Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Morning Commute

You've probably heard that Tokyo Japan is one of the most populous cities in the world.   That is really a hard concept to imagine, that is until you board a morning commuter train into the city.   If you live in New York, Chicago, or Atlanta you might think you've seen a lot of commuters but I promise you that you haven't seen anything like a Tokyo train or the Tokyo train station.

One thing that Jax wanted to do while in Japan was take a train. His Uncle Mikey was happy to make that happen.   We took our first train to dinner one night. Let's call it a test run.  Mike helped us dumb Americans figure out how to purchase train tickets and navigate the train station.   Seriously, we were like herding cats through the station and getting us on the right train.   It was late evening when we took that first train so it really wasn't super crowded and we only went like two stops.   We made it to dinner and back and no one was harmed or left behind.  Success!

Mike might have been over confident about our train taking ability because he decided that we should take the train to Tokyo Disneyland the next day. It was a two hour train ride or a two hour car ride so our options were limited.    This would be a major test for the dumb American train novices.  This trip would involve an hour and twenty minute train ride from the train station nearest to Mike's  house into the heart of Tokyo and then a train change for another thirty minute train trip to the Disney station.  Oh and for added fun we were going to do this during the height of morning rush hour.  

Mike helped us purchase train cards so that we could load our money for train fares onto it for easier commuting.   We made the mistake of not purchasing cards for the kids because we (Mike included), thought  we could use our cards to pay for the kids.  Apparently the card can only be swiped once for one person to board the train.  This fact will come in handy later.

When we boarded our train it was standing room only so we got the typical Japanese commuter experience. Poor Fred was the largest guy on the train and at least a head taller than everyone! The train was filled with students in school uniforms and Japanese workers all in their work attire. On a side note: I will say that the majority of Japanese are better dressers than most Americans when it comes to work. Most men wear black or blue slacks with a well fitted white or light blue dress shirt.   Women all dress very conservatively with long shirts, a nice blouse, and conservative shoes.  All in very muted colors like khakis, black or navy.  It's almost like the work day uniform.

The trains in Japan are strangely quiet.  No one talks and if they do it's almost in whispers. Many people spend their train ride looking at their phone or catching a nap.  There are signs and announcements asking that all phones be silenced and that you refrain from talking on the phone.  It's a rule that no one breaks. You can imagine how well the loud Americans with little Rosebushes went over on a quiet train!  One other observation that I made while on the train is how orderly they seem to be. You would expect that a train stuffed with 400 people would be semi-chaotic but everyone rushes on and off in a very orderly fashion.  In the stations people quietly and politely stand in line waiting for the train.   People are in a hurry but not so much that they would willingly be rude to each other.  It was a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the USA.   Train cleanliness was also astounding.  The trains in Japan are so very clean unlike America where most trains smell mildly of urine or vomit at all times. There is no trash or graffiti on the trains either. The Japanese wouldn't dare leave trash on the train it's just part of their culture.

Our first train ride was long so we quickly learned as people got off and freed up seats that we needed to move quickly to grab one.  After about the fifth stop we were all able to snag a seat for the remainder of the ride.  When the train finally arrived in the Tokyo station we immediately started our trek from one train to the other.  We had fifteen minutes to travel about half a mile through one of the busiest mazes that you can imagine.  The train station is wall to wall people moving in all directions.  Again, all moving in an orderly fashion as quickly as possible to their destination.   There are also very specific train station rules that are unwritten but ALWAYS followed.  For example, on the escalators if you are going to stand you stand on the left in a single file line so that people who wish to walk may make walk quickly on the right. Stairs and moving sidewalks are the same way; if you're slow keep left.  Traversing the train station with two small children is extra special because at one point we were practically dragging them along.  We were practically running and following Mike to the next train but we made it.  The second train to Disney was significantly less crowded so we were able to sit comfortably on that one.

We made it to the station next to Disney and exited the train. We proceeded to the station exit and Fred scanned his card and sent Emma through the turnstile, then he scanned it again for himself.  The little gates closed indicating there was an issue with money or the card.  So Emma, who is outside the station and Fred who is inside the station had to go to the window and figure out what was up.  I was able to exit just fine and so was Fred's Mom so we waited while Mike, Fred, and the kids sorted out the train fare.  Remember when I said the cards we bought could only be used by one person, this is where we found that out.  In an effort to make the dumb Americans feel less dumb the train station employee let the kids go through without a ticket.   Yep, my kids freeloaded all the way to Disney.  I'm sure that's against the law.

At the end of the day we repeated the scenario in reverse back to Mike's home, except we paid for the kids this time!  They kids also passed out on the train on the way back because Disney is tiring!   The next day we did it all again but this time Fred and I managed to buy our own tickets and load our card without Mike's assistance!  We even bought the kids tickets correctly!  We were practically Japanese at this point!   We knew our stops and what train line to take without Mike's help as well.  I was so impressed with our train taking new knowledge.      In a truly expert train taker move, when we boarded our long train home at the end of the night Mike used his butt as a blocker to score six seats for us all to sit down together.  This is a feat greater than a miracle and only one Japanese man was almost sat on during this process. 

In the end we all survived the trains in Tokyo but I'm not sure that we are cut out for Tokyo mass transit.  I'm also not sure that Tokyo mass transit could handle the little Rosebushes on a regular basis. 

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