Passengers get off a subway train at Shibuya Station in Tokyo on May 27. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Japan's crowded trains spark fear of new coronavirus cases

62 Comments
By Rocky Swift

As Japan returns to work from coronavirus restrictions, its notoriously crowded trains - almost a symbol of its celebrated work ethic - are raising fears about a resurgence of infections.

Authorities in Tokyo had hoped to solve the problem of crowded commuting with staggered hours and remote working but the trains appeared almost back to normal on Thursday, days after the lifting of a coronavirus emergency.

Health experts and politicians have blamed night spots and concert venues, known as live houses, for cultivating clusters of infection and have advised them to stay closed.

But while no coronavirus cases have been linked to trains, many Tokyo residents say they are just as packed as any nightclub.

"It's such a contradiction that crowded trains are OK but live houses still can't open," said Twitter user Rimiken. "Crowded trains are like a music festival. They're a festival mosh pit."

Tokyo recorded 28 new infections on Thursday.

The Tokyo Metro subway is taking steps to prevent infections with open carriage windows and the disinfecting of ticket machines, spokesman Hisao Asano said.

But it has no plan to limit passenger numbers or insist on spacing, he said.

"Given the various needs of our customers, we're not thinking about such a blanket restriction," Asano said.

But a study by one of Japan's top research institutes indicated it may have to. The Riken Center for Computational Science found that even with open windows, the air flow concentrated above passengers' heads on crowded trains.

Government infection expert Shigeru Omi said crowded trains could no longer be an everyday reality.

"The train is the symbol of Japanese workaholic society," Omi told reporters. "This is an opportunity for Japan to address this issue of overcrowded trains by, first of all, staggered working hours and remote work."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

62 Comments
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Denentoshi Line to Shibuya:Shoulder to shoulder, people pressing against your back. Getting off in Shibuya: in the Mark City concourse all seating is roped off with plastered signs indicating it is due to "social distancing". Hard to see the logic

36 ( +36 / -0 )

Government needs to encourage the use of private transportation.

Cars and motorcycles are way way safer in terms of limiting the spread of the virus.

How about a 1 month moratorium on parking tickets and highway tolls to help limit the spread of the virus and easy congestion on trains.

-29 ( +5 / -34 )

With Japan having one of the most reliable and efficient rail systems around, this would really be a problem unless companies would just stop being stubborn and just let their staff that can work remotely, stay at home. You really cant prevent commuters from packing themselves like sardines just to go to work despite the risks, but you can prevent them from going out daily if their jobs don't require them to be physically there.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

I wish to know what Aso have to say about this topic,but I guess he will spread his words of “wisdom” only at his advantage.

This shows again how irresponsible are the people and it’s institution in Japan.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

And where were all those "fears" prior to the "Emergency"? Myself and others have commented on this numerous times, and if "authorities" are only now getting worried, they should all be fired for incompetence!

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Government needs to encourage the use of private transportation.

In Tokyo? You gotta be kidding! Tokyo is already one of the most congested cities in the world, not to mention the astronomical costs to just park there!

22 ( +23 / -1 )

"almost a symbol of its celebrated work ethic"

Hardly.

18 ( +20 / -2 )

I am against lifting the lockdown so early but many people in Japan said the lockdown needs to be lifted for economic reasons. Not good. The Japanese Government needs to make good on its promise of subsidies to Freelancers and individuals as well as large Advertising firms that have connections with them. Gilly?

-2 ( +8 / -10 )

"... all seating is roped off with plastered signs indicating it is due to "social distancing". Hard to see the logic."

I am seeing that too. Authorities are reducing public spaces by blocking them off, thereby cramming more people together as part of "social distancing." Japanese logic, I guess.

18 ( +19 / -1 )

Social distancing doesn't exist.....it never did

10 ( +12 / -2 )

It is impossible to use private transportation.

Nowhere to park, and if you can find a parking lot, half of my salary will be gone just to cover the parking fee.

For me, and other thousands of salary men, it is impossible to avoid the packed trains. Morning and Evening! Or we have to quit our jobs.

According to this article, 28 new infections in Tokyo. Sounds very good! Gives me a safer feeling in the trains.

But I agree with the Twitter user in the article, that the packed trains are more dangerous to get infected than in a "Live House" or a "Night Club".

But I dont have any idea how to improve that situation of "packed trains" in Tokyo.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Don't understand the hype. Japan is down to 1,215 active cases. Down from just over 9,800 on May 1st. Everyday the number of active cases decreases. Why not report this?

