Subway Scenes from Tokyo, Japan


Some of my best moments were spent in subways in Japan. I found it the singular most fascinating place to people watch and come to understand the idiosyncrasies that typify the Japanese. There are so many rules both spoken and others that were merely social norms, it was inevitable I broke them. And believe me, I probably broke all of them. Some of them are: do not talk on the train, do not put makeup on, do not eat, do not drink, and especially, never, ever make eye contact with anyone else. They hate that!

However, as a foreigner living there I was something of a curiosity to them and they really wanted to stare. Staring is considered sooooo rude in their culture though. One of my favorite games was watching them watching me trying not to get caught at it. The best way to do this was for me to face the windows as if looking outside the train. The windows are reflective though so I could see them very well. If I turned around to look, they would always be looking away. Facing the window though…..well…you get the idea.

Another anomaly I would experience was the occasional prejudice against me as an American. I didn’t take it personally. It’s just the way they are sometimes. Most often that meant no one would sit next to me on the train. Frankly, I loved and exploited this when it would happen. The train could be wall to wall with riders but no one would sit next to me. What a convenient place to set my purse and belongings! This never bothered me. Moreover, mothers with children would usually have one of two reactions to me getting on the train. They would either take their children and go as far away as they could from me, or, conversely, push their children at me while saying “Engrish, Engrish….practice Engrish.” This always brought a smile to my face.

Another peccadillo of Japanese culture is the premise of pretending to sleep. This is an extremely common and socially acceptable way to avoid having to look at or talk to anyone else on the train. One out of three riders would pretend to sleep. The instant the train stopped at their stop though, they jumped up and were off the train.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

A typical rider gets on the train.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

And instantly pretends to be asleep so as not to engage anyone else.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

This was a humorous solution I recently found to the swaying issue when pretending to sleep on the train.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

This lady was so elegant in her kimono.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

This lady is wearing something called a Yukuta. It’s like a kimono but less expensive and more every day wear.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

This handsome fellow is wearing “geta” on his feet. These are the traditional wooden sandals they wear.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

This was an ad inside the train.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Also an advertisement.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Main entrance to Ebisu Station in Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Sign for Ebisu Station in Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Looking out the window onto a typical Japanese street scene.

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Inside a station.

`Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

I just really dug the pattern as it curved to the right

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

Subways and Trains, Tokyo, Japan

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One thought on “Subway Scenes from Tokyo, Japan

  1. Q: I especially liked the one where the person with the helmet is attached to the window. Is that for real or is it a joke?

    A: It has to be a joke. I never saw anything like this and since the average Japanese detests attention drawn to them, I’m pretty sure about that/

    Q. What is the origin of the wooden shoes?
    A. Origin unknown. Back in the day, shoes were fairly rudimentary. It’s probably a weird holdover.

    Q: Why kimonos still ‘today’ while others wear regular clothes? Do they still really wear out in public?

    A: Japan is a study in contrasts. For the same reason some folks still wear geta sandals, others wear kimono. Even men will wear a male version of this although with more of a long jacket over pajama like pants. You don’t see young people dressing in these heavy clothes as a rule but they do dress up in them for special events…family get togethers and holidays. And, of course, geisha wear them. Geisha are not in Tokyo though and you don’t see them popping about in train stations. They emerge about 6 PM and are ferried to their tea house and party appointments. So while you have a culture that will choose to dress in crazy outfits and have colored hair, there is just as strong a group that adheres to older customs. They coexist side by side without friction.

    Q: With their dislike of Americans and/or watching people….I am surprised that they did not object to you taking pictures.

    A: While I have cultivated the ability to take discreet photos, sometimes I flat out point and shoot. I’m sure they greatly objected……just….not out loud. The Japanese don’t complain. They don’t point out others who break the rules. They will not call you out. They just don’t do that. But, inside they are probably wishing some horrible shit on you inside their heads.

    *Note – There were times when I would exploit this trait I’m not ashamed to say. For example when I couldn’t figure out how much fare adjustment to pay in train stations, I would blast through the turnstile which would try to trap me whilst a loud bell went off because the correct fare hadn’t been paid. If I had time, I’d turn around and hunt someone down to help me figure it out. If I was in a hurry, I’d just go right through because I knew no one would even look at me sideways over it.

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