One of the many draws for tourists in Japan is the train system that connects the country from tip to toe, with Tokyo’s notoriously crowded railways being one of the highlights on any trip to the country.
Everyday the cars fill to the brim with people on their daily commute to and from work, and it’s not entirely unusual to find an overeager YouTuber packed in amongst the ranks of businessmen, documenting this “sardine can” experience.

Yet with the risks of COVID-19 being spread via what has been dubbed “the three c’s” – closed spaces, crowded places and close contact situations – right now being on a busy train in Japan’s capital city is not high on anyone’s agenda.

To help commuters decide on when to catch a ride, the East Japan Railway Company (from hereon JR East) announced plans to expand and upgrade it’s smartphone app which informs the user of how busy the cars are.

The app has actually been available to customers since March 2014, however, up until now, the service had only been able to give information about the JR Yamanote Line which links the major tourist and business locations in central Tokyo.
Calls for expansion of the app were made after the company saw an increase of users during the outbreak of COVID-19, with commuters concerned about picking up the virus during peak travel hours.

Christian Van Der Henst S. | CC by 2.0

The upgraded application will see real-time information regarding car and station congestion, and will be expanded to include, in addition to the Yamanote Line, information from train lines within the capital and the greater Tokyo region.
Congestion information will be released to application users and be updated every 5 minutes, and will be divided into five levels, with colour codes ranging from “plenty of seats available” to “extremely crowded”.
The company plans to roll out the upgraded version of the app from the middle of July.

Currently the company has only announced it will be updating the Japanese version of the application, but as they also feature an app in English, it can be expected that the new function will likely become available there as well.
According to Time Out Tokyo, the application is expected to roll out the new feature to include the following 19 train lines from mid-July:

  • Tōkaidō line between Tokyo and Yugawara stations
  • Yokosuka/Sōbukaisoku line between Kurihama and Chiba stations
  • Shōnan-Shinjuku line between Utsunomiya, Shinjuku and Zushi stations, as well as Jimbohara, Shinjuku and Odawara stations
  • Keihin-Tōhoku/Negishi line between Ōmiya and Ōfuna stations
  • Yokohama/Negishi line between Hachioji, Higashi-Kanagawa and Ōfuna stations
  • Nambu line between Kawasaki and Tachikawa stations
  • Chūō Main line between Tachikawa and Ōtsuki stations
  • Chūō line (rapid) between Tokyo and Takao stations
  • Chūō-Sōbu line between Mitaka and Chiba stations
  • Ōme line between Tachikawa and Ōme stations
  • Itsukaichi line between Haijima and Musashi-Itsukaichi stations
  • Utsunomiya line between Ueno and Kuroiso stations
  • Takasaki line between Ueno and Jimbohara stations
  • Saikyō/Kawagoe/Sōtetsu line between Komagawa, Ōmiya, Ōsaki and Musashi-Kosugi stations
  • Jōban line (local and rapid) between Shinagawa and Hatori stations
  • Jōban line (local) between Ayase and Toride stations
  • Keiyō line between Tokyo and Soga stations
  • Musashino line between Fuchū-Honmachi, Nishi-Funabashi, and Tokyo or Kaihin Makuhari stations
  • Ueno-Tokyo line between Yugawara, Tokyo and Kuroiso or Jimbohara stations, and between Hatori and Shinagawa stations

By - Connie Sceaphierde.