September 22 2014



It is Monday.

Commuting. Imagine the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, the years, the decades of an average life of a person living in a huge city spends commuting to and from work. The average is big cities like Tokyo is about 90 minutes. Do the maths on that and you will find that an average working life of 40 years, working 48 weeks in the year results in about 864,000 minutes commuting, or in days about 600. 600 days! 600 days spent commuting to and from work.


600 days

600 days can be valuable if spent in the right way. Commuting can be drudgery. The thing that strikes me about it is that the isolation. People are put in such close contact with others; most sharing the same experience, but so little exchange occurs. In Tokyo, in the mornings there is silence. Silence as the masses travel. In the stations, all you hear are the public announcements over the tannoy and the footsteps of the throngs on the move. Mobile phones are not used and no conversations are struck up among the passengers on the trains. People choose to shut their eyes to snooze or shut out the world. Others find a space to stare blankly into, while so many will pass the time engrossed in what their smart phones can offer. We crave isolation in the close proximity of others.

All Free

All Free

8 responses to “September 22 2014

  1. Hello, Brendan. Really enjoying these posts and images while I am here in Japan. You have totally summed up the commute in both images and with what you have said. I really like how the Japenese deal with the daily commute. The no speaking on the train would be amazing if it happened in London, rather than having to listen to the person next to you talking on the phone and going on and on about themselves. Give me a sleeping salaryman any time.

    Loving the colour of the SLR images to this mini series.

    Hope you and the family are well.

    • Thanks Mark. It is amazing to sense how quiet it is on the trains in Japan in the morning.
      The ban on mobiles is not a bad idea – especially as people tend to raise their voices on the phone as they talk.
      You still in Tokyo or did you move on?

      • In Kyoto now. Will be based here to visit Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima. Been a lot of fun. Not as much photography as I would have hoped but still enough. Tokyo, especially, has changed the way I try to see things. I reckon it does that to a lot of people.

      • Tokyo is overwhelming. There is so much to take in and process. Enjoy Kyoto – don’t miss exploring the train station – get up to the very top and do the ‘skywalk’ thing.

  2. Excellent post, Brendan. I commented on your Flickr page before reading this. You certainly captured the moment and I truly have a sense of your experience by viewing this photo. I still think you must have stood out like a sore thumb. An American idiom!

    • Sticking out like a sore thumb is universal, I think, in the English language. Ya – I guess I did!
      Thanks for dropping by Nora – means a lot to read your comments on the blog.

  3. I’ve been struck by the silence of the Japanese commuters before as well. Coming from a western culture where people often speak on buses, trains, or in lines at supermarkets, I initially found the reluctance of Japanese to speak to strangers off-putting. In time, I’ve come to think of it differently. The cities are packed with people and private space is a premium. Books, phones, blank staring are all ways to create a small private space for yourself and to respect the private spaces of others despite the limitations city living presents. I didn’t start to really see it this way until I started noticing the home gardens of people in my neighbourhood – each small space an attempt to create a meditative oasis. Similarly with ikebana flower arrangements put in alcoves in homes. Some of my favourite Japanese photography focuses on just such things – descriptions of small, private spaces.

    Crave isolation – maybe. Or maybe it’s craving privacy in distinctly uncomfortable public situations.

    • Interesting to hear your experience, Stephen. Agree it is privacy they crave – but isolation is needed for this – isolation from strangers.
      THanks for dropping by – enjoy the conversation.

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