4 ( +10 / -6 )

Where I live they have five carriages on trains running in the middle of the morning when there are hardly any passengers, and only two carriages at rush hour. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the useless old farts running JR just don't care enough about passengers to organise anything properly. If I do end up with coronavirus I'll know who to blame, although I don't expect them to take any responsibility.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Stay away from the trains!

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

Since there is no other variable solution, the only way to deal with it is extra precautions. Masking and gloves wearing, no touching of face or nose, frequent hand sanitising etc. Many other cities are facing the same problem.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

People have to understand that living in Tokyo is not going to give a decent quality of life to anyone.

The conclusion is don’t live in Tokyo...

8 ( +15 / -7 )

Government needs to encourage the use of private transportation.

Cars and motorcycles are way way safer in terms of limiting the spread of the virus.

Never been to Tokyo before, huh?

Where are all those extra car commuters supposed to park?

17 ( +17 / -0 )

According to this article, 28 new infections in Tokyo. Sounds very good! Gives me a safer feeling in the trains.

Which in reality means that there are at a minimum 10 times that many who are actually infected but are asymptomatic! Dont start feeling so safe when that person next you on the train has a pretty high chance of having been in contact with someone who contracted and tested positive for the virus.

As long as Japan keeps on failing to accurately track the infections, people have to use their heads and do the math themselves!

Not to mention, the testing numbers themselves do not accurately tell how many "NEW" tests were performed. As evidenced by previous data showing that Japan performed roughly 480,000 tests, but only 280,000 people. As many of those who tested positive, have been retested, and some as many as 4 or 5 times, and their numbers skew the total number!

4 ( +10 / -6 )

JeffLeeToday  07:11 am JST

"... all seating is roped off with plastered signs indicating it is due to "social distancing". Hard to see the logic."

I am seeing that too. Authorities are reducing public spaces by blocking them off, thereby cramming more people together as part of "social distancing." Japanese logic, I guess.

I'd say it's more of a government logic not limited to Japan. I've seen a lot of illogical responses to this whole situation throughout the world. A large portion of this falls on individual personal responsibility. We should do what we can to stop the virus spread and not panic about that which we can't control. Else stay home if you don't feel comfortable outside.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Tele-work and staggered commute time. What's so hard about that? Geez, gimme a break.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

It’s like how the supermarket check out line is considered in a completely different light to the rest of the supermarket! I don’t understand how that way of thinking works.

Live houses are not OK because of the close proximity people are forced to be in in such confined spaces.... Rush hour trains in Tokyo? - Yeah, no problem.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Tele-work and staggered commute time. What's so hard about that? Geez, gimme a break.

I totally agree...but Japan is still a very paper pushing society, which is mind boggling since its suppose to be one of the leaders in technology. So all of these companies that still use operating practices from the 1960's still need people to come to the office and work 10 - 15 hours days, and take these crowded commuter trains to/from work.

Government needs to encourage the use of private transportation.

HAH! Yeah right! Only a very small percent of Japanese people can afford to drive to work, unless they live in super rural areas.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

@Yubaru

If I think like you, everyday calculating the possibility of how many more people are infected because of less testing, I will also would already felt down in a deep paranoia and depression about that Virus.

I am living and working in Tokyo and I have to take the packed trains everyday and I have to live with the risk to get infected with the virus.

But, to fell in depression, fear-mongering or paranoia, doesn't help.

Therefore I am thinking positiv and optimistic about the very good numbers the government is telling us.

And I am very sure, that everyone who lives in Tokyo and have to use those packed trains everyday, understand what I am saying.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

"Authorities in Tokyo had hoped to solve the problem of crowded commuting with staggered hours and remote working but the trains appeared almost back to normal on Thursday, days after the lifting of a coronavirus emergency."

Yup. Japan had SO many chances here to improve what Aso brags is "mindo", but instead they just go back to the usual crap because it is far easier than a little change.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Japan's crowded trains spark fear of new coronavirus cases

Do you think so? Wow! What a revelation, NOT!

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Do you think so? Wow! What a revelation, NOT!

I know right....we've only been saying this for like the last 4 or 5 months

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Live houses are for entertainment and not a necessity. Patrons are directly interacting with each other, most likely majority not wearing masks. Trains are a necessity for transportation. Commuters are only indirectly interacting and majority are wearing masks. I think that's what been taken into consideration in this situation.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I quoted “The train is the symbol of Japanese workaholic society”

i really hope the Japan government force residents in Kanao region to take remote work. Not just urge them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"It's such a contradiction that crowded trains are OK but live houses still can't open," said Twitter user Rimiken. "Crowded trains are like a music festival. They're a festival mosh pit."

