Dear railway commuters : be glad you’re not japanese !

24/06/2018 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter – Suscribe my blog
(Version en français)
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The greater Tokyo metropolitan area, which is spread over 3 prefectures has a population that is estimated to be over 36 million. That means the greater Tokyo area alone is home to 25% of Japan’s population in an area of approximately 13,500 km2. Every day, 2,400,000 people commute to the city center for work or school. These impressive numbers show that what might appear to be chaos in public transportation is in fact something quite orderly. Japanese culture, very particular, helps to manage such a traffic …

Tokyo, a big megapole (picture Marco Verch via license Flickr)

Japan’s first railway (28.9 km) was opened in 1872, 47 years after the first steam railways in Great Britain. It was built by British engineers and ran between Shimbashi and Yokohama with a journey time of 53 minutes stopping at six stations.

The first station of Tokyo is the Shinjuku station. It was opened in 1885. It was previously a stop on the Akabane-Shinagawa line (now part of the Yamanote Line). The opening of highway lines – Chuo, Keio and Odakyu – resulted in increased traffic through the station. Subway services at the station started in 1959.

An other station, the main station of Tokyo, is located near Kōkyo, the imperial palace, and the district of Ginza. The station is the terminus of Shinkansen in Tokyo. It was designed by the architect Tatsuno Kingo, and was commissioned on December 18, 1914. It was destroyed during the Tokyo bombings in May 1945 and largely rebuilt in 1947, it was fully restored in 2012.

Since then, other stations have been built all over the country. When you speak about railways stations in Japan,you enter another world. What is supposed to be chaos is actually a well-ordered movement, a conception of things improbable in our Latin and American cultures.

The Tokyo Main Station, operated by JR East and JR Central, is an impressive 1,000-feet long (304 meters). It’s the busiest station in Japan in terms of number of trains per day (more than 3,000); 350,000 passengers pass through its turnstiles on a daily basis. The station also reportedly earns more revenue than any other station in Japan. It has 14 lines, including the Tokaido Shinkansen, the most heavily traveled high-speed rail route in the world.

The trains operating in Tokyo are involved in a mass migration movement, as we know them in all the major cities of the world. But in Tokyo, everything seems more crazy than elsewhere. Tokyo’s rush hour moves the populations of whole countries within the confines of the city boundaries every morning and evening. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism the hourly number of passengers increases to nearly 80,000 during morning rush hour. It is a mass migration movement where the density of people on the trains is close to the practical maximum to the point any train ride becomes uncomfortable. For example, 3.5 million people use the station each day, making it the busiest station in the world in terms of passenger numbers.

The Shibuya Toyoko Line (picture Joi Ito via license Flickr)

How to find one’s way in the maze of Japanese train stations?
The Japanese railway stations are not great monuments of architecture. Here in Tokyo, there is no Calatrava or architecture agency, but many sobriety. We don’t find these huge new stations as in China, which are very recent and take advantage of the drastic update of the Chinese railway. In Tokyo, the train stations were built over the decades, with the increase of the traffic.

The example of the Shinjuku station is really a incredible collection of separate stations run by seven different companies, all connected together by a myriad of passageways and tunnels. From early morning till late at night incessant streams of people of all ages and types hurry along who knows where. Most foreigners find the place scary, but unaccompanied schoolchildren six year olds can be seen passing through on their way to school, completely unfazed by the tumult around them.

An western resident told: « I used to like riding trains in Japan and even thought it was interesting to watch how everybody manages to navigate all the train lines. Not so much anymore. Sure, compared to most other countries it works, but the crowds… People everywhere. » Another user adds: « While I never felt ‘lost’ the harfest part i found was when coming out of large Stations, even though my guide book told you which exit to take some of the large stations have upwards of 25 exits and finding the one you want is tricky especially with the volume of people, we just decided to ‘get out’ of the Station and see where we were exactly. »

The famous ‘train stuffing’
Taking the train during the rush hour in Tokyo is a traumatic experience suffered by millions of commuters every day. This is where the London commuters must be happy with their daily life, comparing with Tokyo! We all know these famous pictures of the « pushers » on the subway or the suburban trains. It’s not a legend, it’s a reality. A whole population seems to be rushing to one of the 769 railways and bus stations, wait in long queues, cram themselves into overcrowded carriages, fight for breathing space whilst being crushed further into the carriage by uniformed « oshiya » in white gloves, The train is so stuffed with people that you feel like you could not even breathe or move inside the train compartment. The Japanese have a term for this daily challenge: « tsukin jigoku » (commuter hell). Railway networks in Tokyo carry 40 million passengers daily with an average overcrowding ratio of 166% ! Japanese commuters must deploy a refined art to push themselves and enter a train. It looks like a kind of a challenge to reach a rate of 200%. This video must be watched until the end, so much is it explicit …

Bad temptations…
If this daily compression never degenerates into conflict, it causes however another problem which increases dramatically. ‘Chikan’, the Japanese term for ‘groping’, a catch-all term that covers groping, sexual rubbing and surreptitious mobile phone photography. This become a real scourge in the Japanese city. This is obviously not difficult to understand. Japan’s problem with chikan is widespread. In surveys conducted by train companies, as many as 70 percent of young women say they have been groped, mostly on commuter trains.

