Posts Tagged Tokyo


Frustrations in Japan Part 2 – Public Transportation

Posted by on Thursday, 26 January, 2006

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Frustrations in Japan Part 1 – Immigration Office

Posted by on Thursday, 19 January, 2006


Coming to Japan for the first time can be a very strange and frustrating experience in many cases. Further, if you start living here you will find more things that definately will surprise and upset you. That is why I intend to present to you a series of posts describing things that probably will frustrate you upon coming here, or starting to living here long term for the first time. For some of the things I can offer workarounds and tips on how to ease through without frustration, but in many cases you just have to accept the circumstances and have patience! (The inspiration for writing this post came from a thread over at the Outpost Nine forums regarding Japanese vs. American customer service.)

The Immigration Office

Don't give up!

If you’re going to stay in Japan for more than three months, you will encounter the dreaded Immigration Office. This is where all visa and residence status issues are handled, and you will probably have to go here at least once a year if you’re staying in Japan for a longer time. If you’re leaving Japan temporary for a trip (vacation for example), you have to go here to get a “Re-Entry Permit” (i.e. permission to re-enter the country without nullifying your VISA) and that is probably the most common reason for people having to go here.

First of all, if you have never been to the Immigration Office, if you can, go scout the place out first! It is located a ten minute bus ride from Shinagawa station. (Here is some information in English.) The first floor has an information desk (they speak English; probably the only people in the whole building who do, which is strange seeing as these people cater only to foreigners!) where you can ask questions on how to proceed with your specific case, collect forms, and get some quick counselling. There is also a convenience store here, in which you can buy food, drinks, or snacks to keep you happy during your wait (and you WILL have to wait). The second floor contains the actual immigration counters, and they are divided into sections depending on case type: re-entry permits, work visas, permanent residence, etc. As I said, if you can, go ahead of time to scout out the place – find the desk you need to go to, get the proper paper work, fill in as much as you can ahead of time, and most importantly: buy the necessary tax stamp at the convenience store on the first floor BEFORE you line up for your case on the second floor! Yes, all tasks will cost you money, and due to some unknown reason (maybe it’s a hassle for them to handle money elsewhere than the store) they will not accept payment at the actual immigration counter, but you have to purchase a stamp at the convenience store and affix it to a certain immigration form. Whatever you do, don’t forget this! I have seen many newcomers line up, wait for 30 minutes, only to find out they have to go down and buy a stamp, and get back in line (from the beginning!). Also, don’t forget that they do stop their services at noon for an hour lunch break!

Now, if you have prepared well by getting the forms, scouting out which desk you should head to, and bought the stamp (or you can buy the stamp while you wait for your turn) then it’s time to do your business! Arrive early in the morning, about ten minutes before they open! (Whatever you do, never, ever go on a Friday afternoon, it will be packed!) When they open the doors, walk briskly (or what the heck, RUN) to the counter in question, and get a queue number. In some cases you can just go up to the counter and get a number yourself, but in some cases you have to first line up to get a queue number from one of the staff! If you were fast, then you will only have to wait a few minutes, but if you were slow, you will wind up having to wait for 30 minutes or more. If you arrive later, you may have to wait over an hour for service! The work visa department is probably the worst one, so be prepared! I believe the Immigration Office in Tokyo is probably worse than average, because the one in Kobe (the only other one I have had experience with) was not too bad or crowded.

As I stated earlier, the staff at the Immigration Office are not very good at English, so if you have questions to ask regarding your case, be sure to brush up no your Japanese, or bring a Japanese acquaintance! The staff at the counters are not unfriendly in any way, but they are under a lot of stress due to the extreme amount of cases they have to process quickly, so they can be perceived as not very helpful. You have to deal with that! Don’t get upset at the staff at the counter if you feel frustrated about filling out a certain form you had forgotten, or having to go to the convenience store to buy a revenue stamp – it’s not their fault! Also note that getting a re-entry permit, or simply moving your visa from one passport to another is not an ordeal at all, especially the re-entry thing, since there is a special section for that which often is very quick and smooth.


Random interesting photos from Japan

Posted by on Thursday, 27 October, 2005

My cellphone’s memory is filling up, so I started to erase some unnecessary photos when it hit me that some of the photos I’ve snapped around Tokyo might be entertaining for you. So I present some random shots taken with my cellphone camera (thus the bad quality):

(Mouse over the images for a description/Click to enlarge)

Terrifying roller coaster at Tokyo Dome CityDoraemon et al on parade in AkihabaraHottest instant curry I've ever eaten!Great Hawaiian restaurant in AkasakaIce Cleam!?Apparently the KKK is active in Japan...Speaks for itself!Coca Cola-flavored milk!Japanese are crazy about Marimekko!Huge 200-slot driving range in Yokosuka