Gettin' around

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June 21st 2007
Published: June 21st 2007
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walking in Himiwalking in Himiwalking in Himi

Note the covered drainge ditch.
If not for Japan's exceptional train and subway system, I doubt Jeremiah and I would have visited so many amazing places during our visit. The subways transported us all throughout Tokyo and the JR trains, ferries, and buses carried us the rest of the way. For those times when we were lost as to which train we should take or what platform number we were supposed to be standing on, a helpful employee or fellow commuter kindly showed us the way.

These feet were made for walking

Okay reader, if you're rolling your eyes because walking is something we've all been doing since the ripe old age of one, please understand that we did a LOT of walking. Jer estimated that we walked approximately ten miles each day--which explains why, despite eating deep-fried breaded pork cutlets and ice cream daily, I lost a couple of pounds.

Anyhow, walking in Japan is totally different than walking other places. You must walk up multiple flights of steps to get to and from the subway, often against the flow of people. The sidewalks contain rubber bumpy pathways (for the blind) that you could potentially trip over. On roads without sidewalks, you
Toyota Showroom, TokyoToyota Showroom, TokyoToyota Showroom, Tokyo

Hollie sits in our magically-steered smartcar. We cruised all around the showroom and the surrounding area outside.
risk falling into an uncovered drainage trench--fondly referred to as "Gaijin Traps." Things like that. Yep, I'm being a little sarcastic. We walked a lot, though.

Driving on the other side of the road

In Japan, drivers are located on the right side of the vehicle and drive on the left side of the road. This might not seem too important since we weren't driving, but I was freaked out, on several occasions, when I anticipated cars approaching from the wrong side of the road. It played with my head a little. No matter how hard I tried to retrain myself, I never fully grasped this seemingly minor difference in driving techniques. I doubt it bothered Jeremiah as much since he learned to drive in Australia.

This actually did effect us daily since pedestrian traffic mirrored its motorized counterparts. We tried to keep to the left on sidewalks but occasionally suffered from drift. This occurred most often on bridges when the water mesmerized us--okay me--with its sparkling, wavering qualities. Many times, it seemed that the "stay to such-and-such side of the road/sidewalk" seemed to matter little and people parted in front of us. After a while, we cared
bicycles in Asakusa, Tokyobicycles in Asakusa, Tokyobicycles in Asakusa, Tokyo

A small row of bicycles.
little about adhering to "the rules," embraced our inner Gaijins, and took up as much of the sidewalk as we could.


The majority of the population appears to either bicycle or scooter. Helmets appeared to be optional. Some scooters were dressed up to look more menacing and powerful, like rocket-style motorcycles. They were presumed macho until they were heard "zipping" past. We'd anticipate a deep roar of a tempestuous lion and our ears were greeted with the mild buzz of a bumblebee.

On our first evening, while we wandered up and down the somewhat empty streets of Asakusa, Jeremiah and I observed a large number of bicycles parked along one entire side of the sidewalks. What amazed us more was that none of the bikes appeared to be locked up--at the very least, they weren't secured to posts or railings. To a pair of city dwellers who lock up their folding deck chairs, this practice seemed unusual.

A lot of people bicycle. Old ladies bicycle, business men bicycle. Most amusing were the people holding umbrellas in the rain while cycling. This seemed like a practice in futility. Cyclists share the sidewalk with the pedestrians. It wasn't
subway carsubway carsubway car

Our stop was the very last one, so the car always started out and ended pretty empty.
uncommon to hear the tinny chime from someone ringing their bike bell somewhere behind us and willing us to move our Gaijin butts out of their way.

We only biked when we stayed with Adam in Uozu. I was really out of practice. Thankfully, the only time I steered catawampus and ended up in the middle of the road there was no approaching traffic, since I forgot which side of the street it would come from.


The Japanese have mastered the task of transporting huge masses of people efficiently and effectively. I'm not exaggerating when I say you could set your watch based on the train and subway arrival times. Since we were sometimes in areas lacking the Roman Alphabet spellings of places, punctuality proved useful. When the only decipherable things are arrival times, it helps when the trains are on time.

People-watching on the subways was entertaining. In Tokyo, the majority of the subway cars were whisper-quiet, with only occasional gaggles of giggling schoolgirls and the overhead station announcements cutting through the sometimes maddening silence. Unlike in the States, where people happily gab loudly on their cell phones in public places and completely disregard anyone
subway goodnesssubway goodnesssubway goodness

I'm not sure of what station we were at, but this was in Tokyo
else around them, the commuters in Japan are much more considerate. Cell phones--ketai--are silenced. Half of the occupants of the subway car may have their ketais out, but they silently punch out text messages.

