Somehow sitting here on the metro zipping around Tokyo on a cold winters day I am slowly slipping into this organized practical and almost without feeling or expression lifestyle of commuting in Tokyo.
Each person has their own worries, dreams and plans and their individual destinations and priorities cross each other’s path for a few moments on the ever effective and efficient metro system that services Tokyo.
Strange then that their eyes are seldom drawn to another’s, rather looking out of the window into the abyss of the maze of tunnels, ear phones plugged in but whether there is any sound being played is another thing, as their lips never sync to music. Phones and tablets are in abundance and these small books that everyone seems to have a copy of being read back to front for us westerners in vertical format of Japanese writing.
Expressions remain neutral, maybe the odd person is sleeping, usually the head rocking forward is that give away sign of a few late nights.
Arriving at a station people disembark in such an orderly fashion and queueing onto the escalator in straight lines in total silence is reminiscent of robots in a car factory going about some repetitive task.
The trains are spotless, the train tracks are shiny, the stations are clean, curiously enough I rarely see anyone cleaning anything.
Nobody eats or drinks on the go, rather stopping at one of the many stores for a snack and drink before moving onwards.
So is there some worthwhile psychology that supports following each other’s cultural practice that is not enforced through discipline?
The music starts and you instinctively know that something is going to end or begin and that’s the signal for the doors closing on the metro train. So do not run, just be aware and there will be another one along shortly and on time.
But hang on surely there are delays and the passengers are inconvenienced. Yes of course, but no one behaves differently or reacts with an outburst of emotion. Maybe turning another page in their book or listen to another song, it happens so rarely I don’t believe the impact is even registered.
There is no active and visible law enforcement presence, so is it really required in their society?
Nemawashi is the practice of doing things in your life so that other related things can be impacted positively. I wonder how deep this goes into the country’s culture, as many academics and organizations in the western world have studied the great motor manufacturers like Toyota in attempts to copy the culture to improve their own performance.
Crossing the road is quite an event in the daily chore of moving through this vibrant city. The light is red and the little man standing still has a duel countdown timer for everyone to watch in anticipation of some launch from the blocks in a 100m sprint. The cars move by with little noise and certainly no hooting or screeching of brakes. The man changes to green and in many cases upto 12 deep in the crowd on either side of the road everyone moves simultaneously off the starting blocks, but in no hurry, just an organized event which ceases when the light changes. As the green countdown finishes its cycle the odd persons hurriedly cross the road.
Now for walking 4 or 5 wide in the same direction with people going in the opposite direction on the same footpath all on their side of the pavement but with zero demarcation, I wonder if there is some training or high school education that everyone has taken to pass the navigate your way along a road or metro in public without causing disruption class.
To buy a ticket per journey is not at all the right way to move through the city unless you have only one or two journeys to make. Even then you may find that although the process of buying a ticket on the many simple machines is easy, moving through the gates is something else as there are in excess of 20 metro line operating companies that share lines your ticket must cover to make your transfers.
So save yourself some real stress and difficult and buy a Pasmo or Suica card at the at the many accessible machines and reload as you need and swipe as you transfer.
The last trains between 00:00 and 01:00 set off and even with people crammed like sardines in an XS can nobody shouts or pushes too much, even on a Friday when people head homewards from after work drinks.
The inspectors at every gate are serious looking but ever so helpful and polite just in case you struggle or see that fateful red light and blocked gate when you swipe without sufficient funds.
The JR line is the Japan Rail system which is connected to the metro system for some city trips but mostly for outside the city. These trains are punctual and so clean and smooth it puts some airlines to shame. The conductor bows when he enters the carriage prior to checking your ticket, the non-reserved seating is ample and gets busy but there is always space to sit.
Is this an accurate portrayal of Japanese metro system and commute life, not at all, but it is a reflection of my observations and experiences from this wonderful city.
Grace, peace, effective, efficient….perhaps, but the word harmony best describes Tokyo commuting as everything somehow flows.