All Aboard the Sardine Express

Posted by Elle Chu at


I’d been warned about the craziness that is the morning rush hour in Japan, but I definitely underestimated its severity. As a student in Boston, I’ve experienced the 5 o’clock rush to get home — everybody just wants to relax and fill their tummies with some warm dinner — so I thought I was well-prepared for the Japanese subways.

Oh, how wrong I was.

When the train first rolled in, I decided I could just hop on the next car because this one was already packed. But to my astonishment, the women around me started scrambling toward the doors and trying to fit themselves in! Even the men had to squeeze themselves into the “Women’s Only” cars because all the other ones were so full. I thought there was absolutely no way that we were all going to fit, but the Japanese have seemingly mastered the art of Tetris (or sardine-packing, as my mom prefers to call it) because somehow, we managed to get every last person into the train.

In Boston, we would never try to pack ourselves in so tightly, partially because our trains are so old and partially just because nobody likes to be that close to strangers (the passengers’ eye contact alone can deter you from making even a tiny step). The body heat is ridiculous in the Japanese trains, even with the air conditioner blasting over our heads! By the time my stop rolls around, I’m dripping with sweat.

But, if there’s one thing that this experience has made me appreciate, it’s that I now understand a little more of the Japanese mentality; they have to utilize every last bit of space they can find. And I think it’s because of their geography as an archipelago, where every resource has become useful and nothing is without value — a great mindset to have in any culture.

It just makes me wonder how they’d react to “rush hour” in the States. (Since Japan would be the Tetris “Boss Level,” they’d probably think our rush hours are cute.)

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