By: Vincent Jenkins
Skyscrapers, Trains, and People, oh my! A metropolitan characterized by its bustling neon filled streets, complicated metro system, and abundance of people, Tokyo is a place that is rivaled by no other.
While Tokyo is quite different to other metropolitan areas it is similar as well. Waking up to sounds of ambulances and trying not to get hit by a taxi are all familiar occurrences from my home of Los Angeles. With that being said Tokyo is different from Los Angeles in that Tokyo is not a city. By definition, Tokyo is a Japanese prefecture and within that prefecture are different wards and divisions such as Akihabara and Shibuya. Starting off my day meant walking to a part of Tokyo known as Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) to travel to our host institution, Meiji University. With all the familiarity of home one can find a McDonalds, with better orange juice than you’ll get back in the States, teenagers walking with their faces in their phones, and a bicyclist who is late to work.
Growing up in a rather large city like Los Angeles, being in Tokyo seemed familiar and during my time here I have found myself feeling at home. With class at Meiji University over in the morning it was time to navigate Tokyo’s complicated metro system to get to Shinagawa (品川) for a meeting at Microsoft Japan. In terms of public transportation, Tokyo, and by extension Japan as a whole, has the entire Western Hemisphere beat in efficiency and reliability. When the schedule says a train is leaving at 9:33 that train is leaving at 9:33, with or without you. For someone who has never ridden on a large public transit system the task can be overwhelming but with English signs, a color coded line system, helpful station personnel, and an even more helpful transit app, navigating Tokyo public transit can be done. A transfer and a few stops later I found myself in the heart of Shinagawa’s business district, surrounded by business people during the lunch rush.
Finishing my meeting at Microsoft I was now free to go about my day. I could return to Meiji to work on research or find somewhere a little more scenic. While on the platform at Shinagawa station I made a last second decision and decided to hope on the train to Shibuya. Navigating through the construction within Shibuya station I was greeted by the famed Shibuya crossing. With billboards on billboards and lights that could be seen from space it was indeed a sight to behold. Surrounded by tourists and their cameras I spotted something that everyone on USC’s campus is all too familiar with – Starbucks. With its location in Shibuya this particular Starbucks was filled with people but a decent amount of said people were not there for Seattle’s best, but instead wanted a glimpse of the Shibuya Crossing Rush from a higher vantage point. Not able to get a glimpse of the rush from a window myself I settled with doing paperwork for the next few hours at a nearby viewless table. With paperwork done and exhaustion settling in, it was time to head back to Meiji University, but what awaited me was something that I hope to only experience once.
With the help of my Japan transit app I figured out the fastest way back to Meiji was via the Saikyo Line (埼京線) and to say this was a bad idea is an understatement. One of the more notable videos about Tokyo’s metro system consists of passengers being pushed into packed trains by station personnel hoping to keep everything on schedule. I can now say confidently first hand that I have experienced such an event and would not recommend it for the faint of heart. With no concept of personal space we were all packed into a steel tube on wheels until reaching our individual destinations. Assaulted by an assortment of smells, weird glares of trying to figure out who pushed who, and the occasional coughing riding the Saikyo Line during rush hour on a Tuesday is not a fun experience. Luckily for myself I only needed to ride said train for one stop and walking off of, or rather being pushed off of that train, was a relief I haven’t felt since finals season ended.
At the end of the day one thing cannot be disputed, Tokyo is a large metropolis. It has a population of over 37.8 million people, a transit system that, while sometimes cramp, is rivaled by no other, and more ramen places that one hopes to try in a lifetime. With its large population and humid weather it is a marvel of human ingenuity and persistence to survive the day to day of work and social life. Tokyo you are a crowded and complicated city like no other, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.