Useful knowledge: Avoiding the crowds on public transport

image by Hiroyuki Oyagi

Tokyo’s trains are famous all over the world for how full they are.

During rush hour, it’s not uncommon to see station attendants pushing the passengers spilling out of the carriage back through the doors and for commuters to be packed together like sardines.

Now, what if you had to lug a huge bag on board during those times. We shudder to think about how difficult such a task would be in of itself, nevermind all of the cold looks from the frustrated commuters…

Never fear though! We’re here to give you all the information you’ll need for avoiding these crowded nightmares.

200% capacity?! The craziest trains in Japan

So, you want to avoid the most crowded trains?

To achieve that, we’re first going to need to know the most crowded routes. According to an annual survey into passenger congestion by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, these are the worst routes in Tokyo for passenger overcrowding.

If you are due to use one of these lines, you should be careful.

1st: JR Tobu Line

2nd: JR Sobu Line (local trains)

3rd: JR Yokosuka Line

4th: JR Nanbu Line

5th: JR Tokaido Line, JR Nippori-Toneri Liner

6th: JR Keihin-Tohoku Line

7th: JR Saikyo Line

8th: Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line

9th: JR Chuo Line (rapid trains)

10th: JR Sobu Line (rapid trains)

How to measure train congestion (from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism homepage)

100% – You can either sit down, hold onto a strap, or hold onto the rail by the doors

150% – You can still read a newspaper without having to fold it

180% – You can still read a newspaper if you do your best to fold it up

200% – You’re packed in enough to be touching other people, but you can still read something small like a magazine

250% – Everytime the train sways, your body leans sideways, but you cannot move either your body or your hands.

According to this survey, the congestion rate of the JR Yamanote Line, which is used by lots of tourists, was 153% on the outer loop and 160% on the inner loop.

But based on this author’s experience, the congestion rate of even the lines not mentioned on this list is over 250% during rush hour. (I can’t even use my phone, nevermind move!)

Peak travel hours usually fall between 7:30 and 9:00 am. It’s probably the same in every country, but the trains are so crowded during business hours on weekdays and the weekend!

This problem is particularly striking in Tokyo, so if you can adjust your schedule and eating times to avoid rush hour, that will make traveling much easier.

You should also be aware that there are lots of natural disasters in Japan, like typhoons and hurricanes, which can also cripple public transport.

That’s why it’s also a good idea to find things that you can also do within walking distance of your accommodation.

Let’s use other public transport

  1. Taxis and Uber

But you’ve come all the way to Japan and you want to go everywhere and do everything you can during your stay here!

So if you really want to go a bit further out, taxis and Uber are two means of transportation that you can rely on.

Taxis in Tokyo aren’t exactly cheap, but since 2017 the base fare has been lowered from 700–730 yen to 380–410, which is at least a little better than before.

You can use the app “JapanTaxi” from the prominent Japanese cab company of the same name to book a taxi, look up estimated costs, and even pay. They have a set rate from the airport and the app can be used throughout all of Japan.
Lots of people are using Uber nowadays. According to the official Uber website, they have so far rolled out the Uber service to 14 cities within Japan, including Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. You can also use the service through the 23 wards that make up Tokyo and to/from Haneda Airport.

2-City buses

I hate crowds, so I often choose the bus over the train.

You can ride the city bus anywhere within the city for 210 yen and the buses come every few minutes, so there isn’t too much waiting around.

The only downside is that they take a little bit longer to get where they’re going than trains, so you may need a bit more free time to take them.

They’re never crowded though, so they are much more comfortable than the trains!

You can use your smartphone to look up routes and the current route of the bus.

Some countries like Singapore may have bus systems where you have to stick your hand out to indicate that you want the bus to let you on or you have to look out of the window and try and guess whether you are nearing your stop because there are no announcements on board, but Japanese buses are different.

They are much easier!

The bus pulls up at every stop, so you don’t need to hold your hand out.

You pay your fare when you get on the bus (you can even use Suica) and the next stop is always announced and displayed on a screen, so when you went to get off, simply buzz the bell and the driver will stop and open the doors for you to exit the bus.

3-Regional community buses

Lastly, we’re going to tell you all about the buses that travel through specific areas, which even a lot of Japanese people don’t know about. The fares are very reasonable, often 100 yen or even free, so anyone can use them and they’re extremely useful when it comes to sightseeing or shopping.

These are the free buses provided by Hinomaru Limousine Group. ① The Tokyo Bay Shuttle traverses the Odaiba area ② The Marunouchi Shuttle drives around the Shinmaru Building and Yurakucho ③ Metrolink Nihonbashi transfers passengers between the Yaesu Exit of Tokyo Station and Nihonbashi Station ④ Metrolink Nihonbashi E Line travels around the Ningyocho area.
It costs 100 yen to ride the Chii Bus in Minato Ward. You can always tell when a bus is a Chii Bus by the cute patterns on the side which were designed by local elementary school children. These buses cover nine routes, including the Tamachi route that travels between Tamachi Station and Roppongi Hills, the Aoyama route between Roppongi Hills and Omotesando, and the Shiba route between Tamachi Station and Shimbashi Station. The monitors inside the bus display information in four languages; Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean,
The Hachiko Bus in Shibuya Ward also costs 100 yen. You can tell which bus this is by the Hachiko cartoon on the side. This bus will take you from the Hachiko Exit in front of Shibuya Station towards Harajuku, Omotesando, Meiji Jingu Gaien and Yoyogi Station.

It can be tiring just to get around a crowded city like Tokyo, so we hope that this helps you to avoid the crowds and travel the city in a little more comfort!

One little tip before we go though; we know that it’s common to see people in other countries talking on their phone or listening to movies or music without headphones when they take a bus or train, but this is a no-no in Japan.

Inside the trains and buses in Japan you must set your phone to silent and refrain from talking on it! You might even be recommended to switch it off if you’re near the priority seating because of passengers with fitted medical devices, so please keep that in mind.

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