Not that I support crowded trains, but comparing the two is ridiculous. People rarely interact on trains.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

One big difference between packed trains and live houses is the fact that people on trains almost always wear masks and rarely talk versus clubs and live events where everyone is celebrating and even shouting without masks.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I quoted “The train is the symbol of Japanese workaholic society”

I’m one of the users for JR trains. I can feel it must be norm if someone get infected with the overcrowding trains since the state of emergency has been lifted.

i really hope the government residents in Kanto region to take remote work. Not urge them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Government needs to encourage the use of private transportation.

Cars and motorcycles are way way safer in terms of limiting the spread of the virus.

ROFL, someone doesn't know Tokyo from his Moscow.

First there is not enough parking around downtown.

Second with the high cost of parking in downtown Tokyo, who do you expect to for the bill?

Should the Japan government introduce a new hundred trillion dollar package with a car and parking allowance to every citizen!!!!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

To deal with this obvious problem, major cities around the world are now encouraging active travel like biking and walking by closing streets to car traffic and/or replacing car lanes with temporary protected cycling lanes.

If you think this could work in Japanese cities too there’s a Change.org campaign now ongoing in support of similar initiatives.

I can’t link directly to it but if you google this you will find it - 3密を避けて自転車で安全に移動できるよう、即席の走行空間を作ってください!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

 Tokyo? You gotta be kidding! Tokyo is already one of the most congested cities in the world

You clearly have not been in congested cities yet...

So while I disguise the rush hour in Tokyo and also see it as a danger for a new spread, it's far different from night clubs and live houses, where people are moving much more, and a lot more aerosols are dispersed.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The UK subsidizes workers to buy bicycles used for commuting. You can now buy a very good motor-assist hybrid (Japanese "cross bike") that will do up to 25km/h with the assist off light pedalling for I dunno, probably around 200,000 yen. Electric assist and limited effort are good because they mean you do not need a shower after getting to work. For many journeys on non-express trains, one of these bikes will be just as fast door to door.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In my opinion all the people complaining about taking crowded trains to work should work from home or use their own transport. It’s like all the people I have seen on tv news complaining about the crowded stations, when they themselves are at that station.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

How did I guess normal service would be resumed in Japan in no time....?

There’s no way working online from home would be allowed to catch on.

Things will be done as they have always been done.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

People have to understand that living in Tokyo is not going to give a decent quality of life to anyone.

The conclusion is don’t live in Tokyo...

Yes! Tokyo will be impacted for many years. Countryside ftw! :D

0 ( +3 / -3 )

People have to understand that living in Tokyo is not going to give a decent quality of life to anyone.

Speak for yourself.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

HBJ:

It’s like how the supermarket check out line is considered in a completely different light to the rest of the supermarket! I don’t understand how that way of thinking works.

Yeah, I noticed this from day one. I try not to walk too close to anyone, but everyone just walks right past me, even the staff. What I need is this:

http://www.bradycarlson.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200406POLN.jpg

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"The train is the symbol of Japanese workaholic society," Omi told reporters. "This is an opportunity for Japan to address this issue of overcrowded trains by, first of all, staggered working hours and remote work."

Can't agree more. The train companies roll in money because the trains are so crowded. I say make 7-9 am and 5-7 pm train fares have a 500 yen surcharge and then you will see an alignment of interests.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

HAH! Yeah right! Only a very small percent of Japanese people can afford to drive to work, unless they live in super rural areas.

Incorrect. I wonder if you have ever been outside Greater Tokyo or travelled by car anywhere in Japan?

The far majority of people outside Tokyo commute to work by car. Road congestion is a huge problem all over Japan, even in your "super rural" areas.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ride a bike? A motored scooter? I've thought of doing that in NYC

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The trains are managed by private companies that most likely contribute to the ldp coffers. Don't expect any changes any time soon. No one cares for the plebs.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Since1981

Don't understand the hype. Japan is down to 1,215 active cases. Down from just over 9,800 on May 1st. Everyday the number of active cases decreases. Why not report this?

How about they report that the number of infected seem low but in reality are many times higher than reported and are increasing everyday due to the lack of testing, asymthomatic (zombie) carriers are unknowingly infecting others.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Sparks fear, and will continue so. If you're expecting action, better be ready for massive procrastination.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

 almost a symbol of its celebrated work ethic 

Work ethic? In Japan? Are you serious? This is the country of harassment at work, low pay and exploitation.

The train is the symbol of Japanese workaholic society

Workaholic, really? Let's look at the labor productivity shall we. So looking at the GDP per hour worked, we find before Japan: Ireland, Norway, Germany, USA, Switzerland, France, UK, Australia, Italy, Spain and Canada. Japan makes barely better than Greece. Yeah sure workaholic, well maybe it's more accurate to say that they pretend to be.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/02/05/where-labor-productivity-is-highest-infographic/#5b7b7e6dea44

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This morning was typical of the classroom mentality here. Everyone sitting on the same carriage for easy exits.

