Chaos and Courtesy on the Tokyo Subway

Hello from Tokyo!

The Ikebukuro subway entrance we use everyday.

Today marks our fourth day in Japan and, just as expected, the sights, the food, the vending machines, and the people are incredible. It feels quite surreal to have seen places like Harajuku (a crazy busy district) and the Meiji Shrine (a calm, solemn place), that I had only ever seen through a computer screen with my own eyes. Having learned a fair amount of facts about Japan from my Hope classes, friends, and the trusty internet, I knew to anticipate a number of things, like how crowded the city would be and that I might be squished on the subway train. Despite that, however, I couldn’t help but be stunned seeing the organized chaos of the subway station in Ikebukuro that very first night and each time after.

What strikes me most though is the intricacy of how the people in the subway interweave and hustle about: even though people are rushing through the station in every which direction, everyone adheres to the common courtesy of standing on the right side of an escalator to let others get by, or waiting to the side of the train doors so everyone can get off before getting in. There’s an innate system of courtesy in place that allows thousands of people to cross and rush through the station every hour of the day.

As a foreigner, it feels a bit daunting and embarrassing to not understand these common courtesies because we tend to inconvenience others by walking on the wrong side of the hallway and blocking an intersection when we stop to find directions or regroup. Navigating the subway has made me realize how important it is to be self-aware and to notice when you’re taking up lots of space or in the way. Although it has only been three days, I feel like I am already beginning to adapt to these systems and have become at least a little more aware of how I’m affecting my surroundings because of it. Although I can’t quite say I look forward to more sardine-packed rides on the subway, I am looking forward to becoming more comfortable with the rushing stations so that I don’t inconvenience others. I want to be more self-aware as we continue on this trip.

And there is no better place to do that than in the crowded Tokyo subways.

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