Fresh off the boat and full of enthusiasm, I still ride trains in Tokyo like a wide-eyed kid in a toy store, always finding amusement with the diverse types of personalities onboard. Below are the eight types of people I’ve spotted on the subway so far:

1. The Serial Napper

Trains in Japan have comfortably cushioned seats, making them conducive for long rides as well as naps. And because yakking loudly (or even talking) on the phone is discouraged, the sound of the speeding trains turns into a lullaby for each passenger. The only problem comes when you’re sitting beside a swaying and bobbing serial napper and you instantly turn into a pillow. However, if you’re feeling like Mother Teresa, it wouldn’t hurt to offer your shoulder for a few minutes. Just hope they’re not the drooling type.

2. The Gadget Junkie

These are the easiest to find on trains — they’re oblivious to the world around them and always looking down at their gadgets, perhaps increasing their chances of getting double chins but they don’t even care. Most of the countries with the fastest internet speeds have a growing tribe of commuters who can’t stop looking at their screens, tapping and swiping with their thumbs to the point of exhaustion.

Girls-with- digital-devices

Photo by Jenie Gabriel

3. The Endangered Bookworm

I call them endangered for obvious reasons. They’re a dying breed and far outnumbered by the hordes of junkies mentioned earlier. So whenever I see anyone with his or her nose in a book and engrossed by every page, I smile and heave a sigh of relief, realizing that there’s hope for the printed word after all. Let’s take a moment and applaud these disciplined, or maybe even slightly romantic beings who haven’t yet been afflicted with smartphonitis.

4. The Stoic Salaryman

Who wouldn’t look like a robot if you worked like one? The majority of salarymen work for at least 10 hours a day — that includes taking the clients out for a night of debauchery disguised as a sales meeting. Hence, we shouldn’t be surprised if they are half asleep, hungover, or on auto-pilot every time they board trains. So let’s cut them some slack and try not to take share-worthy photos of them when they’re passed out on train seats or floors.

 5. The Eccentric Fashionista

A throng of young fashionistas in Tokyo dress to impress in the hopes of being spotted on the streets by fashion photographers or bloggers. Some of them look like they open their closets every morning and throw all rules out the window. They just go with their gut feeling, maybe channel Lady Gaga or Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and flaunt an ensemble that looks eclectic to others yet is totally liberating for them. They deserve props for their effort and unwavering confidence.

6. The Clueless Gaijin

Another group that stands out includes the dazed and confused foreigner. Whether you’re a traveler or a new resident, Tokyo’s headache-inducing maze of a train system poses a challenge — especially if you don’t understand the language. You’ll see these people alternately looking down at their maps and looking up at the screen above the doors, waiting for a comprehensible station name to appear. This bunch rarely naps on trains because they have to stay alert, lest they miss their stop and take an expensive and time-consuming detour. So if you bump into them, you might want to lend a hand and help them make their trip a little bit less of an Amazing Race.

7. The Masked Riders

These riders catch my attention mainly because in the two countries I lived in before coming to Japan, masks are only worn to safeguard one’s lungs from carcinogenic pollution or haze. So out of curiosity, I asked some English-speaking locals why they wear white masks in public, even though they seem to clash with their sleek outfits. Their answers made complete sense: “I’m sick and I don’t want to spread my virus” and “I don’t want to catch a cold.” Kudos to the few remaining conscientious and ever-so-considerate beings on the planet.

8. The Competitive Seat Ninja

As their type name suggests, these agile individuals have mastered the art of nabbing a seat at all times. Before the train even comes to a halt they’re eyeing out the empty seats, and once the train doors open, they pounce. Some resort to hogging the priority seats that should go to the needy; they’d rather be at the receiving end of nasty stares than give up their thrones.

How many of these types have you spotted on the trains — or have you encountered some yet-uncategorized varieties on your travels? How would you classify yourself? Let us know in the comments.

Words by Jenie Gabriel

Feature image: oneinchpunch /