Train stations are super smart
Illustration: Kento Iida

5 things you didn't know about Tokyo's train stations

Tokyo's public transport system is top class – and these innovations help make its train stations smart and efficient

Written by
Taryn Siegel

With about ten percent of Japan’s population residing in Tokyo – and with most Tokyoites using the city’s trains every day – a slick public transport system is crucial to keep the city on the move. Fortunately, Tokyo has just that, with the city’s trains and buses recently ranked the third best in the world, widely praised for being well-maintained and easy to use.

But what about the stations? Yes, many of them are confusing, but there are also some clever innovations that help keep Tokyo’s labyrinth-like public transport system running smoothly. From lots of pointing to musical interludes, these are five things you didn’t know about Tokyo’s train stations.

RECOMMENDED: The best JR rail passes for foreign tourists visiting Japan

Pointing and calling

You may notice that train conductors and platform attendants seem to use an excessive amount of gestures and verbal calls every time a train is approaching or leaving. No, these aren’t aspiring performance artists dressed up as train personnel; they’re actually employing a mandatory practice called ‘point and call’.

Studies have shown an 85 percent reduction in human error can be achieved by pointing to an object and then verbalising your actions, since more of the brain is being employed, thereby increasing your situational awareness. Due to this increased accuracy and decreased likelihood of human error, this method for issuing instructions is mandatory throughout the rail industry in Japan. 

Door-closing chimes

We all know that commuting is stressful, especially when trying to catch a train at the last moment. In 1989, train operator JR East decided to do something about this. The company commissioned Yamaha and composer Hiroaki Ide to create pleasing, seven-second-long chimes known as hassha melodies to warn passengers when the train doors are closing.

These short jingles are now a familiar sound at Japanese train stations. Some melodies are upbeat, some are soothing, and some are oddly familiar, like the version of Tokyo Disneyland’s song ‘It’s a Small World’ at Maihama Station near Tokyo Disney Resort.


Crowded yet (usually) on time

Shinjuku Station in Tokyo holds the record as the world’s busiest station with an average of more than 3.5 million passengers a day. Other major stations like Tokyo, Shibuya and Ikebukuro also welcome vast numbers of people every day, yet by and large the trains run on time.

Of course, there are sometimes delays, in which case you’ll receive a chien shoumeisho (a certificate of lateness) from the station staff, usually after a delay of five minutes or more. Some train operators, like Tokyo Metro and JR East, even release online certificates that you can show to your boss if you’re late because of the train.

Marking the queues

Even during the craziest of rush hours, train platforms always maintain a sense of orderliness, with markings on every platform indicating where waiting passengers should stand to embark. Some train lines take this a step further, with two queues marked out – one for the ‘first train’ and one for the ‘second train’.

After queuing up in Tokyo train stations for a couple of weeks, you’ll almost certainly find yourself wandering the train platforms in your home city wondering where to stand before you remember that it’s just a lawless free-for-all outside of Tokyo.


LED lights for suicide prevention

A tragic but well-known fact about Japan is its high suicide rate. Hundreds of these deaths each year happen when people jump in front of trains – an event broadcast to commuters as a jinshin jiko or human accident. A lot of stations have installed chest-high barriers that make it difficult for commuters to jump. But not all stations can afford this costly improvement.

Studies have shown that a calming blue light can help mitigate stress, so many train stations have installed LED blue lights at the ends of their platforms (where most suicide victims jump from). It may sound like a long shot, but it’s actually been amazingly effective. A ten-year study showed an 84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations where these lights were installed.

Get to know Tokyo

    You may also like
    You may also like