One day last week (I think it was Wednesday) I decided to experience Tokyo's legendary rush hour. So, I wandered down from the hotel to Shinagawa Station and on to the platform for the Yamanote Line (Tokyo's Circle Line).
The scene was busy. Lots of people were lined up from one side of the platform (next to the mark indicating where the doors would open) to the other. It wasn't a particularly wide platform.
The train drew up. It was packed. The doors opened by the mark. Nothing happened. At least not initially. Then people by the doors started popping out. They didn't want to and many resisted but eventually the force of people behind them proved overwhelming.
People started streaming off. The "expelled", resigned to their fate, formed a second, orderly queue.
With the people who wanted to get off having got off the "boarders" got to work. At all times the Japanese are a courteous and considerate race. At all times that is except at 0830 at Shinagawa Station on a weekday. It was a hell of a push. Dignified was it not. Conversations such as "After you" "No, after you" were decidedly thin on the ground.
And then a moment of peace. All those people who get on had got on. Some had not managed the job 100% but one got the feeling that they would. Meanwhile new orderly queues formed on the platform.
Eventually, the doors closed, the less that 100%ers managed to cram the last remaining bits of skin, flesh and bone onto the train and the train drew away.
Much as I would have liked to I didn't take any photographs of this scene. I felt it was too much of an invasion of other people's privacy.
So, why the crush? Some background may be helpful. In Japan fares are controlled. Season tickets are cheap in comparison to ordinary fares. Employers will usually by season tickets for their employees.
But it occurs to me that this dreadful scene may not be entirely due to fare control. A railway company may well have all sorts of incentives to keep the fares low. For instance, if you are a railway company and you own commercial property (as many do in Japan) the value of the property (in terms of rent) is, at least in part, determined by the number of people who can get to that property in peak hours. Sure, you can put up the fares but what you gain on the fares you lose on the property.
Sadly, I didn't get the chance to ask this question while I was in Japan. One of many I am afraid. So, if anyone out there knows better I would love to hear from you.
It seems that this ugly seen is indeed the result of fare control.