That Friday evening after returning to Gotanda from Kamakura, I realized that this would be the last time I would be on the subway before leaving Tokyo. As I rode the escalator exiting the station, I saw the billboard for “Tipness Fitness” which had been running an advertisement campaign throughout the spring. Although there were many other engaging and dynamic advertisements, I always liked seeing this particular ad because it seemed to capture the frantic energy of the subway and the exuberant youthful spirit I felt embodied many people I had met in Tokyo.
I recounted how I overcame my fear of Tokyo’s challenging, sprawling subway over the weeks and marveled at my ability to get around with more confidence. I never had a problem with New York City’s “grid-like” mass transit system where I lived for 18 years. However, in contrast Tokyo’s web of meandering train lines was much more intimidating. First of all, the signage is written in Japanese with English translations listed underneath or flashed across screens. Secondly, although English subway maps are available, you really need to study it before you head out because many stops on local routes aren’t indicated and you need to know the final destination of that specific train line. For example, Sangenjaya is an unmarked stop on the Den-en-toshi Line with Chuo-rinkan being the final stop. At first, I was only traveling from Gotanda to Shibuya and then transferring to Sangenjaya—I would only venture further out on the train when I was taken on outings. Nevertheless, Soufflar gave me some advice that would prove invaluable in helping me navigate around the subway–stick to the JR Line which forms a loop around the city and then take connecting routes from that line. In addition, the city’s major subway stops—Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shimbashi & Tokyo are strategically positioned on this circle. This advice worked out perfectly for me. I should also note that the trains are punctual and the courteous nature of the Japanese extends to the subway where people line up single file to enter the train, even during rush hour. Yes you do get packed in by subway attendants if its busy, but you have to line up first.