How to survive Tokyo’s subway sandwich

The Gateway goes behind the scenes of the world’s major transport hubs, revealing the logistics that keep goods and people moving. This month, the show is in Tokyo, Japan.

Story highlights

24 million passengers use the Tokyo rail and subway network every day

Rush hour periods can be overwhelming and exhausting experiences for the uninitiated

CNN speaks to freelance writer and Tokyo resident, Sandra Barron on how to traverse the Tokyo subway

CNN  — 

Japan is known the world over for its supreme train network. In the capital Tokyo, nearly half of all commuters travel by train, heavily outweighing other modes of transport like cycling, buses and private transport.

Of the 48% of people who use the public rail network, 22% use the city’s vast subway network.

Sandra Barron is an American freelance writer who has lived in Tokyo for the last five years. Having spent the previous 10 years in New York, she is a seasoned subway rider. But nothing could have prepared her for the congested world of the Tokyo subway.

Subway sandwich

“The peak rush hour is really unbelievable. I’ve only been a few times and I’ve really made an effort to avoid it ever since because it is really crowded. It’s like a cattle cart,” Barron told CNN.

“It’s just bodies squished as tightly as you can be into a small space. You can see people whose feet aren’t touching the ground sometimes because they are wedged in so tightly,” she laughs.

Barron recalls a subway journey early into her stay in Tokyo. “It was just streamed with people … I basically couldn’t get on the first couple trains with my bag. I finally got on and if you aren’t paying attention and you are on the wrong side of the train, you might not be able to get out.”

‘Pushy’ staff

On both the rail and subway lines, train operators employ “oshiya” (or “pushers”).