Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crowded Tokyo trains worse than Singapore's MRT?

Whenever you see complaints about our crowded MRT trains, some readers will always bring out examples of other city trains, especially Tokyo commuter trains. For example in these videos...

(Youtube video by TheFatFinger)

(Youtube video by d0b33)

I have worked in Tokyo previously and I have been on those rush hour trains and truthfully, they are not as 'bad' as they are made out to be.

Yes, it is very crowded (Tokyo has 12.7m population) and it's true that people are packed like sardines into the trains as in the above video, but that only happens at the peak of the morning rush.

However, there is a cultural difference in Japan.
The overcrowding is accepted as a way of life in Tokyo.
During rush hour, you are packed into the train but everyone understands the situation.
Everyone knows the need for each other to commute to work or to get to school on time.

If you are in a rush hour train, you expect to be squashed cheek by jowl.
You will be shoved from all sides till everyone settles into their own comfort zone.
You know there is no room for any movement except to stand constricted till you get to your destination.

However, Japanese etiquette makes the journey tolerable.
The Japanese typically avoid any action that will make others uncomfortable.
Nobody uses a mobile phone on the train.
Nobody takes out their ipad or newspaper to read.
Nobody chats in the train.
The Japanese are fastidious about cleanliness, so there is absolutely no odor of any sort.
And if you are carrying a briefcase or backpack, you stow it in the overhead rack to make room for others to stand more comfortably.
And, they stand in orderly lines waiting to board the train.

What happens when you reach your destination and you are in the middle of the car?
No worries, just one word 'sumimasen',  and everyone near the door will get out to let you through, automatically!

Whenever, I take my friends on a tour of Tokyo, I make sure that they get this unique experience of taking a morning commuter train. They have all survived and I have yet to loose a friend on the train system. In fact, they are happy to come away with this unique experience.
I only tell them, if you are near the door,  get off!   let people out or you'll be stampeded!

The level of tolerance is vastly different from Singapore.
Although, our MRT system has been running more than 20 years, education on train etiquette was never ever emphasized. Bad habits have taken root and is now very hard to eradicate, so there is no comparison at all.

Grab poles & handles are available even near the door areas.
During rush hour, some seats are folded up to make more space for standing.
Bulky bags are stowed on the overhead racks.

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  1. nice post. Totally agree! Train habits in Singapore are terrible- people are selfish, ignorant and lazy.