Tokyo Rush Hour Seen Through A Foreigner’s Lens Goes Viral

A picture from 'Tokyo Compression' by Michael Wolf
A series of photographs by German photographer Michael Wolf called ‘Tokyo Compression’ has gone viral on the Japanese internet, as netizens discovered an alternative way of looking at life in Japan’s capital.

The photographs portray the crammed trains that characterise the morning rush hour in Tokyo; beleaguered bodies packed together; fatigued faces pushed against steamed-up carriage windows. While this may seem like yet another working day to residents of the metropolis, for those who have never experienced the rush hour in major Japanese cities the experience can be somewhat bizarre.

Netizen reactions to the photographs, which range from anger to amazement, are translated below the article from that first featured the pictures. The full series of photographs can be viewed at Michael Wolf Photography.


Strange? 18 Photographs of Crowded Tokyo Trains As Seen By a Foreigner.

When a foreigner comes to Tokyo to travel, it seems that the ‘crowded train’ which is a familiar sight during the rush hour on weekdays, appears as something quite strange to them.


A crowded train in the Tokyo rush hour, which is said to be the toughest rush hour in the world. In fact, if you live in Tokyo it feels very normal to be packed into a train like sardines, but when you see this again through the pictures, you can almost understand the feeling of a foreigner seeing it for the first time.

The photographs below are by a German photographer called Michael Wolf. The expressions on the faces of the people in the photographs that he took on the Tokyo subway are dark; some people are closing their eyes as though they might be trying to escape their stress; some people frown as they try to bear the pain of the commute.

Tokyo Compression 02 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 03 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 04 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 05 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 06 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 07 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 08 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 09 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 10 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 11 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 12 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 13 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 14 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 15 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 16 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 17 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 18 by Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression 19 by Michael Wolf

Comments from


Well, I think the commute is abnormal.


Even for a country bumpkin like me this is an abnormal scene.


It’s really like the gas chambers they used on the Jews.


It’s more crowded than the trains going to Auschwitz.


This would drive me crazy..


Yeah, because the crowded morning trains in Tokyo are a microcosm of the suffocating nature of Japanese society.


Nah, I wouldn’t want to ride a train like that.


Why is he being so provocative in the last picture?


You’d be pissed if you got your picture taken at a moment like that. Try to imagine what it would be like if it were you.


The woman in photo 3 looks like she’s getting her nipple tweaked.


Put it another way: why doesn’t the commute look like this in cities overseas?

Comments from Yutori2ch Blog:

ゆとりある名無し :

Why is he just taking pictures of people’s faces as he pleases? I want to call this kind of guy a fucking foreigner, not just a foreigner [netizen uses kanji for ‘harm’ instead of ‘foreign/outside’; both are pronounced ‘gaijin’ when added to the character for ‘person’].

名無しさん@ニュース2ちゃん :

Crowded trains are really horrible.

[anon]   :

The ‘fuck you’ guy looks really pissed at having his photo taken.

ゆとりある名無し :

Don’t just take photos of other people, twat.

ゆとりある名無し :

Camera voyeurism…

名無し :

The guy taking the pictures and the people who had their pictures taken are both disgusting www

ゆとりある名無し :

Bastards who get on that kind of crowded train without caring shouldn’t get pissed off at having their picture taken like that.

ゆとりある名無し :

Human scum who reveal the faces of innocent people and try to make fools out of them. And the people running this site too. Shouldn’t the pictures be all rights reserved if this kind of photo is taken?

ゆとりある名無し :

When you look at that guy in the last shot, you really understand that people’s personalities come out in the way they look.

ゆとりある名無し :

The bastards who took those photos can all die.

ゆとりある名無し :

Did the photographer himself have permission?

ゆとりある名無し :

I made a mistake above. I meant to say that the guy who slyly took those photos can die. He took them without asking, and then revealed them online. Don’t justify them by calling them artistic work.

ゆとりある名無し :

Tokyo is Japan.
Still, recently the morals of the Germans these days have become even worse than those of the French.

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  • Love the last shot.

  • China’s subways are almost at this point.

  • elizabeth

    They even had station officers standing on the platform helping to push as many commuters as possible into the train before signaling the train to start moving.

  • HaakonKL

    I love how so many Japanese people are saying that the man should be killed.

    And yet, I distinctly remember the days just after 22nd July 2011 in Norway, after Breivik had killed all those people. An impromptu memorial was set up at the town square, and the locals put flowers there, and came together to grieve.

    And around them and respectably far away (30-60cm) stood the Japanese taking photographs of grieving people.

    But don’t take pictures of people on the train! That’s RUDE.

    (Of course, I realize that neither the tourists taking images nor the comments being reposted are representative. But I still find the contrast interesting.)

