Living and working in Tokyo is committing to being one of the 40 million people that scan their tickets at Tokyo’s train stations daily. Congratulations! With a ridership that surpasses the population of Canada, it’s not surprising that rush hour is dreaded by many.

If you don’t want to be caught sandwiched between three salarymen for 20 minutes, the best solution is to simply wake up early. The ideal time to take the train is as early as 6 o’clock, which means that your alarm needs to be set for the crack of dawn. If you are able to get to the station early enough, you just might get a seat, and with that a chance to make up for the early rising with some extra Zs. Another trick is to avoid express lines and stick with the local train. Yes, it takes longer, but you’ll be able to sit down and when the time comes to get off, you won’t have to sumimasen your way out.

While I cherish sleep more than most things in life, I am one of those annoying early risers. This means I get on the train at a decent hour and manage to grab a seat for the first 45 minutes of my commute. That’s a lot of time to waste scrolling through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds, and there’s only so many tweets you can find interesting (unless it’s the Tokyo Weekender account – Ed). The best way to make your commute interesting is to turn it into a time that you look forward to.

Make a Playlist

If you love music, then you are already listening to your favorite tunes on the train. Go the extra mile by curating your own commuting music. Spotify has lovely playlists that they update regularly, but if you’re particularly picky about genre and artists, you ought to embark on the journey of making your own.

Whether you’re still waking up to soothing acoustic ballads or getting ready for the day ahead with perky pop songs, having a playlist that you keep exclusively for commuting will have you giddy about music again. The key to this is keeping the playlist updated, switching up titles on a weekly or monthly basis. Make the playlist as long as your commute – the fewer songs left on the queue, the closer to your destination.

Study Japanese

With a full-time job, classes and/or a busy social life, it can be hard to find the time and energy to sit down and sharpen your language skills. Whether you’re aiming for N2 or simply want to enrich your vocabulary, use the time to and from the office to study. There are many apps out there to study kanji and Japanese grammar, from Duolingo (great if you just want to cover the basics) and Anki (if you’re ready for intermediate stuff and making your own flashcards). If Twitter is a platform you enjoy, try browsing the “Trends” tab and explore the Japanese hashtags and learn Japanese slang. Alternatively, try reading the train advertisements and gauge your level based on what you can and cannot read.


Life is stressful. Going to work is stressful. Long commutes can be a blessing in disguise in that they allow for time to de-stress. Let’s face it, there’s only so fast you can go once you’re on the train. Meditation has been gaining traction in the last couple of years. I’m not here to convince you of the benefits of it, but rather to consider that this could be a great time to practice mindfulness if it’s something that you are curious about.

Like studying Japanese, there are many apps that can provide you with guidance. This is good if you don’t really know what mindfulness meditation entails and you just want to give it a try. For those who are a little more advanced, you might already know that there are a few kinds of meditation you can practice and what approach you prefer. Some simple cues include:

  • Control your breathing. Work towards deeper inhales and exhales.
  • Notice if your muscles are tense. Relax them.
  • Be aware of anxieties or worries, acknowledge them and let them go for the remainder of your commute.

The main idea is to clear your mind and to do it as long or short as you feel is necessary.

Set Yourself Up for Success

I understand that letting go of tasks isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. An alternative to meditating is going over your to-do list on the way to the office so that when you sit at your desk you’re ready to go. Being productive, however, isn’t limited to planning. No matter your field, one constantly has to be on the lookout for inspiration. Social media is one great way of doing so. Catch up with your favorite content creators and bookmark or screenshot potential candidates for your next project’s mood board. Browse your favorite news sites, magazines or authors for ideas for your next bright idea.

Listen to a Podcast

Falling in between music, meditation and productivity, podcasts can really do it all with a superb variety of genres. I choose podcasts (which could be replaced by an audiobook, if that’s your jam) because they don’t require you to look at anything. If you choose to sleep in and are caught in a tight-as-sardines train, this is something you can do even while your face is smushed against the doors.

Find a podcast that you can enjoy, whether it’s comedy, non-fiction, movie or TV reviews and save it for your commute. Don’t forget to download it at home to save valuable data.

These are only some of the things I do to pass the time on my way to the office but there are many other alternatives out there. Let us know your favorite commute activity or share your playlists or go-to podcasts.

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