So much so that on some lines, railways were obliged to restrain somes cars with access only for women. According the Japan Times, figures from the Metropolitan Police Department show that 1,750 cases of groping or molestation were reported in 2017, of which 30 percent occurred between 7 and 9 a.m. during the morning rush hour. More than 50 percent of sexual harassment cases occurred on trains, the report says, with a further 20 percent occuring in train stations. The Japanese police now send civilians workforces to the most affected lines and have allowed the arrest of ‘gropers’, sometimes specialized gangs.

Answer to the problem of ‘Chikan‘…

Despite this, the Tokyo authorities are trying to demonstrate that the city is one of the safest cities in the world. It is obviously recommended that tourists avoid rush hours to visit the city. For those who are in Tokyo for business, it’s something else. Better to choose a hotel not too far from your meeting place. Tokyo also has a network of buses and a flotilla of taxis, but most travellers find that the trains cover all their transportation needs. The incredible interweaving of rail and metro lines has proved its relevance in one of the largest megacities in the world. 🟧


History of the Tokyo station

Shinjuku Railway Station, Tokyo

Tokyo’s rush hour by the numbers – Ramon Brasser

Shinjuku Station – An Unmissable Tokyo Experience

The Challenges of Commuting in Tokyo

Cultural Shock in Japan when commuting by train

Train Chaos: How to Master the Japanese Train System

9 ways to survive the japanese commuter train – By Alex Sturmey

The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

‘Chikan,’ the Japanese term for groping, is increasingly being recognized abroad

Circular line of Yamanote (photo Andrew K. Smith via flickr)

Japan : the Maglev reaches 603km/hr and a new line of 286 kilometers is building

(Version en français de cet article)

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Last week, it has been announced by Japan Railways’ Operator JR that Maglev, the train which works with the technology of magnetic elevation, has reached 603 km/hr, according to the test results conducted. This exceeds the previous record of 590 km/h. The levitation technology is based on the principle of magnetic repulsion between the track and the cars. The Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) and the company’s Railway Technical Research Institute developed the system since many years. In Europe, some doubts subsist in the railway industry. It is hard to say how effective this technology will be optimal outside specific cases, say some engineers. The expected target by Japan about the Maglev would change this idea.

The name maglev is derived from MAGnetic LEVitation. Magnetic levitation is a highly advanced technology, and which relates to many industrial applications. The common point in all applications is the lack of contact and therefore a universe without wear nor friction. This increases efficiency, reduces maintenance costs, and increases the useful life of the system. The magnetic levitation technology can be used as an efficient technology in the various industries, including railways.

In Germany

The German maglev company named Transrapid, had a test track in Emsland with a length of 31.5 kilometres. The single-track line ran between Dörpen and Lathen with turning loops at each end. The trains regularly ran at up to 420 kilometres per hour. Passengers were carried as part of the testing process. The construction of the test facility began in 1979 and finished in 1984. In 2006, the Lathen maglev train accident occurred killing 23 people, found to have been caused by human error in implementing safety checks after what no passengers were carried. At the end of 2011 the operation licence expired and was not renewed, and in early 2012 demolition permission was given for its facilities, including the track and factory. No other test tracks are expected in Europe in the coming years.

In China

We can find the first real Maglev in commercial operation in Asia, especially in China. Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT) operats between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Longyang Road Metro Station. With the technological cooperation from Germany, the world’s first commercial magnetic levitation line was operated on Apr 1, 2003, the designed maximum operating speed of 430 km/h is near the flight speed, and the actual operating speed is about 300 km/h, the whole 30 km trip takes only eight minutes.

In Japan

Working on the creation of a train on a magnetic cushion began in Japan in the 70-ies of the last century, however, these technologies for a long time no use. Construction of the Yamanashi maglev test line began in 1990. The 18.4 km of the line in Tsuru, Yamanashi, opened in 1997. MLX01 trains were tested there from 1997 to fall 2011, when the facility was closed to extend the line to 42.8 km and to upgrade it to commercial specifications.

In 2011 the Japanese government approved a plan for the construction of the first commercial line of such trains with a length of 286 km between Tokyo and Nagoya. The project cost is estimated at 5.5 trillion yen (€42,79 billion). The construction will involve about 15.000 people. By 2045 this branch is planned to be extended to the third largest city of Japan – Osaka. The average speed on the section between Tokyo and Nagoya can be about 500 km per hour, which will allow you to make the journey in 40 minutes. The duration of this same trip on high-speed trains Shinkansen is now one hour and 18 minutes.

The Japanese public is determined to realize this project. Yoshitsugu Hayashi, a railway professor at Nagoya University says: “This is a good example of Japanese technology and know-how, and it is important that Japan remains ahead in the technology of magnetic levitation« . That sounds as a clear warning to all the railway industry…