Renting a car when traveling in Japan is not the most efficient way to get from one area to the next. Japan actually has one of the best transportation systems in the world. It’s fast, safe, and clean, but because it’s so fantastic, a lot of people use it.
Depending on when you’re taking one of the many trains available during your Japan trip, you might have to deal with some congestion on the trains.
Thankfully, people are polite and will do their best to make room for you. Knowing which trains to try and avoid, especially during peak hours, will ensure you don’t get caught missing your train because it’s overcapacity.
A Look At Congestion On Commuter Trains
It’s not uncommon to see trains packed to the brim in Japan, especially during the mornings and evenings when people are heading to and from work. You might be surprised to know just how packed some of these trains can get.
The table below looks at how congested some of the busiest trains could get as of 2020 when the most recent statistics are available.
Given that the pandemic reduced the amount of travel people did throughout Japan, congestion hasn’t been as bad since 2020.
|Train Line (Top 15 Busiest)||Congestion (%)|
|Nippori-Toneri Liner, Nishi-nippori||140%|
|Shin-etsu Line, Niigata||135%|
|Musashino Line, Minami-urawa||134%|
|Kabe Line, Hiroshima||132%|
|Mita Line, Sugamo||129%|
|Kaizuka Line, Kaizuka||129%|
|Saikyo Line, Ikebukoro||127%|
|Meguro Line, Meguro||126%|
|Den-en-toshi Line, Shibuya||126%|
|Toyoko Line, Naka-meguro||123%|
|Tozai Line, Monzen-nakacho||123%|
|Hakushin Line, Niigata||123%|
|Oedo Line, Higashi-nanako||122%|
|Nambu Line, Musashi-kosugi||120%|
|Meijo-Keijo Lines, Higashi-betsuin-Kamimaezu||120%|
The Most Crowded Train In Japan
Topping the charts with some of the highest congestion on trains is the Nippori Toneri Line in Tokyo. This train doesn’t have a super long route and gets from start to finish in about 20 minutes.
This train can make connections to other commonly used routes, making it an ideal choice for people traveling throughout Tokyo.
The route starts in the Arakawa area of Tokyo, which is a ward in Tokyo’s metropolis area and takes you to Adashi, which is another ward in Tokyo that wasn’t serviced very often until the Nippori Toneri Liner was created in 2008.
Tokyo: The Largest Concentration Of Packed Commuter Trains
It’s probably no surprise, but Tokyo is the hub of packed commuter trains. Tokyo is a very large area, with a plethora of businesses spread throughout the metropolis.
Additionally, Tokyo is a hot tourist destination and is a centralized area that offers a lot of travel opportunities towards other areas of Japan.
Apart from the ones mentioned above in the table, many of which run through Tokyo, there are many other train lines that end up getting pretty crowded.
For example, the Tokkaido Line brings many people between residential areas of Tokyo and the downtown core, so its route is very important.
During peak hours, many of the trains that travel throughout Tokyo can run up to 200% above capacity. The pandemic has reduced these numbers quite a bit, but the trains still get pretty crowded nonetheless.
Crowded Commuter Trains Outside Of Tokyo
The Nambu line runs just along the edge of Tokyo and brings travelers close to the Kawasaki and Tachikawa stations.
These stations can crowd the trains easily, as they are located in residential areas that have a lot of affordable housing; thus, those commuters will often rely on public transport.
The Chuo Sobu line does run through Tokyo, but can also take you to the neighboring prefecture of Chiba.
Since this particular train line runs such a long route, it can become somewhat busy for those looking to travel along the route, or make a connection to a different train line.
Two other areas of Japan that operate busy commuter trains include Osaka and Nagoya. These two areas are big for tourists, and also boast large cities and less congested areas alike.
What Exactly Is Congestion?
Congestion is essentially a measure of how packed a train can get during peak travel times, which is usually during rush hour.
Trans tend to get busiest when people are heading to and from work, so in the morning and early evening.
When all of the seats are being used, and the standing passengers are using all of the available handles to keep themselves steady, any commuters boarding the train afterward will be pushing the congestion rate over 100%.
This is how congestion rates are calculated in Japan, and a lot of attention is paid to these numbers.
So many people in Japan rely on public transportation, and since it also helps support tourists so they can see more of the country easily and affordably. Because of this, it’s held as a very important industry that is constantly innovating and improving.
How To Avoid Congestion
Typically speaking, the hour before and after rush hours are the busiest times to be riding the train.
If you’re traveling on the train in the later morning, early afternoon, or evening, chances are the trains will still be busy but not unbearable.
If you can schedule your time on the train outside of those hours, you should have a fairly easygoing ride.
In Japan, the morning rush hour is between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., and the evening rush hour starts at 5:00 p.m, so it’s not much different from other countries.
If you can’t get onto a train, don’t be too concerned, as the trains in Japan run quite frequently.
Japanese Train Etiquette Tips
There are some unspoken rules when it comes to riding the train in Japan. You should be aware of some of these rules, especially if you find yourself on a packed commuter train.
Lines often form to board and get off the train, and you should respect those lines and wait your turn.
You should limit the amount of space you take up by avoiding throwing your bags onto seats or spreading out over multiple seats.
It’s also recommended that you avoid eating when on the train, and listen to your music at a reasonable volume or by wearing earphones.
Outside of the pandemic, you may also see people wear masks when riding the train. If you are concerned about potential germs or illness, you can wear a mask as well and don’t have to be concerned that others will stare at you.
You might also notice that some trains have specific cars for women so they can feel safe when riding the train during rush hour.
The Japan Railway System
The Japan Railway Group is responsible for a large portion of the trains that run through Japan. It’s often called JR Group for short.
JR Groups offers something known as a JR Pass, which lets you ride the majority of their train lines for an unlimited number of lines for a certain period of time.
The pass is absolutely worth the money if you are going to be in Japan for at least a couple of weeks, and are going to be relying heavily on public transportation. You can purchase a pass for a period of 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days.