Illustration by Annie Kamio, Stripes Japan
Illustration by Annie Kamio, Stripes Japan

In Japan, taking the trains isn’t just for grown-ups

by Savannah Southerland
Zama American High School 11th Grader

There are a wide number of things that make Japan stand out, whether it be its unique food, unusual city attractions or their fascinating culture. One thing that is particularly intriguing is Japan’s most popular means of transportation: the train system.

Almost everyone I know uses or has used the Tokyo train system. Some people are better at it than others, and some people have certain advantages – such as the ability to read and/or speak Japanese—but it can be accomplished by anyone. Here even children take the train, and it is not uncommon to see preschoolers in their cute boat hats and randoseru backpacks traveling alone.

As opposed to most U.S. train or subway systems, Japan’s train lines are known for their punctuality, organization, cleanliness and, overall, for being safe.

I have lived in Japan for a total of four years, and not once have I had an unpleasant experience while riding the train. Before moving here, my parents were a bit unsure about letting me take the train. It took a while (and a lot of convincing) to reassure them that it was safe and easier than asking them to drive me places.

At first, I was a little scared about riding the train by myself, but it gets easier with time. Once I started to become more comfortable with the way everything works, it became like second nature. I first rode the train alone when I was 15, and it was only a couple of stops to my destination. I can say with honesty that I was nervous, but afterwards it was a feeling of accomplishment when I successfully arrived at my location.

When traveling with my friends to Machida or Shibuya, taking the train is part of the fun. We gaze out the window to comment on passing buildings and we share music while trying our best to contain our laughter on train cars so quiet they’d put any library to shame. In Tokyo, the simple act of riding the train with friends becomes an experience in and of itself.

The train system has English signage so getting around is not too difficult. Though, riding with a friend or a group of friends does make it a bit easier. The last thing you want is to lose sight of your destination or accidentally take the wrong train, not have any clue where you are, and to be doing it alone might not be very fun.

Maps and apps

It is probably a good idea to download a map-based smartphone app. Trying to memorize all the train lines and stops is nearly impossible, so apps like Google Maps, Navitime, etc., will help get you to where you’re going and back home again. Personally, I like to use Google Maps because it is easy to follow and gives me all the information I need to know (price, time, train line, etc.). Another useful tip would be to carry a portable charger when traveling long distances, as it is easy to get carried away on your phone and lose battery life.

When I first arrived in Japan, I had a friend who knew her way without needing an app. In the summer of 2017, we took a trip to Harajuku with a group of friends and didn’t have to worry because she was our guide. We rode the train for hours, which I can honestly say was one of the best parts of the trip. Standing wedged between people during rush hour, trying to catch an empty seat that opened and containing our laughter as we narrowly missed falling on others whenever the train switched tracks were all part of the experience.

Proper etiquette

Though traveling on the train with friends can be fun, it is important to remember the proper etiquette expected of passengers. As I mentioned before, the trains here are extremely quiet and to be noisy or disruptive is considered rude. Also, speaking on your cellphone or listening to music without earphones are both big no-no’s here. You also may want to pay attention to the markings on the platform floors as these will tell you where to stand to wait for your train, whether the door your entering is where the handicap-accessible seats are, and where to line up behind others who are also taking your same train. If you want to be courteous of the Japanese, it is encouraged that you adapt to their customs. It’s okay to have a good time when you are on the train, but try not to be too rowdy.

Also, don’t forget to grab a Pasmo or Suica card to pay for your train fare which only requires a tap on the scanner pad to enter the station gates. Get one at the machines near the gate of any station. These cards are rechargeable and mean you won’t have to figure out what type of ticket you need to get to your destination. The cards are also accepted as payment at various convenience stores and vending machines.

To conclude, parents and fellow teens should not fear the trains of Japan. They are incredibly easy to use and are overall more efficient than other means of transportation. As long as you have the correct tools, traveling by train should be easy peasy.

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