Tokyo night train ride and the No.1 rule

Downward escalator to train station platform in Tokyo

Tozai line has always been packed with people, and unsurprisingly it was always neat and quiet, regardless of how many peeps you were being squeezed in between. But tonight is different. There are only a few scattered around on the two parallel aisles of the car. There are vibes of wine and smoke, and men talking jokes lousily. When the night comes, they let themselves loose, and be more uplifting, more cheering, more liberating in a way. Light blinks and this melodic music goes off when we reach the station. I am glad that nobody is rushing. Tonight everybody is chill. I am just too enjoying this positive mood for a while on the way walking back.

people inside of a train
Photo by Dexter Armiza on

Speaking from experience, I always have this anxiety of taking trains in Tokyo. You may ask, “Isn’t it one of the safest train ride among all of the other places? Isn’t it one of the most well-operated transportation system in the world? Isn’t it so clean, so neat, so tidy that you should feel like heaven walking in?” I can easily say “Yes” to all, but they do not justify the reason for why one would feel that way. So I have been searching for the answer, and interestingly it comes from something I have been well aware of for a long time. It was the rule number one.

Rule Number One: “Do Not Disturb Others”.

No, don’t ever talk to strangers on train nor look at them straight into the face because although it does not violate any formal law, you can be scorned for being invasive into their personal space for doing so. The next time someone taps you onto your shoulder is not going to come with a smile, but with a glare and harsh judgment for sitting too close to them. No personal contact at its best. The norm, however, serves its purpose for respecting everybody’s needs for limited space in an overflowing crowd, especially on the train, but the norm does not extend to only that. Its implication is presented in another aspect of culture here in Tokyo. There is a restaurant where you can sit by yourself, facing off the wall, so you can avoid all the exhausting contact with peeps, or avoid yourself from disturbing others.

person in black hoodie sitting on train bench
Photo by Steven Arenas on

In my opinion, this norm was the cause of “paradoxical loneliness” in the place. Suddenly you would have the fear of disturbing others, then you would start distance yourself from contacting or communicating with others, because of the fear of disturbing them. You are scared of letting others down. In a collective-oriented landscape like Japan, getting along with others are important. Harmony is important, they say. So, don’t disturb. Eventually, there occurred a harmonized level of interaction, which is zero interaction.

So tonight, I see people talk on the train. There is interaction, which appears to be authentic, joyful, and warm. Of course, you see peeps interact energetically elsewhere in coffee shops, in schools, in festivals, and much other public, social spaces. But although trains in Tokyo is public, it does not seem to be so social, thus seeing some level of casualty there was something interesting and intricate for me. My friend, on the other hand, love the utter quietness on the train, and also described it as an absolutely amazing experience. Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of culture peeps here has the ability to do, thanks to the rule number one that I have mentioned. Perhaps it’s a thing I must learn to accept and work my way around it. Regardless, while leaving the station, I recall to countless moments when I had interesting conversations with strangers in the queue, on the bus, or on the airplane that I have had. For a lot of people, it can be a risky endeavor, but for me, it’s one of million chance to meet one person, and it’s always a valuable opportunity to learn about peeps who do different things, walk different paths, and live totally different lives from what I have known.


Published by Igobiebb

B (Q.Trang) is a creative multipotentialite who has lived away from home since fourteen, currently living in Tokyo city. She loves writing, cooking, swimming, talking to people and chasing thrills.

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