Even though I could praise Japan’s efficient public transportation system for hours on end, there’s one major drawback about it that has left me traumatized on several occasions and never fails to induce terrifying flashbacks whenever I’m surrounded by too many people. You can probably guess what I’m talking about, right? Yup, it’s about how unbelievably crowded the country’s trains and subways can get during rush hour.
Anyone traveling in the Greater Tokyo Area or other metropolitan centers of Japan should be forewarned that the experience is not for the faint of heart–nor for the claustrophobic. I mean, you know it’s a bad sign when there are actually station staff on hand during peak rush hours to squeeze as many passengers as possible into each car. That said, if you’ve traveled or happen to live in Japan’s capital, you can undoubtedly sympathize with the following ranking of the most crowded train and subway lines in Tokyo at rush hour. And just so you don’t think Tokyo gets all the love, we’ve also thrown in the lists for Osaka and Nagoya, too!
About the only negative memory I can recall from my study abroad days in Tokyo was navigating the Chuo Line every morning and evening on my daily commute to and from school. On rare days, I could just manage to do some homework reading while standing up; on even rarer days, finding an empty seat felt like winning the lottery. On the worst occasions, I would be shoved up against a total stranger with my arms stuck out at odd angles, all while trying to politely ignore one another’s existence. After moving to the rural countryside and emptier trains of northern Japan, I actually experienced culture shock whenever I visited Tokyo and rode on public transportation there again.
The website for Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism recently released 2013 data about the most crowded train and subway lines in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, three of Japan’s most populous cities. Each ranking comes with a percentage value which indicates the degree of crowdedness inside the train. The following graphic illustrates the different percentages:
For your reference:
At 100%, you have no problem finding your own personal space near the door and stretching out.
At 150%, you can still easily spread open a newspaper and read it.
At 180%, you can read a folded newspaper with some difficulty.
At 200%, you’re feeling a bit cozy, but you can still manage to read small books or periodicals.
At 250%, it’s just like what the picture shows–you’re squeezed in like a can of sardines. Things may get a little awkward…
Now, let’s finally move onto the actual ranking. Here are the top ten most crowded train and subway lines during rush hour in Tokyo (the specific stretches of track between two stations are listed in parentheses):
1) Keihin Tohoku Line (from Ueno to Okachimachi), JR East: 200%
2) Tozai Line (from Kiba to Monzen-Nakacho), Tokyo Metro: 199%
3) Chuo-Sobu Line [Local] (from Kinshicho to Ryogoku), JR East: 199%
4) Chuo Line [Rapid] (from Nakano to Shinjuku), JR East: 194%
5) Yokosuka Line (from Musashi-Kosugi to Nishi-Oi), JR East: 193%
6) Odawara Line (from Setagaya-Daita to Shimokitazawa), Odakyu: 188%
7) Den-en-toshi Line (from Ikejiri-Ohashi to Shibuya), Tokyu Group: 183%
8) Tokaido Line (from Kawasaki to Shinagawa), JR East: 183%
9) Sobu Line [Rapid] (from Shin-Koiwa to Kinshicho), JR East: 178%
10) Chiyoda Line (from Machiya to Nishi-Nippori), Tokyo Metro: 177%
Yikes! Eight out of the ten most crowded lines are above that 180% mark! Now let’s see how those numbers stack up to Osaka’s top ten most crowded lines:
1) Kobe Main Line (from Kanzakigawa to Juso), Hankyu: 142%
2) Takarazuka Main Line (from Mikuni to Juso), Hankyu: 139%
3) Nara Line (from Kawachi-Eiwa to Fuse), Kintetsu: 135%
4) Midosuji Line (from Umeda to Yodoyabashi), Osaka Municipal Subway: 135%
5) Osaka Line (from Shuntokumichi to Fuse), Kintetsu: 133%
6) Katamachi (from Shigino to Kyobashi), JR West: 131%
7) Kyoto Main Line (from Kami-Shinjo to Awaji), Hankyu: 129%
8) Koya Line (from Mozuhachiman to Mikunigaoka), Nankai: 125%
9) Hanwa Line [Rapid] (from Sakaishi to Tennoji), JR West: 124%
10) Minami-Osaka Line (from Kita-Tanabe to Koboreguchi), Kintetsu: 123%
In other words, Osaka’s most crowded line at 142% is equivalent to the 26th most crowded line in Tokyo (which happens to be Keio’s Inokashira Line).
Similarly, let’s take a look at the ranking for Nagoya (note–the list only goes up to eighth place):
1) Higashiyama Line (from Nagoya to Fushimi), Nagoya Municipal Subway: 139%
2) Nagoya Main Line [East] (from Jingu-mae to Kanayama), Meitetsu: 138%
3) Nagoya Main Line [West] (from Sako to Meitetsu-Nagoya), Meitetsu: 138%
4) Nagoya Line (from Komeno to Kintetsu-Nagoya), Kintetsu: 133%
5) Chuo Line (from Shin-Moriyama to Ozone), JR Central: 129%
6) Meijo Line/Meiko Line (from Kanayama to Higashi-Betsuin), Nagoya Municipal Subway: 127%
7) Tokaido Line (from Biwajima to Nagoya), JR Central: 121%
8) Tsurumai Line (from Shiogama-guchi to Yagoto), Nagoya Municipal Subway: 113%
This time, the worst offender in the Nagoya area is equivalent to Tokyo’s 27th (the Keikyu Main Line).
Have you ever had the misfortune of experiencing an incredibly packed train ride in Japan? Feel free to share your own public transportation horror stories below.