Tokyo Rush Hour: 9 Tips to Help You Survive Your Train Ride

Tokyo Rush Hour: 9 Tips to Help You Survive Your Train Ride

The Tokyo rush hour trains are infamous for turning commuters into cans of sardines. Here are some essential tips to make the ride as comfortable as possible.

It’s the morning and you decide that you’re going to start your journey early to make the most of your day in Tokyo. The streets are already bustling with people walking briskly along the sidewalks. You head for the station along with the crowd, but an unbelievable sight awaits you—the station is unbelievably packed.

The craziness of Tokyo’s rush hour isn’t a little-known fact. You’ve probably seen pictures and videos of platform attendants pushing commuters through the closing doors even though it seems like it can’t fit any more people.

Commuting with the large crowds of Tokyo may be inevitable, but there are definitely ways to help make your commute that much more comfortable and pleasant (relatively; squeezing in with a lot of people in a small confined space isn’t a pleasant experience at all).

So, here’s a list of the top 9 tips to survive the Tokyo rush hour train!

1. Go for the shortest queue

Image credit: Chris 73

Your battle starts even before you board the train. On the platform, boarding queues form on both sides of a train door. Head for the shortest queue you can find, the best scenario is being able to find a queue without anyone at all. Two people in front of you should be the maximum; any longer and you’ll probably find yourself having a hard time getting onto the train. If this happens though, you’ll just have to wait for the next train which should arrive in a few minutes.

2. Keep your bag in front of you

Crowded trains usually mean a possibility of pickpockets. However, in Japan, most people keep their bags in front of them to save space and to not inconvenience others. While some people may decide to keep their bags between their feet, it’ll probably be difficult to reach for it once the carriage is packed like a can of sardines. Keeping your bag in front of you also acts as a barrier against the next person in front of you for both your safety and comfort.

3. Grab a handrail/handle

tokyo rush hour

Image credit: Tim Adams

In a crowded fast-moving train, maintaining your balance is very important. Despite what you may think, the people squished around you aren’t reliable wedges to keep you upright; in fact, if someone loses his or her balance, the next person too will lose balance, and then the next one… you get the idea. So don’t try to test your balance. Hold on to something (not someone!) and be safe.

4. Be like water

Image credit: Ari Helminen

When you’re on a crowded train, you’re no longer solid matter. You’re like water that can fill any space—because that is what is going to happen. The commuters around you will squeeze into any little space there is to allow more people to board so you should too. If someone is trying to board or get off, you may also find yourself getting pushed in all directions. The best thing to do then would be to balance the allowance of ease of movement, and the need have at least some breathing space in front of you. Don’t get squeezed by the crowd to the point it hurts; stand firm when you’re at your (reasonable) limit.

Also, if you’re right at the doors but haven’t reached your stop, it’s alright to get off and stand to the side to allow others to get off – just make sure you stand at the front of the queue waiting to board so that you can get on again.

5. Head for the middle of the carriage

To be honest, most people tend to stick close to the train doors. You’ll probably notice that the crowd standing in the middle along the seats is a lot thinner. Therefore, if possible, head for the middle of the carriage or at least near it, so that you’ll be able to have just that little bit more breathing space. If getting there isn’t possible when you board, try to head for it during the crowd movement when commuters get off and on the train at the next station.

6. Make use of the overhead shelves

If you’ve managed to get yourself to the middle of the carriage, you can make use of the metal shelves above the seats by putting your bags there. Not only will your aching shoulders thank you, it also helps ease up the space around you.

Only use the shelves when you’re standing in front of the seats though; if you’re fortunate enough to get a seat, take your bag down so that the next person can use it. Also, be careful that nothing falls out of your bag when you’re putting or taking it off the shelf to prevent any injuries and unpleasant experiences.

7. See a seat, grab a seat

tokyo rush hour

Image credit: Toshinori Baba

Seats are a scarce resource during the peak hour, so if the opportunity presents itself, grab the seat. This mostly applies if the seat you’re in front of is vacated (another reason to move to the middle of the carriage). Taking the seat also helps to free up more space so that more commuters can board the train. Don’t forget to take down your bag from the shelf overhead! However, try to avoid priority seats as those are reserved for the elderly, pregnant women and the physically inconvenienced.

8. Be firm when getting off

Image credit: Yokota Air Base

You’ve now reached your stop, but you see no way through the crowd or are firmly wedged between people. What should you do? Be firm and give a slight nudge towards the door. Your fellow commuters should get the message and (try to) move aside for you. If there are others getting off, make use of the space cleared up and pass through. If all else fails, give a soft but firm “Sumimasen, Orimasu” (Sorry, I’m getting off), and those around you should try to make space for you to pass through.

9. Use another line or head out earlier

tokyo rush hour

Image credit: JarkkoS

If you happen to be staying in Tokyo for an extended period of time, you may notice that certain lines may be less frequented than others. If there are alternative routes to take to your destination, you can consider trying them out to see which is the least crowded.

Alternatively, if all else fails, you can leave earlier to avoid the rush hour altogether. Trains are the busiest around 8 to 9 in the morning and 6 to 7 in the evening, so if you can, avoid these timings for a less crowded ride.

You’ve survived!

There you have it—some tips to help you survive Tokyo’s dreaded rush hour. After all that’s said, the best way to learn is, of course, to experience the rush hour yourself—if you dare. The more you mingle with the (unpleasantly warm) crowd, the more you’ll get the hang of riding the rush hour train, and soon you’ll be going places easily and comfortably like a true local.

About Author

Gabriel Oh
Gabriel Oh

A lover of words and their intrinsic value, Gabriel enjoys a good book as much as he does writing a good story. While he dabbles in illustration and photography, he just wishes that they would love him back as much. Gabriel has a deep-rooted interest in Japanese culture and language, eventually venturing to the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time in 2016. Having made many wonderful memories there, he now hopes to share what he has so that others can learn from his stories and eventually make their own.


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