You really have to experience Japanese commuter trains for yourself to gain a true appreciation. I don’t mean one-off tourist experiences for the bored but really do it every weekday for a month with a definite time and place you MUST arrive at. I’ve seen little children cry and women scream on these trains. If guns were legal in Japan we’d probably have “train rage” because things get quite intense.
Forget all those informative cultural videos about Japan that you might see in school about Japanese society placing a high value on ritual politeness because all that goes out the window during rush hour. Since Japan’s constitution officially renounces war and carrying a full military force, the samurai spirit must live on elsewhere and that elsewhere is the train. The Japanese commuter is a samurai and a ninja in the truest sense of the word. The only difference is they have no honor. It’s all survival.
It all starts with a mad dash up and down the train station stairways. If you have any walking disability or are short of breath avoid the public transport during peak hours at all costs because these stations are built for the fit and ready. I don’t know how many calories the Japanese population burns going up and down the stairs and switching trains or constantly shoving each other but I’m sure it contributes to reigning in obesity because there’s no way you could function in society without submitting to this regimen and gain significant weight at the same time. Commuting is a blood sport.
The only way to sit during your commute is to board the train at its origin or threaten a seated person with violence and make them give up their seat (which might make you late after visiting the police station). Otherwise, your chances of sitting are slim and your only consolation is to find an area in the train that doesn’t suck that much (the area around doors is popular since you have a wall you can lean on). The opening of a seat is like a life-and-death match of musical chairs only with no music. The typical jitteriness of a person about to disembark always alerts the hawk-eyed gladiators dying to sit down, starting a positioning war among those standing around the seat. You have to be quick and thick of skin to win because you’re bound to get some dirty looks.
The unfortunate standing masses get to enjoy the half hour to hour pleasure ride of getting jostled on the train as it makes gentle and not so gentle turns and pass through some rough patches. Then the train stops and you fight to stay inside the train while those disembarking try to push you off and out of their way.
Express trains are even worse and I’ve seen whole carriages cloud up from human steam. Too bad if you just picked up your suit from the cleaners because now it’s getting wrinkled, pressed and steamed with human sweat. I’ve seen unfortunate children (probably brothers) that got on such a train huddled together and crying from the experience. It’s also a paradise for some pervs or stressed out white collar workers to cop a feel from unsuspecting women. Of course the typical fare is the general pushing and shoving because trains are always packed beyond capacity. You don’t see station attendants pushing people into trains like the old days as much but space is definitely scarce.
Of course, this time around I’m blessed in that my commute is slightly off peak and I always have a seat on the way and back but it’s still a pretty intense affair. Everyday is a battle.