Japan’s public transport system is one of the best in the world. Everything seems to be so perfect – the timing of train to train transitions, the cleanness of cabins and stations, the quiet atmosphere, and the punctuality of trains (a Japanese rail company even made a public apology for one of their trains leaving only 20 secs earlier than scheduled time!).
The way Japanese companies plan and manage the public transport system is a world-class but it is also the passengers that follow the common rules and manners which makes the whole flow of the public system to be so smooth.
We have listed the important Japanese train etiquette you should follow below so you can understand what is expected while you’re travelling in Japan.
Follow the escalator etiquette – It’s not always “stand on the left”
In Japan, when using an escalator, you stand on the left hand side and keep the right hand side open for people in a hurry to overtake.
Whilst this is true in most of the cities in Japan, there are exceptions.
In Osaka, Wakayama, Nara, Hyogo, Fukui, Shimane, Ehime, Tokushima and Miyazaki Prefectures, you stand on the right hand side and clear the left hand side.
If you have a large bag or a luggage, make sure you don’t block the overtaking lane by putting the bag or luggage in front of you or use an elevator instead.
Blocking the way will interfere the flow of traffic
This applies to any country and in any situation and should be a common sense for everyone, but don’t stand in the middle of the way and block the flow of traffic.
We often see foreign visitors standing and blocking the ticket gate when it fails to open. This creates a huge block of traffic and interferes with the flow.
People do make mistake and inserts invalid or wrong ticket and thus causes the ticket gate to not open. But you shouldn’t just stand there if this happens.
In this situation, don’t panic. Simply get the ticket that you inserted (it will come out without opening the gate) and walk to the train master who is normally in a small room located on the end of rows of gates. He/she will assist you to get in with the right ticket.
Follow the markings and get in the correct line
Most of the busy train platforms will have markers and lines to indicate how you should line up to wait for the trains.
There are no standard markers and lines so it can be different per train line or city you are in.
The confusion can occur with stations where they have different trains arriving on same platform. For example, normal train and express train may have slightly different spot to get on. Check with stationmaster if it is unclear.
Sometimes the most easiest way to handle the situation when you are unsure how to line up is to follow the commuters around you. Especially at busy stations, there will always be someone.
Let people get off before you get on
Once a train arrives at a platform, do not jump in. You need to wait and let all the passengers that want to get off the train go first. After these passengers have got off, then it is your turn to get on (follow the line to get on also – do not try to run and overtake people in front of you).
Carry your bag in front of you – not on your back
This is very important, especially when there are many passengers on board.
When you have a bag on your back, you may unconsciously be hitting people around you. To avoid this, put the bag in front of you. This can also minimise the risk of people stealing things from your bag.
Most trains also have a baggage area above the seats. You can put your belongings there (don’t forget to get your belongs before you get off!)
Do not speak on the phone or talk too loud
Whilst you’re on the public transport, you should not speak on the phone or speak loud with your fellow passenger. It is a cultural manner in Japan showing respect to other passengers. Train should be quiet so that all passengers can hear the announcements.
When travelling with a child or a baby, you cannot avoid them talking loud. Don’t stress about this. Japanese people do understand babies cry so as long as you’re showing that you’re trying to calm them, they won’t say a thing to you (Yes it is stressful but it’s fine!).
Put your phone on vibrate or silent mode
You cannot have your phone’s ringtone going off on the train in Japan. Before you get on the train, change your setting to silent, vibrate or airplane mode.
The attention you get when your ringtone goes off on the train is… just embarrassing.
Be conscious about the sound from your audio player
There is no problem to listen to music but make sure your headphone or earphone is not leaking any sound which can disturb other passengers.
There is nothing more annoying than hearing bass sound of an unknown music coming from a person sitting next to you.
Give seat to that are elder, pregnant or injured.
It is a manner to give seat to the elders, pregnant or injured. They need the seat the most.
Most trains have on each carriage a priority seat. This seat is also called “Silver Seat”. This section is a priority seat for the ones that need to sit.
As a general etiquette, whether you are sitting on a priority seat or not, if you see any elders, injured or pregnant person, offer them your seat.
When you’re near the silver seat, turn off your phone
A lot of people, including locals do not follow this rule but it is required that the phones and electrical devices are switched off if you’re standing near the priority seat.
This is said to be because that elders and injured may be using a medical device that can be interrupted if any other device such as mobile phone, is nearby.
Women only passenger car
On some trains, there are women only passenger cars – as the name suggest, only females are allowed on this carriage.
These cars are often colour coded pink on the carriage and the platform so be aware that males (even with a wife/partner) cannot get on.
Some trains will have Women Only passenger cars only during the peak morning hours.