If Tokyo is a collection of Edo-era villages held together by a web of rail lines — which it is — then train stations are the village centers, the common, the place everyone goes sooner or later and around which daily live revolves.
And of all the stations in the city, Shinjuku Station is the one by which all others in Tokyo, in Japan, in the world, compare themselves – and come up wanting.
No less an authority than the Guinness Book of World Records awards Shinjuku Station “world’s busiest station”. Well over three million passengers a day pass through (that’s more than the entire population of my hometown, Toronto. Every. Single. Day. Well, maybe not weekends…). Channel5’s recent documentary “World’s Busiest: Station” gets it right: “a perfect storm of busy-ness.” There are 36 platforms serving twelve or so train and subway lines. At the station’s busiest, apparently, a train moves through every three seconds. Including underground passageways, there are some two hundred exits. No less than ten malls and department stores are a part of the main building; many more are linked by those aforementioned passages.
And all that’s only counting the main station; there are many more of all of the above if you include satellite stations.
eight 36 million stories in the naked city.” And more than three million of them pass through Shinjuku Station each day. During a morning and evening commute, I jostle for – literally – a little elbow room with dark-suited office workers, shoppers with oversized brand bags, schoolboys in Prussian jackets, schoolgirls in plaid skirts, GothLolis in frilly dresses and hats, retirees decked out in leather mountain boots and daypacks, English teachers with trademark bookbags slung over their shoulders (why do they all have close-cropped, thinning hair? why do I?), and tourists seemingly hypnotized by the spider scrawl of coloured lines on the transit map.
Harried staff, “the human cogs in the Shinjuku machine,” do their best to keep passengers from tumbling off the over-crowded platforms. Sights that might otherwise catch your eye – a sheaf of archers with unstring, spear-long bows wrapped in velvet; a super-sized sumo wrestler in kimono speaking into a Hello Kitty cellphone – blend into the constant, ever-changing parade of humanity around you.