Tokyo Morning

Commuting to the Office in Tokyo

An eight-car train is sliding into the platform, making a deep, hollow sound. Here I arrived a few minutes ago to catch this very train. It is still early. My eyes demand sleep in earnest. I rub them slowly. I can see some fifty other people on the platform, also waiting for the train. There are several children in school uniform, but most of the people appear to be office workers from the way they dress. Their dark suits glow in the heated morning light of August. The train comes to a halt, and the doors open. No one gets off. I step into the train and then look at my watch. It is 7:15 in the morning.

To reach my office, I take the Odakyu Line, one of many commuter trains connecting Tokyoís suburbs and the Shinjuku Station, Japanís busiest used by more than three million people a day. Each morning, hundreds of thousands of office workers and students take this line to migrate into the heartland of Tokyo. And for them, the cityís extensive network of trains and subways provides by far the most convenient and affordable means of transportation. But during the morning and evening peak hours, taking trains and subways is probably the least comfortable way to commute. They simply become overcrowded.

But at 7:15, it is not yet painful. I leave early to bypass the peak hours. All the seats are taken, but I can still find myself sufficient and comfortable space to read a book, or just to become lost in contemplation. The train is already on the move. It makes constant and industrial rhythms. I rub my eyes again. I stand by the left side door and look out the window. The train runs through residential areas, and familiar roads and houses greet me every morning. They do not change often, but they have expressions. Today, over one balcony of a deep red four-story apartment, a white futon is already hung and aired in the morning sun.

I turn inside. There are innumerable banner advertisements. Some are hung from the ceilings, and others are placed on the sidewalls above the windows. From cigarettes to fitness clubs, advertisements of almost every kind freely float inside the train. Among them is one colorful advertisement for a weekly tabloid magazine. One of its headlines shows ungrudging admiration for a TV star who has lost 33 lb in just eight weeks. I feel dizzy. I take out a novel and start reading, but I seem to lack concentration. I cannot even finish a page. So I look up. Hardly anyone is talking. Only two school children behind me are whispering to each other. Many of those in the seats are asleep. It is still early.

At the ninth station I get off. I quietly follow many others to the escalator that carries us up to the street level. Another train arrives on the other side. After a brief pause, hundreds of commuters are poured onto the platform. I hear thousands of footsteps, but no voices. I look back. There is already a line for this short escalator. I walk to the automatic ticket gate. I put my commuter pass into the machine and pick it up again. Here my day begins. Immediately outside the gate, there is a large digital clock, displaying the time in pale blue against a black background. The time is 7:38. My office is five minutes away from the station. I walk on.

October 2nd, 2003 by