Coming and going

I was back in England late last Wednesday evening, and at work again the following morning. Hiding in bed is the usual thing to do after a long haul flight; taking cups of tea gingerly, dozing off every half an hour. Plunging into the normal routine, doing my usual morning commute was interesting because it made the contrasts between London and Tokyo all the more acute – as if I had torn sheets from two newspapers, mixed them and tried to read a continuous story…

It was the commute that struck me first. The tube seems incredibly small after Tokyo’s huge, stainless steel trains, and the business of Tokyo has to be seen to believed. When staying there, I was at my fiancee’s family’s house, which was in west Tokyo. A thirty minute train ride would take us to Shibuya, in the city centre, and one of the busiest stations in the world. I think nearly two million people pass through it every day. Tokyo’s transport network itself is huge, too – there’s an extensive underground, and an overground rail system (the underground map is here – Shibuya is to the bottom left.) The system caters well for English speakers – stations are labelled in English script and even the announcements on the train alternate between Japanese and English.

It’s the sheer business of the system that is overwhelming and overtaking, the sense of people all around, below, above and next to you – squeezing onto trains, spilling off them, coming from everywhere….

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