Every day, millions of people in the extremely crowded city of Tokyo follow the very same ritual of commuting.
Every day, millions of people experience the efficiency of the service and the frustration of rush hours. To that we shall add also the last train rush, because public transport shuts down more or less around midnight.
Trains, metro and buses are packed with commuters so densely that often there is the need for a station officer to be there and push people in the train cars in order to allow the doors to close, or a bus driver to command its passengers to squeeze in as much as they can.
groucho on Flickr
Foreign tourists wonder why these people don't wait for the next train available, given the punctuality and efficiency of the public transport...in fact during the day trains run every three minutes, moving an insane volume of people from point A to point B.
The reason why commuters can't wait lies in the same punctuality and efficiency of the service: it is true that thanks to an intricate net of several dozens of lines covering the entire metropolis, commuters can reach their destination without too much walking; but it is also true that often they have to resort to a few transfers along the route. And the transfers often allow for only a handful of minutes in between, so that if a commuter misses a train at a certain time, that commuter will likely miss all subsequent connections, accumulating huge delays.
If you visit Tokyo, expect to experience some or all of the following:
1- Lining up in an orderly fashion. People orderly lining up by both sides of the train doors, waiting first for people to get off the train and then get in. During rush hours such order will diminish in favor of some more chaos.
Rog01 on Flickr
2- Packed trains. At least once a day in at least one of the main stations in Tokyo, commuters squeeze up to the point that nobody can move. It is disadvantageous to shorter people, as they will be entirely crushed and lacking fresh air for as long as their ride lasts. Changes in speed, such as sudden stops or accelerations cause people to fall on others, squeezing them even more.
Helen K on Flickr
3- Packed stations. Many areas in Tokyo are touristic spots, but not often are their stations big. Which means that to enter/exit and walk through the stations feels claustrophobic and disorienting.
4- Last train. Not only the last 4 or 3 trains tend to be crowded, but they also tend to delay a bit. Outside of the rush hours (between 7 and 9 in the morning and 5 and 7 in the evening), train frequency is lower and that's when one or two minute delays can happen without too many consequences. Usually it happens because some people are either too drunk or too sleepy to cause disruption of the service by dropping something on the tracks, or falling or getting their belongings caught between the train doors...
5- Sleepy people. Especially mornings are the toughest. People commute for very long distances every day, so it is not unusual to see a lot of them falling asleep, sometimes snoring even, and missing their stop at times. Same thing can happen in the evening, at the end of a long day. But in general, the Japanese are good at dozing off pretty much any time.
6- Drunk people. This is definitely a night and weekend trend. Groups of friends or coworkers get together after for dinner and for one drink too many. The result is loud and red faced people who have to hold on to each other in order to stand straight. Many of them feel sick as well, or sometimes they are so exhausted and drunk that they pass out on the platform, or in the train, or anywhere they happen to be at that moment.
Unless you come from densely populated cities like HK or NYC, you better prepare to be overwhelmed. You will see hundreds of thousands people in every station, rushing in all directions and often not caring about other people in their way while in a hurry. Also, weekend and holiday seasons are a challenge because most of the people can actually travel all on the same times of the year, so everywhere you go be prepared to share the (little) space with many others going exactly to the same place you're going.
zkiraly on Flickr