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Tokyo: Mass Transit, Mass Confusion

Mass Transit; Tokyo, Japan

I’ve never climbed Mt. Everest, hiked the Inca Trail, or even bungee-jumped.

But after a great deal of trial and error, I have conquered (barely) one of the world’s most difficult travel challenges – the Tokyo mass transit system.

With 882 stations, Tokyo’s subways and trains transport 40 million passengers to school and work each day, making it easily the largest and most complicated mass transit system in the world.  This map at the Ueno train and subway station near my Tokyo hotel illustrates the complexity of getting around the city.

I found the map more difficult to decipher than a James Joyce novel.

Inside a crowded Tokyo train during rush hour.

Everything is automated so you buy your tickets from vending machines.  And good luck finding someone to ask for help.  In fact, I was surprised at how few people in Tokyo spoke English.

Nevertheless, I only had a few relatively minor snafus.  I got on the wrong train once, but quickly realized my mistake and was able to get off after the first stop and hop-on the correct train across the platform.

When first arriving in Japan, I did fine getting from Narita Airport to the station closest to my hotel.  But what should have been a five-minute walk from the train to my hotel, took me about an hour (in the pouring rain).  In my part of town, not many street signs were in English.

Admittedly, in terms of degree of difficulty, getting from point A to point B in Tokyo is nothing close to scaling Mt. Everest.  But at the end of my week in Japan, I did feel a sense of accomplishment.

Now if I could only figure out how to use chopsticks …

The Ueno train station in Tokyo, Japan.  

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2012


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