Why the Tokyo Underground beats London Underground


As London narrowly misses entering week two of the tube strike, and the rest of Britain complains about how London-centric the news is, it seemed appropriate to blog about why Japan beats Britain in every aspect of the Underground transport system! Granted, ours is 150 years old and the first to be built in the world, so other countries have had ample opportunity to improve upon it, but Tokyo takes things to another level of efficiency and awesomeness. Having visited Tokyo twice, I can attest to how superior its Underground system is.

So, whether you love or hate the tube strike, or it doesn’t affect you at all, let’s take a moment to appreciate how fantastic Japan’s tube system is!

Always on time!

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A two minute delay will get you a lot of rolling eyes in London, but in Tokyo it will get you a series of very sincere apologies from the staff and, believe it or not, might even hit the headlines. The Japanese are famous for their efficiency for a reason. Get on it, London!

You know exactly where the doors will be

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With the exception of the Jubilee Line, which is the most futuristic of the London Underground routes with its sliding doors, there’s no telling whether you’ll be standing right in front of, just to the side or nowhere near the next set of doors. Lining up for the tube is impossible at rush hour because the doors stop where they stop, and then you have the good old fashioned London scrum and ‘accidental’ elbowing of queue jumpers. In Tokyo, there are numbered boxes painted on a number of the platforms and, when the tube rolls up, the doors line up perfectly with them! I can’t attest to whether this system works all the time at rush hour in Tokyo, but it certainly did all the time I was there.

Super clean

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No matter which line you get on, the tube looks like it rolled straight out of the factory. I spent five minutes walking up and down my first ever Tokyo tube in sheer awe at the shiny white cleanliness: no banana peels, no spilt coffee, not even a crumpled up newspaper!

Soothing music on your commute

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I kid you not, I heard a lot of bird song when I was walking around the Tokyo Underground. The idea is that the lovely ‘tweet tweet’ lifts your soul as your trudging through the underground darkness, and I’m sure there are plenty of people living in Tokyo who don’t pay attention to it after a while, but it’s a lot better than London’s: ‘The northern line is temporarily suspended due to flooding/signal failure/tube strike/the line’s been suspiciously working too well for a few days/something more creative like concrete completely obliterating our signal equipment’.

The tube is a song!

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Someone we encountered on the Tokyo Underground once told me that, every time the tube stops at a station, it plays a little tune. It’s not your standard ‘ding ding ding’, but an actual song. If you ride the whole line from one end to the other, the train will effectively play a song each time the doors open. I think we should replicate this over here, preferably with a Beatles or Queen song.

Awesome bike storage

Tokyo is such a crowded place that even finding a place to park your bicycle can be a daunting task. But leave it to the Japanese to find a genius solution to this growing space problem. The ECO-Cycle Park is an automated bicycle storage system buried 11 meters under the city streets that can hold up to 200 bikes.

Take that, Boris bikes!

Cute information signs

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Seriously, how can you not abide by the rules with a poster like that? Don’t be ‘that’ person who blasts Rihanna down the tube, please! London really needs its share of these.

Girls only!

Women passengers get on a women-only train car in Tokyo.

There are women-only carriages in Japan, set up to combat a growing number of male perverts (known as ‘chikan’) who use the rush hour as an opportunity to… well, you know. Fortunately, I’ve not witnessed any actual groping on the London Underground yet, but there have been no shortage of very weird guys chatting up girls and guys pretending to fall asleep on women next to them. I remember one guy walking past a line of girls in a carriage and touching each of them with his foot before getting off. No one said anything (this is the London Underground, after all) but it was incredibly weird. I’m all for some girls only carriages to operate at night time especially. I think another weird guy may also have proposed to me on the tube and followed me out at my stop once but, the less I remember about that, the better.

Vending machines 

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Seriously, London, even we can roll out this one! On a lot of the platforms in Tokyo, and even just walking in between them, there are vending machines for not only water but also hot and iced coffee and Pocari Sweat. The daily commute can frustrate even the most patient of people and lugging a big suitcase around can really tire you out, so why we don’t have this one I really don’t know.

As far as the London tube strikes are concerned, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson in how important the Underground network is in supporting millions of people getting to and from work and, of course, exploring the city and having fun. Our system may be far from perfect and really needs a bit of Japan-ification but, don’t forget, we did do it first, so everyone else has had time to improve on it.

Image credits: mywisewife, thehindu, list25, betterymagazineTokyofashioncollage, thegridto, sushi-suzuki

2 thoughts on “Why the Tokyo Underground beats London Underground

  1. The subway in Tokyo beats the tube in so many ways, but one area where the tube does win is when you get a driver with a typical dry London sense of humour who likes talking to the people in the carriages over the loudspeaker 🙂

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