I get a late train. Around 10am. Everyone starts sitting on my carriage. Both carriages either side are empty.

People still want to herd together to get off at the nearest exit, even though they can social distance in the next carriage.

I changed carriages. Its the same going home. People are desperate for a seat when standing would mean more space. I get up and stand when idiots squeeze next to me.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In my opinion all the people complaining about taking crowded trains to work should work from home or use their own transport. It’s like all the people I have seen on tv news complaining about the crowded stations, when they themselves are at that station.

Not everyone can do that. Any many people have a long commute that isn't possible via walking or bicycle. Parking is also expensive or full.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

dagonToday  06:49 am JST

Denentoshi Line to Shibuya:Shoulder to shoulder, people pressing against your back. Getting off in Shibuya: in the Mark City concourse all seating is roped off with plastered signs indicating it is due to "social distancing". Hard to see the logic

This is Japan. It doesn't have to be logical. It just needs to look like we're doing something.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

 almost a symbol of its celebrated work ethic 

Work ethic? In Japan? Are you serious? This is the country of harassment at work, low pay and exploitation.

The train is the symbol of Japanese workaholic society

Workaholic, really? Let's look at the labor productivity shall we. So looking at the GDP per hour worked, we find before Japan: Ireland, Norway, Germany, USA, Switzerland, France, UK, Australia, Italy, Spain and Canada. Japan makes barely better than Greece. Yeah sure workaholic, well maybe it's more accurate to say that they pretend to be.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/02/05/where-labor-productivity-is-highest-infographic/#5b7b7e6dea44

Spot on! Sitting in the office moving the mouse around and waiting for your boss to go home doesn't make you a workaholic, it makes you an unproductive idiot.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You mean it's just now occurred to them? Invalid CSRF

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You clearly have not been in congested cities yet...

And you clearly dont accept or realize just how congested Tokyo is in relation to the rest of the world!

Tokyo ranks as the 32 most congested city,right behind LA, out of a listing of over 400 cities in the world, yeah, there are some worse, but Tokyo ranks up up with them too!

https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/ranking/

2 ( +2 / -0 )

at least from my last few days of observations everyone seems to be wearing a mask and no ojisans hacking and sneezing with his one cup ozeki in the corner anymore.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I was on quite a long railway journey on Saturday and at Kobe two young men got on, no masks, and sat near me. They were only on for two stops but the whole time they were laughing at how funny it was that they were not wearing masks, and revelled in the dirty looks they were getting. The rest of the journey every passenger I saw was wearing a mask. Lots of lifting masks by grabbing the front, a cross infection horror, to wipe noses and cough - they didn’t get dirty looks

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I had the opportunity to take a train from Kichijoji-Shibuya at rush hour .

The one who can arrange all necessary measures regarding virus spread prevention in the trains, deserves the position of president of the World Logistics Union.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

You can almost predict the news headlines in three weeks time "c19 virus hit Tokyo again" 47 more deaths today and hospitals are inundated with new cases. Quite a few countries around the world are having a phased restart, this is where a few shops are allowed to open and so long as the reinfection rate does not climb up to much, then some other places can open up and so on, if the infection rate rises, you can temporary close various establishments.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is a case of when U are not sure, PLS DO NOT SAY ANYTHING.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

it's a good thing masks don't actually do anything, otherwise we'd never reach herd immunity...

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Why is no one talking about requiring masks on the trains and in the stations? We know masks are effective, and the private companies have the authority. It's just a small percent of the passengers who aren't already wearing masks, but those few could easily infect many others.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am so blessed that I am not having to take a train and nor will I have to until next year. With that said, I see once again from the view of the station from my mansion window that the trains appear packed once again.

The Japanese Government and companies alike are acting criminally with the attitude there is no more virus. In addition the Japanese Government should be ramping up testing and making it accessible to all citizens of this country and let us see what is the true situation in this country and 309,000 tests is nowhere near cutting it. Canada, has done over 1,850,000 tests for all its citizens and continue testing even in areas that have zero cases of the virus.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Ashley Shiba

Nobody said the pandemic was over but not everyone can afford to stay in their mansion looking at train stations all day. Let's face it, considering Japan's overall population and elderly population (highest percentage in the world by far), we (well I'm not Japanese but live here so I'll count myself in) seriously kicked this thing in the butt. Canada may have done more testing than Japan but they have nearly 10 times more deaths despite a much younger population that is much, much, much less dense. So take that into consideration before telling Japan what to do.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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