Left or Right? Japanese Escalator Etiquette

If you are first time visitor to Japan, you may be surprised that Japanese people automatically stand on one side and keep the other side open when taking an escalator. You might also have heard that people in Tokyo stand on the left while people in Osaka stand on the right. So what is the general escalator etiquette in Japan?

In this article, we will introduce you the escalator etiquette in different parts of Japan.


1. Why people in Tokyo stand on the left side while people in Osaka stand on the right?

You might have heard that people in Tokyo stand on the left side when they take an escalator while those in Osaka stand on the right side.

It is said that people in Osaka started to stand on the right on an escalator in 1967 when a new escalator connecting the first floor and the third floor of Umeda Station in Osaka was installed. There was an announcement at the station saying “please keep the left side open when taking the escalator,” which is believed to have become the escalator etiquette of Osaka. Some say the people wanted to follow what people in London do, so this announcement was born.

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While in the late 1980s, people in Tokyo started to stand on the left side only. It seems there was no instruction on how to take an escalator such as an announcement like there was in Osaka. People naturally decided to stand on the left side when taking an escalator.


2. What about people in Kyoto?

Kyoto is one of the most popular tourist spots in Japan. You might think that because Kyoto is located near Osaka, people in Kyoto probably do the same as what people do in Osaka. Actually, the escalator etiquette is a little complicated in Kyoto. In Kyoto, you may see people standing on the left, on the right, or on both sides.

Interestingly, people in Kyoto behave differently on the escalators on different train or subway lines in Kyoto. For JR lines and subway lines, which mainly run in Kyoto city, most of the people stand on the left side when taking the escalator. While for Hankyu lines, Keihan line and Kintetsu lines, which connect Kyoto to its neighborhood such as Osaka and Nara, more people stand on the right side.

Having said that, people in Kyoto generally just follow what the people in front of them do. It is said that this is due to the increasing foreign tourists in Kyoto. As more than 8 million foreign visitors from all over the world come to Kyoto every year, there are more foreign visitors than local people especially at stations and popular tourist spots. It is just simply difficult for them to follow the same rule, who are not familiar with the local etiquette. The locals in Kyoto have already got used to this situation and they just follow the people in front of them.


3. What about other regions of Japan?

According to a research on escalator etiquette of Japan in 2014 conducted by J-town Net, a Japanese city information website, most people in regions other than Tokyo and Kansai in Japan stand on the left side when taking an escalator. Kansai region is an area including Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto.

People in some regions in Japan just stand on either side and there is no need to keep the other side open.


4. So what is the correct way to take an escalator?

Actually, neither left nor right is the correct answer. According to the Japan Elevator Association, escalators are not designed to walk or run on but to just stand on.

If you pay close attention to those posters in public explaining the escalator etiquette (such as holding the handrail firmly), figures in the posters stand in the center or on both sides of the escalators whether in Tokyo or Osaka.

by Tatsuo Yamashita from Flickr
A poster on the wall of JR Akihabara Station


Have you got a better understanding of escalator etiquette in Japan now?

There is a tip for you:

If you are not sure what to do, just follow the people in front of you!

*Top featured image from:photoAC

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