Tokyo’s Subway (Part I)

Posted on February 7, 2012

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30 years on, I finally took up Mahathir Mohamad’s ‘Look East Policy’ and went on a holiday in Tokyo, Japan. I realise that despite living in Malaysia, the only other Asian countries I’ve visited are neighbouring Singapore and Thailand. While it’s quite natural for us to venture further into completely foreign lands, in my case Australasia and Western Europe, it’s also true that we’ve got equally diverse cultures right here in Asia that deserve to be explored.

 What I miss since returning to Kuala Lumpur is the lack of mass public transport. While public transport can at times be cramped and you’ll occasionally end up next to some smelly or loud person, the overall experience, even the not-so-pleasant ones, broaden your exposure and makes life a little more interesting, during those times when you encounter someone new, or bump into a familiar face. Driving a car, on the other hand, is a soul-killing endeavour, especially in Kuala Lumpur where you are often frustrated by the traffic jam, no parking spots, roadblocks and terrible drivers. Like many cities in Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is a city that was built to accommodate cars, not people.

 Tokyo, on the other hand, is a public transport haven. From Haneda International Airport, we took the last train (around 11.45 pm) to the city centre. Our hotel was a mere 5 minutes’ walk from the subway station in Ikebukuro.

It is true that the subway stations in Tokyo lack the individual eccentricity of Paris’ subway system, where many of the stations have their own themes – the décor of Arts et Metier station is inspired by Jules Verne’s 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea, while the Louvre station features Roman sculptures. But what the Tokyo stations lack in individuality, they more than make up for in the way they are so completely integrated into the daily lives of Tokyoites. The major stations, like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Ueno, are incorporated into vast shopping centres, food halls, bakeries, supermarkets, and are within close proximity to major attractions. So that, although Tokyo itself is a confusing maze, it is relatively easy to find your way around the major places of interest, as they are invariably within walking distance from the subway station.

 What you will notice soon enough, is that in the subway stations, like pretty much all of Tokyo, rubbish bins are nowhere to be found. Yet the city is amazingly clean, and I feel sorry for the city sweepers who have to actually hunt for rubbish, almost always ending up with meagre pieces of paper. What people do instead, is keep their rubbish with them, and dispose of it at home.

 The photos above are snapshots of the subway system in Tokyo, during our daily rides crisscrossing this great city. 

Posted in: Tokyo, Uncategorized