The Quiet Calm of the Metro in Toyko, Japan

The neon lights and bustling crowds of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, Japan stimulate the senses like an endorphin release from a long run.  Above ground the city is a buzz of fast moving crowds and traffic. One would not expect in a city with nearly 40 million inhabitants to find such tranquility below ground.  

Riding one of Tokyo 13 metro lines, you’ll discover Japanese trains are designated quiet areas. Cell phones are placed on “matter mode” which you may recognize as silent mode.  The trains are truly pleasant areas to relax and enjoy your ride.  If you need a seat – no problem.  They will gladly give it up to you.

Culturally the Japanese are taught at a young age to be considerate and respectful of others.   They have an awareness of how their actions affect those around them. By talking loudly or using your phone on the metro, noise is created which may be unpleasant to your fellow passengers.  Since many in Toyko work long hours the metro is often a place to catch up on sleep.

Dressed in Kimonos, Tokyo, Japan
Dressed in Kimonos, Tokyo, Japan

The only time we heard anyone talking on a train is when a loud group of foreigners boarded.  Their back and forth banter certainly raised a number of eyebrows. In most cities their behavior would be considered normal, but in Toyko they stood out and not in a good way.  The thought ugly American came to mind.  It was not as if they were really doing anything bad.  But in Tokyo it was just out of place.

It’s really just a matter of education and culture. You need to be aware of your surroundings.  I recall when I was in Berlin and walking on the sidewalk a German man said to me in what I considered a rude tone “you should know where you are walking”.  I hadn’t realized I was walking in a bike lane.  Certainly I was in the wrong and should have known, but it could have been delivered better as well.

We could all learn a lesson from the Japanese to be more respectful of others.  While riding the metro in Boston, a man next to me was having a loud and obnoxious business discussion on his phone.  I didn’t care to hear his conversation, and frankly I would have liked to have enjoyed my quiet train ride and my book.  Likewise many might agree that using a phone while eating a restaurant is not only disrespectful of others, it’s also rude and annoying.  Regardless many continue to do it either out of ignorance or apathy.  Like anything else, through education and enforcement people can be trained to be more considerate of others.

Likewise in Mexico you see photos circulating on Facebook comparing the Japanese metro to that in Japan.  In Mexico it’s crowded with push and shove. In Japan it’s polite with lines and organization.  It makes me wonder when the rest of the world is going to catch on. I’m not saying Japan is perfect, but the politeness and consideration is very attractive.

Both Allan and I felt we could live in Japan, preferably in the south where it’s warmer.  We like quiet and we certainly love organization.  The food is also amazing.  My goal is to find ramen soup as good as you can get in Japan.

Shinjuku Crossing, Tokyo, Japan
Shinjuku Crossing, Tokyo, Japan

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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