Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

2/03/2014

Our Crash Course on Japanese Public Transportation

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

On our very first trip to Japan, my husband and I landed in the Kansai airport. From there, our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to take public transport all the way to my sister in Kyoto.

As you can imagine, landing in a totally alien place with no means of communication to my only lifeline (my sister) is a pretty daunting prospect. The only thing that made it better was the knowledge that should I find myself lost, I would have my husband with me and a handy credit card.

Armed with my sister's instructions, we strode outside the Kansai airport and onto the Airport train. We stepped onto the wrong train at first, but luckily a really nice guy who spoke no English told us we were going the wrong way.

The super nice guy who spoke no English, but told us we were going on the wrong train. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Navigating the two train changes we had to take was a little bit easier. Just like New York City or Los Angeles, one had to read the signs and listen. Not all stations had English translations, so my sister thoughtfully sent us the Japanese characters for our crucial train stops. Of course, we didn't know to take Express or Local, so we resorted to a slower local pace where we were sure we wouldn't miss the station.

Our two-hour long trip to the city gave us plenty of opportunities to appreciate the Japanese public system.

First thing I had noticed: their system was huge! They had stations all over the country. If I had a command of the Japanese language, I'd probably make the most of it by going to as many places I can.

A sampling of Japan's rail network. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Second, their subway cars were like those 70s houses that lucked out by having super neat owners. Though the interior looked a little bit dated with moss green suede seating, it didn't really look all the worse for wear. There was no stink I could detect, nor were there stray pieces of trash.

Suede interior seating. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Finally, the Japanese were extremely courteous. Since we landed pretty late in the night, we were witness to a man striding out of the subway car and onto the platform, then promptly hurling his guts out. In response, the conductor halted his train and went to see if the man was okay.

"Wow, that conductor had time to stop and see to someone. That's amazing," I thought. We finally got to our destination about 30 minutes late, but we followed the instructions to the letter. We were safe!

Though we didn't need to book an emergency hotel, or anything drastic, witnessing that very human exchange on the subway platform made me realize that I might in a completely different land, but it's a place where people would care enough to stop for you. Perhaps I wouldn't have minded being lost here, after all.

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