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  • Noah Brelage

Packed Like Sardines: The Whole City on One Train Line



I always wanted to live in as big a city as possible. When I first arrived in Tokyo, however, I did not know what to expect. I had barely ever stayed in a city bigger than 500,000 people, so living in a metropolis like Tokyo was certainly an experience I’ve never had before. I didn’t even have ways of fully understanding what it meant.

What struck me most when I first arrived was an overwhelming complexity and sheer diversity of life. Every area of Tokyo was a whole new world by itself. Even within the small radius of my regular commute along the Inokashira Line, I got to see so much more than what my hometown could ever provide. I couldn’t stop looking out of the train windows. The metro system in particular was fascinating to me—which is only natural I suppose—since life in the entire city relies on and revolves around its intricate network of train lines. Whenever I had time after my classes, I would go out and try to understand Tokyo through the method I knew best: photography.

Pretty soon, I began to focus on one particular time and place as the subject of my pictures: Inokashira Line’s Shibuya Station during the rush hour. What I saw when I took photos there was the life of the city emerging from the subway cars. It was like a cross-section of Tokyo was presenting itself every time the doors of the trains opened before me. I saw people from all walks of life, sharing moments of slightly uncomfortable to extremely cramped social interactions. Everyone trying to accommodate each other—everyone just wanting a little bit of space for themselves.

The train lines of Tokyo are infamous for being densely packed and often overcrowded, especially during rush hour. Yet despite the close physical contact with everyone else, the people in the trains are all trying to keep to themselves, with most passengers wrapped in their own protective bubbles, checking their phone, staring vacantly out of the windows, or simply being fast asleep. Nobody notices the miracle of the moments.

After photographing these people in the metro cars, packed like sardines in cans, I headed home. Stepping into the train bound for my local station, I became one of them.


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