Snapshots from Tokyo hell

December 14th, 2010By Category: Culture, Photography

Tokyo’s metro system is where Japanese manners go to die – as anyone who has spent any time living and working in the city can tell you. Though perhaps not as bad as stereotypes will have you believe, there are still plenty of examples where the behavior on commuter trains can come as a shock compared to what you see back up on street level.

A new photo collection, put together by photographer Michael Wolf, reveals the cramped, stressful and unforgiving life of a Tokyo commuter.  Wolf is renowned for super-sized photographs of Chicago, and his home for the last fifteen years Hong Kong. The collection, ‘Tokyo Compression’ captures a different aspect of an Asian metropolis.






















The looks of resignation on the various faces give you a good idea of what goes on, but also caught in the images is the toleration that people put up with, the small signs of life in the keitai being held up millimeters from a face and the acts of contortion in order to read the morning newspaper or manga.






















Of course, plenty of other – not so wholesome things – also tend to happen while on the move. That was one idea behind the newer Tokyo manner posters which were designed by famed illustrator Bunpei Yorifuji. Here the list of offences include taking up too much space, applying cosmetics and listening to your music too loudly.






















– Check out more images at Michael’s official site. The book is available on, amongst other places.

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • Art says:

    this article is about a photographic exhibition, an impressions from someone’s point of view. Most of the comments I read here are completely missing the point.

  • gstar says:

    The smashing into an already over crowded train car is what I cant stand.
    All the Japanese manners disappear, and pure selfishness takes over once they get through that ticket gate. Sure its peak hour, so its going to be crowded but the next train at that time is probably only a few minutes away. Especially the Yamanote loop line in Tokyo where you see most of the smashers… the next train is 1-2 minutes away.
    And like other posters mentioned, the closed minded exiting stampede where pushing and shoving is acceptable without a word of apology. The only thing that matters is you and getting to your connection – who cares about whoever is in the way, because Im stressed from doing this everyday. No matter how many times I have to do it, Ill never get used to it and it still enrages me.

  • There’s really not much you can do especially in a highly populated and busy city like Tokyo. The pictures are impressions from someone’s point of view but the locals and those working in the city might be annoyed with this situation but at the same time this is already a part of their daily routine.

  • Mrpingpong says:

    Someone’s taken their angry pills this morning!!! Mono_locco – did you eat too many Krispy Kreams today and then spew em back up or something. You really need a big banana to ease that tension. Packed trains are great, there is nothing better than getting squashed up against a chikitas with hot bodies. Shut up unless you have something constructive to say. You say such mong things.

  • Mono_locco says:

    Althought I must admit….girls like the pics with sunnies at night are just ridiculous and retarded….. I can understand in the morning but at night LOL what idiots…. what its cool to wear sunnies at night ROFL….. I will never understand Japanese so called fashion….
    be it either cool or fashionable in japan…. to me it will still be sometimes idiotic or just plain unnecessary ^ ^

  • Mono_locco says:

    Do you wake up earlier each morning just in case there is a crowded train…..moron lol.
    Your comment is really retarded.

    As for the make up it doesn`t bother me at all as long as they are not sitting next to me and bumping me everytime they move their shoulders to apply something.

    Train are crowded in Tokyo (specially mornings and after everyone goes home from work) but most of the times it`s pretty good and reliable.

    But yes I do have to agree about when people try to get into an already packed train. For me I am ok as I am still young and like every gaijin here (I`m sure) can push a little in order to get some space, but for small kids and older people it`s really dangerous and when they all go out to a stop they want to get off they are worse than animals and sheep. No common decency…. sad sad sad.
    Aki4eva… what girls giving you bad looks?? high school girls? normal girls?? Old woman.
    If its high school or school girls it`s probably just curiosity….they don`t probably see many gaijins so they are curious, as for other girl (like younger working or uni students or everyday young people) it might be because again you are a gaijin or they think u look cute or you are butt ugly and they hate the sight of your uglu mugg lol. Older women is the same or they are just grumpy bums who want you out of their country. It happens to me also sometimes but who cares…. i just give them a stare back and this usually just makes them stop and turn the other way. As they are self consious themselves and don`t handle being stared well themselves ^ ^

  • Aki4eva says:

    People should get a break here… just staying silent annoys me and
    also girlz giving some weird looks I hate that so much.

  • Mattor says:

    This is stupid. Tokyo’s train system is one of the best in the world. Yeah, rush hour is packed but really theres a lot worse situations out there. And the rules are stupid. Don’t do your make-up? Yeah, maybe in a crowded train if it takes up too much space but really its none of your fucking business otherwise. Is it effecting you in any way that that person is putting on makeup? No. Find something better to complain about. Same goes for phones. Realistically they only have an effect on pacemakers if you put a bunch of them really close to someones heart.
    There is no good reason to complain about Japan’s train system as it is now so people find redundant things to complain about instead.

  • Makeuphater says:

    The makeup that gets done in the train annoys the piss out of me.

  • Setsuna says:

    It still amazes me how commuters will still happily rush into an already jam packed train with bodies half out of train doorways preventing doors from closing.

    Delayed trains means more people trying to squeeze in.
    Couldn’t they just wake up earlier and catch a more comfortable local train into work?


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