The remaining people listen to their mp3 players (with headphones, of course, and not too loud so that everyone can still hear) and read or sleep. Yes, sleep. During our first train ride from Narita airport, we witnessed a woman nod off--her head tilted forward slightly while the rest of her remained rigidly upright--and drool all over the front of her blouse. Poor thing. Actually, people fell asleep quite a lot while riding the subways and trains. Each JR train station in Tokyo has its own loud, distinctive chime to alert the snoozers of their stops.

The subways got really crowded. At Tokyo station on our first morning, we stood in a relatively empty, open-spaced corridor that suddenly flooded with determined businessmen and women, all identically dressed in suits and carrying similar-looking black soft leather briefcases. Only the clack-clack of their hard-soled oxfords against the tile flooring indicated their en masse approach and exit.

There were times when the subway cars we were
an empty platform, Tokyoan empty platform, Tokyoan empty platform, Tokyo

We must have just missed the train.
riding became so full that I sympathized with the multiple clowns who cram themselves into VW Bugs. I was nearly knocked off of my feet on several occassions because there was nowhere for my legs to go but I was shoved so forcefully that my torso moved despite the immobility of my lower half. A couple of times, when the cars were so packed in that we were envious of the extra room allotted sardines in a can, I thought the people waiting on the platform might forgo packing themselves onto our claustrophobia-inducing subway car and wait for the next train. Oh, how wrong I was. They were very determined people. It's fortunate that the Japanese are a relatively skinny lot.

By the end of our visit, Jeremiah had mastered the subway system. Most of the ticket machines were in English, but, especially toward the latter part of our trip, Jeremiah wasn't phased by the non-English ones. We only bought the wrong ticket once, which was easily corrected by the attendant on hand who put a special stamp on our tickets for the next attendant at the correct gate to accept. I imagine it said something like, "Stupid Gaijin
subway signagesubway signagesubway signage

It's only an arrow, but those suckers proved *very* useful
made silly mistake."

If you're wondering about bullet trains, don't worry. We rode 'em, and we have the photos to prove it. They deserve a post all their own.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Subway, TokyoSubway, Tokyo
Subway, Tokyo

Hollie and Domo-kun wait for the train.
Tokyo Station, TokyoTokyo Station, Tokyo
Tokyo Station, Tokyo

Things were much more crowded underfoot in the subways.
JR train platform, TokyoJR train platform, Tokyo
JR train platform, Tokyo

Now we know what cows feel like.
In Shinjuku, TokyoIn Shinjuku, Tokyo
In Shinjuku, Tokyo

Notice the dots on the sidewalk? Braille for the feet.
look at 'em alllook at 'em all
look at 'em all

People crossing the street in Tokyo
Sky Train, TokyoSky Train, Tokyo
Sky Train, Tokyo

The view from the train of Rainbow Bridge.
Traffic in Harajuku, TokyoTraffic in Harajuku, Tokyo
Traffic in Harajuku, Tokyo

The traffic as viewed from a pedestrian footbridge.
hitting the pavement in Osakahitting the pavement in Osaka
hitting the pavement in Osaka

Adam and Justus bravely forge a path just ahead of us.
shopping street, Osakashopping street, Osaka
shopping street, Osaka

Check out all of the bicycles parked down the center.
hiking uphill on Miyajimahiking uphill on Miyajima
hiking uphill on Miyajima

Oh no! Hollie falls into one of those pesky Gaijin traps
heading uphill, Miyajimaheading uphill, Miyajima
heading uphill, Miyajima

Another example of how we got around.
Mount Misen, MiyajimaMount Misen, Miyajima
Mount Misen, Miyajima

We must be heading downhill, I'm smiling.
The train to Mt. FujiThe train to Mt. Fuji
The train to Mt. Fuji

In case you're not sure of where the train will take you, it's decorated.
Toyota Showroom, TokyoToyota Showroom, Tokyo
Toyota Showroom, Tokyo

Jeremiah pretends to drive
Toyota Showroom, TokyoToyota Showroom, Tokyo
Toyota Showroom, Tokyo

A view of the showroom "from the road."
Toyota Showroom, TokyoToyota Showroom, Tokyo
Toyota Showroom, Tokyo

A view "of the road."
sweet ridessweet rides
sweet rides

Adam's bikes, which he generously lent to us. My favorite was Captain Stag (on the right).

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