    • mr.wiener

      Taking photos of people [without their consent] is always a dicey business. If you are an artist you want to get people at their most human, unvarnished and vulnerable. At the same time you want to show show respect to your subject. The scenario you mentioned is indeed appalling, particularly if the Japanese involved were tourists.

      At least the artist didn’t shy away from showing peoples displeasure of their work. For that he deserves some respect.

    • Smith

      I think near the platform there are signs that says you are not allowed to take pictures there. The photographer clearly violated some rules created by the society, and everyone know how Japan stresses on conformity to rules.

      He at least could have blurred out the eyes or something…

  • hun

    3rd pic.. Did that guy just orgasm!?

  • It takes a certain level of stalker-like creepiness to take pictures of unaware strangers with their eyes closed…

    …but it takes an even greater level of “I’m at a zoo and I don’t give a f*ck” narcissism to take pictures of strangers staring directly at you.

  • the ace of books

    #6 is such a fantastic shot.

    (edited to specify: fifth picture in the series, alt-text reading “tokyo-compression-06”)

    • lonetrey / Dan

      Personally, I missed that one as I scrolled through, but then I took notice of “tokyo-compression-09”. The old man with his left eye highlighted/framed by the spot of light is quite haunting.

  • Lovely

    Interesting comment that a person’s inner character comes out in the way they look. We say where I come from “Ugly on the inside, ugly on the outside”.

    • elizabeth

      However, in this case, it is not a natural reflection of their inner selves. Their facial expression tells more about the environmental conditions they are suffering in. Many of them seem tired too.

    • the ace of books


      Ugly is as ugly does, and how a person looks doesn’t dictate their moral quality nor their personality.

      • mr.wiener

        Not since they invented botox anyway.

  • Lovely

    People take pictures of others without their consent all the time. Look at the photographers who go to war zones to take pictures of human beings lying dead in gutters for the amusement, curiosity of westerners, or the photographers who go to africa to take photos of topless tribal women, parading them around like animals in the wild journalistic magazines like time or newsweek…

  • Angelus88

    Can you imagine the smell of the train… i think i would be very sick smelling other people’s sweat and germs in a closed environment like that..

  • elizabeth

    These pictures remind me of sci-fi movies where human specimens are stored in time capsules or captives being poisoned in torture chambers. Haunting.

  • Hokit

    Anyone who’s heard of or seen how intense rush hours are on Japanese trains shouldn’t be surprised at what those photos reveal. Fatigue, discomfort, stress…who wouldn’t be experiencing them under those conditions? I’d even go as far as saying that rush hours are one of many things characterising modern Japanese society that contribute to high suicide rates. Maybe confronting harsh realities and dealing with them could lead to improved life quality in the future.

    That said the photographer’s intentions comes across as suspicious. Any Tom, Dick and Harry would have a good idea of what it’s like to be in cramped trains. So what insight would the German hoped to have revealed?

  • linette lee

    This is crazy. How can people travel to work like this everyday. So depressing.

  • PureEvilBlackMan

    This is torture. I thought this kind of thing only happened at rush hour in London. What’s worse is when somebody decides to break wind in this situation…

  • alien

    i like the one of the guy flipping off the photographer

  • Funny how a lot of these people are so “appalled” at this foreign guy taking pictures, as a tourist I might add, when people take pictures of others without their permission here all the time. Yeah yeah, sure it’s generally against Japanese society, but people do it. I’ve had people blatantly take pictures of me just because I’m foreign, which doesn’t make it any different.

  • YourSupremeCommander

    The girl in the first pic. I like!

    • YourSupremeCommander

      And I would not mind being squeezed right against her, day after day, everyday.

  • takahashi mio

    lol at the last photo..

  • As a photographer, I think this is a rather unflattering and unimpressive series of photos. I don’t understand the intent of the series other than exposing the extremely uncomfortable conditions which these commuters have to bare on a daily basis.There really is no underlying message conveyed from what I see in the photos. A very pointless series..

  • Franz

    Why do you even pay attention to these guys opinion on things? Most of them seem either extremely hateful and xenophobic or just unbalanced in general. I don’t think this is an accurate display of the common Japanese citizen’s opinion on things, as the Internet breeds those types- radicalizes and fuels their feelings.

  • regina

    I love the last guy.

  • Whirly Pop

    this is why i don’t take the train everyday unless i’m really in a hurry. it’s like a charging war zone whenever the doors open. everybody is pushing and pulling. and even once you’re inside, it’s even worse because you’re squeezed in a mass of people who seems to know no courtesy.

  • wuxiekeji

    I’d say if the face and person’s identity is not recognisable, it’s fair game. Otherwise one should seek acknowledgement or permission.

  • BB1

    If you are in public, a photographer can take your picture and use it as he pleases. More cities can become this way with world overcrowding. Be glad you dont live in Tokyo!

  • KamenTeacher

    Ladies are feeling ass hole touching in Tokyo, Japan……………

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