (approximately 8 AM – 9 AM) is sort of “survival of the fittest”! Cars are filled over specified capacity, often to 150-220% during morning rush hour, depending on which line you take. Here is an illustraion of what the train congestion levels look like in practice. (The comments below the illustrations are in Japanese, but check out Mari’s translation.) I found some good information about which lines are the most/least crowded in the Tokyo Metropolitan area so I want to present those statistics to you. I put them at the bottom of this post as a sort of Appendix. (If you entered through the main page, you have to click “Read the rest of this entry” further down.)

This is how your train ride should be!

OK, so if you look at the statistics you can see which lines to avoid like the plague in the mornings. Unfortunately, the chances that you actually live along one of those train lines is pretty high – hence the high congestion rate! Here are then some small tips on how to make your train travelling a little bit more enjoyable:

* Avoid rush hour altogether! If you have the luxury of controlling exactly when to travel, you’d better try to go either before 8 AM, or close to, or after 9 AM – because the trains are much emptier then.

* Seek out alternate routes! Investigate the areas around your house and your place of work; are there alternate routes to take which will not slow you down too much? Sometimes it’s worth taking somewhat of a detour to work, if it takes you through less crowded train lines etc, and you only lose around 5 minutes travel time.

* Get on at the first station of the train line. Yes, this is a no-brainer but it can be hard to do anything about it, unless you want to move! If you get on at the first stop, you of course have high chances of getting a seat, which will definately make your travel experience more relaxed. If you live one stop from the final station, if you have time to spare, consider taking the train in the opposite direction back to the end station, and then remain onboard when it returns in the other direction.

* Know your destination and other popular destinations. You can time your travel better if you know exactly when the stations along your way peaks in passengers – then you can adjust your departure according to that. Further, knowing where the exits are from the platform at your destination (and crowded stations along the way) is good because if you can stay away from the train cars which stops closest to the stairs, chances are that the train car will be less crowded. Most people like to get on the cars that are closest to the stairs so they quickly can get out.

* If a train is delayed in rush hour, skip it! Chances are very high that the next train is NOT delayed and will arrive as quickly as one minute later (at least JR lines). Again, most people will try to get on the first train that arrives, so the delayed train will be loaded but the train coming after will be less crowded.

* Rush hour in the evenings is not as bad, because there is no fixed time where most people leave work. However, one time to avoid is around 8 o’clock on Friday evenings. It seems this is a very popular time to go home, so try to plan around it.

Train Statistics for the Tokyo Metropolitan Area

(Source: Allabout.co.jp and Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transportation)

The trains in the Tokyo area are notorious for being overcrowded, but if you look at statistics, you will see that the situation now is better than it used to be! If you look at the leftmost graph here and look at the thick black line, you can see that the average congestion rate (in rush hour) on the trains is 171%, down from over 210% in the 1980’s!

Here are two lists displaying the most and least crowded train lines in the Tokyo area, and their respective most crowded spot (measured during 7-9 AM). Note that only the main train lines are included in this survey by the Ministry (I don’t know what criteria they used to select the main lines).

Top Ten most crowded train lines in Tokyo

1. JR Chuo Express Line (Nakano -> Shinjuku) 214%
2. JR Keihin Tohoku Line (Ueno -> Okachimachi) 214%
3. JR Sobu Local Line (Kinshicho -> Ryogoku) 210%
4. JR Tokaido Line (Kawasaki -> Shinagawa) 200%
5. Tokyo Metro Tozai Line (Kiba -> Monzennakacho) 197%
6. JR Joban Local Line (Kameari -> Ayase) 197%
7. Tokyu Denen-toshi Line (Ikejiri-Ohashi -> Shibuya) 191%
8. Odakyu Line (Setagaya Daita -> Shimokitazawa) 188%
9. JR Yokosuka Line (Shin-Kawasaki -> Shinagawa) 185%
10. JR Joban Express Line (Matsudo -> Kitasenju) 185%

Top Five least crowded train lines in Tokyo

1. JR Chuo Local Line (Yoyogi -> Sendagaya) 89%
2. Toei Asakusa Line (Honjo Azumabashi -> Oshiage) 124%
3. Toei Mita Line (Nishisugamo -> Sugamo) 138%
4. Tobu Tojo Line (Kitaikebukuro -> Ikebukuro) 139%
5. Tobu Isesaki Line (Kosuge -> Kitasenju) 142%


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