Trains: France/Italy vs. Japan

While I enjoyed using the train systems in all of these countries, there were some major differences between the two in Europe and Japan. First off, the stations were generally built in 2 distinct styles. The major stations in Japan were very organized and clean, each part put into a logical place. The stations in France and Italy were sprawling things, leading you deeper and deeper underground, oftentimes with large empty hallways or open rooms. Furthermore, the atmosphere was completely different. I nearly always felt underground in European train stations: there was not often much lighting and, as mentioned above, there were always wide open areas. The bigger stations had stores drastically different than what was above ground, enhancing the sensation that I had entered into a different world. Japan’s stations felt more like nexus’, simple a node where many things came together. They weren’t their own place so much as a combination of all the places meeting there. Still, the largest difference between the two regions is in the organization. In Japan, a train later than a few minutes was an anomaly. Even Shinkansen, travelling at hundreds of miles per hour, were regularly within 1-2 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.  The people getting on and off the train were very polite and practiced, letting people off before getting on and never getting rough. I cannot accurately describe how crazy this is considering the size of the traffic. During rush hour, the stations would become solid masses of people. Still, I would stand in a line that showed where the doors would be and wait my turn to get on, trusting that everyone would keep their end of the bargain and the system would run smoothly. In France and Italy it was a brawl. You could generally count on the train arriving. Eventually. Unless there was a strike-there were three during my two week stay. If it was rush hour you better be prepared to push and shove your way in or else stand in the throng until nightfall. Lines may have once existed, but once the amount of people wanting on the train got too large the columns melded together into a mob pushed in among itself. Signs were often posted to warn about pick pocketing, but I had to pay $50 for a lesson in how real the problem is. I don’t mean this to come off as bashing on the subways in France and Italy. I would still take either of them over having to drive, and the lack of organization allowed me to develop a more personal connection with the stations. I was spoiled in having my first experience be with Japan’s system. In the already stressful experience of travelling at high speeds underground in a pressurized tube filled with strangers, it is nice to have the reliability of the trains to lean on.

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