Thursday, January 1, 2009

How to's #13: Understand the eerie quietness of a Tokyo Train

World's most populated city, along with the most advanced rail systems....

Tokyo is famous for their crowded trains. Now, combine the idea your average encounter with Asians(likely to be Chinese, and loud) except multiply that by thousands... and you will probably have an image that it is unbearably NOISY!

However, Japan is quite the opposite.

When I say eerily quiet, I do mean it. You will never have heard such intense silence in your life (Except possibly a Japanese movie theater before a film starts...I'll explain in a future post)

There is generally some minimal noise created by living beings. Such as: coughing, shuffling, breathing... In the trains though, you are left with only the sounds of: the tracks, cellphone button clicking (e-mails), PSP's, tapping of a DS, or a rude person with earphones too loud. I can honestly hear a sneeze practically in the next car over.

Now for people who live in Japan for longer periods of time, you will likely have your handy iPod or mp3 player on hand all the time. But one of these days, you will forget to charge it or you didn't plug it in correctly...and BAM! It's your morning commute and you are deprived of your music and/or podcasts for the remainder of your journey. It is at that moment, when you realize that it's quiet....scary quiet.

To make things clear, the only time that it is not quiet is during the late evenings....which are usually loaded with drunken salary men and rowdy young people who are trying to catch the last train home.

In most countries, trains will be noisy...but it in Japan it is the norm to be near silent?

Well when I asked a number of my Japanese friends as well as students, the best understanding i can provide is it's historical context...

When trains were first introduced, it was a luxurious form of transportation. People would dress up, and exhibit a "proper" image. During that time, it would be rude and inappropriate to be boisterous. It is only over time, that the train system evolved to span the entirety of Japan...and grow into one of the world's most efficient systems. It may no longer be considered and a upper-class luxury anymore, but the importance of caring for others is still very much there

In addition, considering that you are often face-deep in somebody's armpit during a rush hour train...don't you think it's nicer that nobody is talking and yapping away letting their morning breath into the already stuffy train?

Although this is a generalized statement, Japanese people are very much the type to care for others. It is both a positive and negative attribute...But if you are to live or stay in Japan, it is one of the core understanding that is needed to understand Japanese culture...

So next time you are in the train...understand hat by being loud and inconsiderate of others, you would be infringing on another persons overall comfort and experience...Thus, it is important as foreigners that we respect and abide by this social rule of in train silence. Many foreigners feel it is stupid to abide by this rule..and that Japanese people simply care too much...but in the end...if you are in THEIR country, you should abide by THEIR rules.

So please....Don't be a BAD foreigner, and be courteous in the train. (don't eat on the train either!)

Please also read How to Survive a Rush Hour Train!

Suggestion on how to endure the silence:

  • keep you Ipod charged!
  • Podcast are your friend
  • Go to Kinokuniya to buy some books (hard to read in a rush hour train though)
  • Nintendo DS/PSP is a godsend! (i advise nintendo DS for it's more casual games and realtime games are ill advised)
  • Learn to sleep standing up (I did can you)
  • Cellphone e-mails ( I use to text my friends at's usually the
  • meditate


  1. nbalike said...

    Jordan 21
    Jordan 22
    Jordan 23

  2. Anonymous said...

    I'm a bad foreigner. Most days, I'm drinking a chuhai on the way home...

    At least I give up my seat to the people who could use it.

    ps - Love your blog. :) Am glad to see you back.

  3. Paul Schmidt said...

    Does this silence include the giggling and screeching high school girls and the banter of hogh school boys? Just wondering? I live in Kichijoji and have yet to experience in 25 years this quiet train you speak of.