Shibuya

As if Tokyo’s train system isn’t complicated enough, I had rather an adventure the other day. I was riding home from work and normally the train I was on would continue past Shibuya and on to my station, but we arrived in Shibuya and the train guys told everybody to get off. Apparently, there had been a “human-related accident” somewhere and the entire line was shut down. Confused-looking people were milling around on the platform looking confused.

“Well, all right,” I thought. “I can deal with that. I’ll just grab a bus.” So I climbed the three flights of stairs to street level and found the right stop. There were A LOT of other clever people who had had the same idea. I couldn’t see the end of the line.

“OK. Backup Plan B. I will go find the Toyoko line.” Although I had lived on that line for many years, I hadn’t ridden it since they moved it underground. So back down the stairs went I, got the train to Yutenji, and grabbed a bus from there—I even got a seat. Score one for mouse.

Shibuya station is cobbled together in a most unseemly way. Hachiko* is at the center and train lines radiate out in all directions. The Toyoko line used to be on the second floor, but they recently moved it underground and it now connects to the Fukutoshin subway line, which is in the fifth basement. My subway line is in the third basement; the Ginza subway line is on the third floor. The Saikyo line is technically in Shibuya station, but you have to walk half way to Ebisu to find it. Same with the Narita Express. I pity the fool who has to transfer from the Toyoko line to the Inokashira line. That’s up five flights of stairs, across a major intersection, and then up a dizzying two-story escalator.

Oh, and the names change, too. The lowly Ginza line, one of the oldest in Tokyo, begins at Shibuya and is called the Ginza line all the way to its terminus at Asakusa. But the Toyko line starts out as the Minato Mirai line in Yokohama, becomes the Fukutoshin line at Shibuya, then eventually the Seibu Ikebukuro line. And my line is the Denentoshi line. The name changes to Hanzomon at Shibuya, then it becomes the Tobu Skytree line, then the Tobu Isesaki line or the Tobu Nikko line further out. And you pay separately for each name change.

Don’t even ask about buying tickets. The two subway lines are run by the same company so accept the same tickets, but all the others are independent and each requires a separate payment. The most brilliant innovation in the transportation system during my tenure in Tokyo is the Pasmo card—a pre-paid card that is accepted by all trains and buses city-wide.

But please be sure you have enough pre-payment on your card to cover your fare. People instantly lose their veneer of politeness when some schnook makes the turnstile doors slam shut. Plus red lights blink and an alarm goes off. It’s most humiliating.

*A statue of Hachiko sits in front of Shibuya station. His is an endearing story about a loyal dog. Cue the tiny violins.

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