Riding the Rails

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The general map of Tokyo’s rail and subway system may initially appear complex and intimidating to those unfamiliar. Fortunately, the system is very efficient, and regular riding will result in quick mastery. Each colored line on the map represents a different train line, with each line named after a prominent station on that line, such as Ginza Station on the Ginza Line. The basic deconstructive layout of the rail system is, in theory, represented similarly in most railways, including the London Underground and the large directional signs found at Septa stations.

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A key route is the Yamanote Line, represented on the diagram by a thin, dotted gray line encircling Tokyo. This handy line covers a number of prominent stations, including Shibuya and Ueno, making navigation to some of the city’s most prominent stops that much easier. Therefore, trains on the Yamanote Line are generally far more crowded than those on other lines, particularly during rush hour, when bodies are often crammed together in an unpleasant yet somehow successful fashion. Fortunately, all Yamanote Line trains arrive at any given station every four minutes, eliminating the need to worry about wait times or rushing. For this reason, signs instructing commuters specifically not to run are common (among other warnings, many of which caution against falling onto the tracks).

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The closest station on the Yamanote Line to Temple’s Campus is Meguro Station, just two stops away from Shirokane-Takanawa Station, the station most students use to reach the campus. In other words, in just about a half hour following classes, you could be in Shibuya, Shinjuku or Harajuku.

Reloadable Pasmo or Suica cards allow for fast movement through stations. Just a brief swipe through the gate will automatically deduct yen from your card, based on how far you traveled. Students can purchase a special pass by visiting a designated office at certain stations and presenting their student ID. The fares for traveling within Tokyo are generally cheaper than public transportation offered in Philadelphia.

Many stations have multiple platforms, particularly stations on the Yamanote line. For instance, Shinjuku Station, one of the largest stations in Tokyo, has a platform for the Yamanote trains, and then separate platforms for various local lines. Bigger stations like Shibuya offer various amenities, from small bookstores to full restaurants. Even smaller stations will have newsstands and vending machines. Some even include amenities right on the platform.

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Aside from a group of noisy school kids, passengers typically remain silent throughout the ride, with many engrossed in books or thick manga magazines. During peak hours, and throughout most of the day on busier lines such as the Yamanote, the seats fill up fast, leaving a good portion of passengers standing. While riders remain polite, upon arrival at their destination they will push and shove their way to the exit with little regard for anyone else. And for good reason, as most trains remain at the station for barely twenty seconds before closing their doors and taking off once more.

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The trains cover a large distance in a relatively short time. A course on Tokyo I took last Fall continuously emphasized a general theme of mobility. Now in Tokyo myself, I finally fully understand how mobile I can be.

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