Monday, August 24, 2009

The Subway Zombies of Tokyo

My first day in Tokyo on business found me nervous about trying to remember the basics of making a good impression in Japan. Co-workers who had been before showed me how to purchase the correct joint ticket for our connecting journey using the two independent operators of the massive Tokyo Metro system. What my colleagues failed to inform me of as part of the experience was the show that was about to begin as soon as the train left the station.

The Suitengumae subway station is directly below our hotel, the Royal Park which featured a cross-walk connecting it to the Tokyo City Air Terminal. From there we transferred at Jimbocho for the rest of our trip to Kasuga where our offices were, a few blocks north of the Tokyo Dome, home of the Giants baseball club. As the train pulled out a stream of passengers began shuffling single file thru the car, making their way deeper in to the belly of the snake slithering beneath the teeming city above.

At first I was confused. There was plenty of open seating and hand grips yet they marched steadily onward. Subway Zombies. I then wondered if they didn’t want to sit next to the “gaikokujin” (foreigner) or worse, if my three scrubbings in the shower that morning was one scrubbing short for the famously fastidious Japanese.

We slowly learned that each train stops at precisely the same location at every station, all of which are served by several access points to the street above. Instead of fighting thru crowded platforms to the car closest to their preferred exit they peacefully, robotically walked the length of the open-ended train while in transit.

No one pushed or shoved. Indeed, on our routing we did not see any of the famous platform “Pushers” who intimately squeeze more riders on board before the doors closed. Once they reached their preferred car each zombie would peel off in stride, stepping out of the way for the others to wordlessly continue unabated. Those already set knew to keep the center clear so the Zombies could find their place as we wound our way across town. Polite, respectful, efficient. Sleepy.

We never made being a Subway Zombie work for us but the show wasn’t over yet. Tokyo revealed a whole new kind of endless commute which included some riders needing two subways, two trains, some buses and three hours each way to get to and from work.

Back at Suitengumae on the way home, bleary eyed riders would wake up, look around and realize that they had slept thru their connecting station somewhere back up the line. As we made our way up stairs and elevators to the sanctuary of our rooms, the Subway Zombies of Tokyo sighed their weary sighs below, trudged across the platform to the next train heading in the other direction, took a seat and, hoping for better timing, promptly fell asleep again.

Gotta go!

No comments:

Post a Comment