By Christopher Goering, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017
One of the most interesting aspects of Japan that I found while traveling around the country was their extensive rail system. This contradicts sharply from the car dependent culture and specifically congested freeways of my home in Southern California. While in Japan I found that I could get everywhere I wanted to by using the train systems, whether traveling short distances between Shibuya and Harajuku, or across the country from Kobe to Tokyo. I depended heavily on the rail system and unexpectedly never used a taxi. This is great infrastructure for tourists because it’s safe, reliable, consistent, and most importantly relatively cheap. They made it easy for those unfamiliar with traveling on trains by having English speaking information centers at every stop as well putting English translations on all the trains and stations. I was completely enthused by this speedy transportation network; being born and raised in Southern California I never even thought such a complex interacting system could be so successful let alone exist. The sustainable component of the rail system was the most meaningful to me. It kept cars off the road and connected the entire country without being dependent on fossil fuels. Also the system was safe and reliable. It always on time and you could successfully make plans around their stated times with out having to worry about delays. In addition to getting place to place quickly, it doesn’t even compare to a taxi or uber. Transporting around the city was never more than $2.50, around $4.00 between closer cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe, and more toward $100 to travel very far distances on the Shinkansen.
The rail system doesn’t only cater to tourists, it seemed like it was the main form of transportation for the Japanese, which helps the economy by adding employees and using the multiplier effect. Among the many strengths of the system I only found one weakness. The peak times were hectic but unexpectedly a fun cultural experience that I was glad to experience. Much like the freeways in the States they have a congestion time after everyone gets off work at 5:00 until around 7:30. During these peak times you are forced into the train cars tighter than a can of sardines, people literally push all the way in and you are face to face with the people around you with no room to breathe.