Train Etiquette In Japan | WhyNot!?JAPAN

Train Etiquette In Japan

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Train Etiquette In Japan

 

by Jordan Mounteer

 

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Although countries in North America and Europe have embraced public transit as a cheaper and more sustainable and efficient method for getting around, especially in big cities where commuting via car may not be practical, there are few other places that compare to Japan. Public transit is the way to get from point A to point B, whether you’re just trying to meet up with friends downtown somewhere, or you’re planning a vacation to another city. Part of this has to do with how crowded cities are, and it just makes a lot more sense to use the trains and buses, but the biggest reason is simply convenience: the transit system in Japan is extremely advanced and quick, to the point you can usually set your watch by the trains.

At the same time, the train etiquette in Japan is quite unique to other countries, and there are a number of rules – both spoken and unspoken – you have to get used to if you want to survive:

 

 

Women Only Cars

One thing which can trick foreigners if they’re not careful is the presence of women only cars – often in a pink color, these are cars specifically designed for women, and men aren’t allowed in them. Why do women get their own cars, you might ask? As polite as the Japanese are, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few bad apples, and in the cramped quarters of trains there is an entire species of perverts who harass girls and women, sometimes with something as innocuous as leers, but other times by groping them. As a result, women who are feeling unsafe – or just want a break without having to worry about being harassed – can wait for the women’s only car.

 

 

Falling Asleep En Route

One thing that foreigners are really surprised about on trains is how often they encounter people who are passed out cold in their seats. In big American cities like New York, this would make you a ripe target for pickpockets or worse, but in Japan it’s quite acceptable, and even expected, that you’ll see people dozing against the window, with everyone from students to salarymen getting onboard with their napping habits. The hardworking ethos of Japanese society dictates that falling asleep is a perfectly normal thing to do in public, and you’ll even see this in the business world, with some companies accepting and even encouraging their employees to nap – it just means you worked hard enough to earn a little shuteye! And don’t be alarmed if someone falls asleep against your shoulder; common courtesy means the normal rules about personal space don’t really apply on trains.

 

 

Like Sardines

Speaking of personal space, one thing you’ll find on trains, and in particular during the rush hours between the morning and the afternoon when people go to and get off work respectively, is that trains are packed. Often you are squished up against a hundred other people, and again it’s a bit of a paradox – the normal reticence about how much space you’re supposed to give another person goes out the window when the train doors close. As a result, it’s always a good idea (if you’re a guy) to put your hands in your pockets or hold onto the handholds so that you don’t accidentally touch someone by accident. Additionally, make sure you have deodorant! There’s nothing worse than putting in a long day of work during the summer and then having to lift your arm and let the rest of the train get a whiff. Pity the poor traveler who is pushed up against you and always keep your personal hygiene in mind.

 

 

Shhh!

Another piece of etiquette that North American and European travelers or tourists might not consider is talking on their phone while on the train. In other countries this is acceptable and tolerated, but it’s a big no-no in Japan, and you’ll even see signs suggesting you wait until your stop to take that call. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with texting, and just like any other train or subway you’re bound to see the majority of commuters fixed to their screens. Just keep the volume to a minimum. That isn’t to say you can’t talk with other people – if you’re with a friend or a group of people, talking back and forth is totally acceptable, as long as you’re doing it in a respectful manner and not yelling or laughing loudly.

 

 

Giving Up Your Seat And Standing In Line

It’s pretty much common courtesy to give up your seat to someone else if they happen to be elderly or disabled. They might shake their hand and smile and reject your offer at first, but don’t be alarmed – this is quite common, and you might even need to offer the seat twice or three times for them to gratefully accept. The same goes for mothers with children or someone who’s injured. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it, and everyone on the train will be a lot more willing to put up with your other bad gaijin habits. Also, and we can’t stress it enough, abide by the lines! While waiting for the train, always follow protocol and line up behind the yellow line; unlike the free for all shuffle of people into trains in North America, here the line is the law.

 

 

Stinky Food And Backpacks

In general, eating food on the go is seen as a bit crude, so even when getting a donut it’s a good idea to stop somewhere and finish eating before actually walking. The same unspoken rule applies to trains, for the most part – I’ve seen some people eating their bento hurriedly before school or work, but it’s not as common, and when it comes packed trains its super important that you don’t unwrap your stinky fried fish. The scent can really carry, and you’ll probably get a lot of dirty looks from your neighbours; if they’re from an older generation, the hostility may be even more overt. This applies to any kind of strong scented product, so for ladies that includes nail polish or perfume (although you’re more than likely to have a woman try to apply delicate Mascara next to you while the train shakes to and fro). Because the trains are usually crowded, this can also pose a problem for people like me who favor a backpack. The bigger and more unwieldy, the more awkward it is to have it smack people next to you. Always take it off and hold it between your feet or on your lap – or, if it’s too big, heave it into one of the upper carrier shelves or nets.

 

 


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Jordan