National

Commuters and travelers face grueling Monday morning in typhoon-hit Tokyo

by Ryusei Takahashi, Magdalena Osumi and Masumi Koizumi

Staff Writers

Tokyo’s morning rush was more hellish than usual Monday, with massive crowds of commuters gathering at train stations across the metropolitan area to wait for train services disrupted by Typhoon Faxai.

The powerful typhoon made landfall before 5 a.m. around the city of Chiba as it swept across the Kanto area, and brought record strong winds to the region.

East Japan Railway Co., also known as JR East, had announced before the storm hit that it would cancel all train services in the greater Tokyo area from the first train until 8 a.m. on Monday. The cancellations were to allow time to inspect possible damage following the typhoon, the operator said.

But many lines ended up suspended or delayed for hours more, resulting in vast numbers of people stranded inside and outside stations, nervously listening to announcements about the status of their trains.

Even after services resumed, entry to some stations was restricted to avoid dangerous overcrowding of train platforms.

Near Koenji Station in the capital’s Suginami Ward, local residents were seen sweeping away fallen leaves and debris as morning commuters tried to get to work or school. First-year high school student Sasha Hirakawa, 16, who was waiting for a train bound for Takao Station, said she “felt pressured” to get to her classes because she did not want to fall behind. The classes were running as usual.

According to Hirakawa, a resident of the Koenji area, she woke up at 5:30 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, to check TV broadcasts, only to find that it would be impossible to reach the school’s nearest station.

Determined to go, she would wait until her regular express train started operations, or even take a slower local train, she said.

Commuters wait for platforms to open at Shinjuku Station on Monday, Typhoon Faxai's assault on the Kanto region earlier in the day left train services suspended. | AP
Commuters wait for platforms to open at Shinjuku Station on Monday, Typhoon Faxai’s assault on the Kanto region earlier in the day left train services suspended. | AP

The early start followed a night of disrupted sleep, according to Hirakawa, who said that she was constantly disturbed by the noise of high winds from the typhoon.

“I was not in a situation where I could sleep well at all,” she said.

Also stranded at the station was Hisato Sato, a 21-year-old college student. Sato said he had almost given up on reaching his school, as the train he usually takes to the nearest station was stopped. Even if services restarted, the trains would be too packed to get on, he said, adding that he felt demoralized.

Kenji Yamamoto, a 30-year-old employee of an information technology company, said he had “no choice but to stand waiting” in the station because all three nearby cafes had no available seats.

Yamamoto said he’d woken up at 7:30 a.m., the time he usually takes a train, knowing that there would be no services until 8 a.m. He said his company did not urge employees to rush to their workplace and had told them to catch trains when they started running.

Asked how his colleagues were doing, Yamamoto said that one of them was helping mop up rainwater at a nursery school attended by their child.

He said his sleep had been interrupted once or twice by the storm.

“My house shook so hard from winds,” he added.

At Futamatagawa Station on the Sotetsu Line, Genta Sawada, a 34-year-old from Asahi Ward, Yokohama, said he was supposed to get to the office before 9 a.m. but an hour later he was still stuck at the station. Services were suspended due to broken electric wires and a fallen tree on the railway tracks, he said, adding, “I want to get to the office soon.”

Minami Kudo, a 32-year-old resident of Asahi Ward in the city who works as a brochure designer in Ginza, said she was worried that due to the delay she would have to work overtime, and that all the lines she usually used were out of service Monday morning.

Both Sawada and Kudo said they had endured a sleepless night, with Faxai having passed near the Miura Peninsula at around 3 a.m.

“The wind was so strong and the sound was horrible,” Kudo said.

“I only slept for about three hours because of the noise,” said Sawada.

Confusion following the typhoon caused further inconvenience to those traveling to more distant areas.

A 73-year-old woman who gave only her first name, Tomoko, said she was supposed to meet her friends at Tokyo Station on their way to a class reunion in Fukushima Prefecture. She had arrived at Futamatagawa Station at around 8 a.m.

“I hope we can make it,” she said, adding that the party was scheduled for late afternoon. “I just have to wait until they resume operation.”

Karolina Bednarz, a 28-year-old Japanologist and reporter from Poland, was among dozens stranded at Narita Airport, where all trains and buses were suspended Monday afternoon.

Her flight from Singapore landed four hours later than planned, partly due to long airport queues.

Bednarz was concerned about her plans for the rest of the day, but also expressed her disappointment with assistance for tourists to whom the powerful typhoon came as a surprise.

“I’m lucky I speak Japanese but, overall, assistance here is rather poorly organized,” she said.

“No one told me when I arrived that I should find myself a seat because I’d be stuck here for long hours. I’m young and I can deal with it somehow, but I’m concerned how children or elderly people are handling it.”

She said that most coffee shops at the airport were either closed or overcrowded, and that “no one knew anything here” about the various suspensions to connecting transport services.

“The airport staff don’t seem to be fluent in English, so people who are in a hurry or those who are visiting Japan for the first time may be in trouble,” she said.