I leave GGHQ in a mad scramble, always late, for the ten-minute walk to the station. Except now it's a fifteen-minute walk because I am wearing ridiculous heels, a suit, and am swinging a freakin’ handbag over my arm. The early morning stumble is interrupted by the traffic lights opposite Mejiro Station. Regardless of when I leave home, I have to wait at these lights for an interminable amount of time, along with about one thousand other people. The crowd is restless as we stare at the red man, willing him to turn green/blue. The little man is the equivalent of a starter gun for the mad dash across the road. The tension rises as we glance at each other with narrowed eyes, size each other up, and pick out the weak links in the line up. The course can be charted easily: dodge around the obasan — there's always at least one old lady blocking the way — push little kids out of the way, and leap over the shopping cart of another obasan. Sararimen are also fair game for any amount of pushing and shoving. Tripping is not uncommon.
The lights change, and we're off! Some whippersnappers jump the gun and head off at an almighty sprint, but they can be thwarted by the throngs coming out of the station. As ever, the spatial awareness lack, about which I have
And here beginneth the real fun.
The two-hundred metre long train roars into the station. I stare in astonishment at the faces pressed against the windows and the swarm of people crowded in the train. I bolt to the end of the platform, convinced that it will be less crowded at the back of the train. One thousand other people had this brainwave, apparently, as the last carriage is packed. A single salariman and I both push and shove our way onto the train. The doors close, muffling the jingle that is particular to Mejiro. (They all have their own tune!) With my nose pressed flat to the door’s window, I watch the blur of the built-up cityscape flash by as we race for two-minutes to the next station (the stations are two-minutes apart).
Takadanobaba: The sarariman and I hop off to allow people to disembark. Not a single body leaves the train. We get back on, followed by ten more people. Just so you know, the way to board a train in this instance is to step on backwards, thereby pushing people further into the train with the power of your arse. Just don’t let one rip.
Shin-Okubo: No connecting lines here, so things aren’t looking good. I’ve been pushed away from the safety of the door and am unable to reach a hand strap. My arms are pressed to my sides from the force of the people squashed around me, and at one point my feet are actually about one foot behind my centre of gravity. But we’re all like this – there’s nowhere to fall because there’s no space to fall. Each commuter is holding the other person up.
Shinjuku: Thank fuck for that! There are about ten connections here, so surely most folk will get off. About half disembark, and then another three-quarters shove their way in. By now, I am in the middle of the carriage, with warm bodies pressed on me from all sides. I haven’t had this much action for a while, which is freakin’ tragic on so many levels. It’s like a mosh-pit, but you can’t actually move. I still manage to carry out some stealth surveillance, though.
Yoyogi: As one of the few folk to have access to a handrail, I am single-handedly holding up the weight of everyone at one end of the carriage as the train screeches to a halt and everyone falls forward. But I can do this because I’m a superhero.
Harajuku: With a weak and shaking arm, we pull into this mecca for the young-uns. ‘Sweet fucking Jesus and holy bloody Mary,’ I realise I am muttering, wishing I had scoffed a couple of Bloody Marys before the trip, ‘For the love of god, make some people get off this fucking train!’ Not a soul moves. But more get on.
Shibuya: This is where the sweet relief starts. About three-quarters of the people get off at this station, and only about half get back on. These are good odds. It’s also the station where things get nasty. Not in a western, in-your-face kinda way — oh, I wish — but in a rude pushing and shoving way. And I mean serious pushing, people. I was given a great heave-ho by a bloke the other day, and neither of us were even getting off the train. Perhaps it’s a way to release the frustration and anger that one inevitably feels after having their space invaded.
Ebisu: More pushing; this time from me, as I try to get from wherever I am to the door to Get. Off. The. Fucking. Train. I stand on the platform for a moment to collect myself. My clothes are ripped to shreds, my hair is mussed, and my makeup smeared across my face. But ... fuck me, I made it.
The Yamanote Line train runs every two minutes. Almost to the second. And each train is like this during peak hour in Tokyo. And just crowded, thereafter.
I stumble out of the station, and head underground for the connecting subway ride…
Taken while waiting for a train at around 11.00pm, Ebisu station. Fun fact!
From Wikipedia: An estimated 3.5 million passengers ride every day on Tokyo's Yamanote Line, with its 29 stations. For comparison, the New York City Subway carries 4.8 million passengers per day on 26 lines serving 468 stations.