Commerce Makes Life More Pleasant—Even in the Subway

The difference between the subways in Taiwan and Japan.

Just over a year ago, Amanda and I were finishing the last two months of our trip to Asia in Taiwan and Japan.

There are lots of differences between the two countries, but one small but striking difference to me is the subway stations.

In Taiwan, the subway stations are large and barren. There is nothing there. They feel cold and dead. You wind your way through a labyrinth to get to your train and see nothing but signs with rules and other people hustle to get out of the train station. It feels like they were created for a dystopian novel.

Even if you don’t need anything, it takes what would otherwise feel like a cold space and makes it warm and vibrant.

In Japan the subway stations are alive. They are gigantic and to transfer trains you often have to walk a long way, but the whole time you are surrounded by business. Small vendors and small restaurants selling things to the crowds of people heading home. Even if you don’t need anything, it takes what would otherwise feel like a cold space and makes it warm and vibrant. The activity is a bit of a distraction, but more than that it makes you feel at home in a weird way.

In Taiwan, the idea of spending 3 hours in a subway station sounds like the stuff of nightmares. In Tokyo, it sounds like a fun afternoon.

Most people think of businesses in spaces as irrelevant to most people. From an outsiders perspective, the business in a subway station would be a nuisance unless you happened to need something they are selling. But for the actual user of the station, the businesses bring the space to life. Like light to darkness, they turn cold underground tunnels into a welcoming and comfortable environment.

Reprinted from the author's blog

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