When you travel in Japan, taking the train is a very common mode of transportation. While Japan’s train system is incredibly convenient and efficient, there are specific etiquettes and customs to be observed. These train etiquettes not only help you better assimilate into the local culture but also ensure comfort and harmony among you and your fellow passengers. In the following, we will explore some etiquette points to keep in mind when riding trains in Japan. Adhering to these rules can make your train journey smoother and more enjoyable. Whether you are visiting Japan for the first time or are already familiar with the country, these train etiquettes will be beneficial to you.
Don’t Linger Near the Ticket Gates
Upon entering the train station, before boarding, you will first pass through the ticket gates. Whether you’re using an IC card like Suica or ICOCA for your journey or purchasing a paper ticket, it’s essential to remember not to linger when passing through the ticket gates. Walk through, swipe your card if necessary, and promptly move on.
Especially when traveling with companions, even if you pass through the ticket gate first, please avoid waiting near the gate for your friends. Instead, walk a bit further away and wait in an area within the station where there are fewer people. This is to ensure there’s enough space for later passengers to pass through the ticket gates, particularly those in a hurry.
Queuing Up is Essential
When riding trains in Japan, queuing up is a crucial etiquette. Japanese people highly value order and an organized environment, so when waiting at train stations, they automatically form queues to ensure a fair and orderly boarding process. This cultural practice allows passengers to enter train cars in an organized manner, preventing crowding and chaos.
Upon arriving at the station, you’ll see passengers already queuing up at designated spots on the platform. Please adhere to this order and join the line at the end. Avoid attempting to cut in line or push other passengers, as such behavior is considered impolite and unwelcome. Also, be mindful not to occupy other people’s waiting spaces, leaving enough room for other passengers to use.
Let Passengers Alight First
First-time visitors to Japan are often amazed by the scene at Japanese train platforms. Despite many people waiting for the train on the platform, when the train comes to a halt, nobody moves, and there’s no rush towards the train doors. Instead, passengers wait until those inside the train who need to alight have done so before entering the carriage.
This is a crucial etiquette principle when riding trains in Japan known as “Let Passengers Alight First.” This principle means that when the train comes to a stop and opens its doors, passengers should allow those inside the train to alight first before entering the carriage.
The purpose of this etiquette is to ensure that passengers can smoothly exit the train and move away from the door area, while also allowing other passengers ample space to board. Such an arrangement reduces congestion and confusion, enhancing the overall commuting experience.
Do Not Rush onto the Train When Doors Are Closing
In Japanese train stations, you’ll often come across signs like this:
When you arrive at the platform and see the train doors slowly closing, do you choose to rush into the carriage before they’re completely shut, or do you wait for the next train?
In Japan, attempting to board a train while the doors are closing, a behavior known as “駆け込み乗車” (kakekomi-jyosha), is strongly discouraged. While Japanese trains are designed with doors that automatically reopen if they encounter an obstruction while closing, and the risk of injury is low, it’s still not a safe practice. In the worst-case scenario, if the doors were to close and the train starts moving with a passenger caught in between, the consequences could be severe. Even in the best-case scenario, where the doors reopen automatically, it greatly consumes time and affects the punctuality of the train, which isn’t fair to other passengers.
Therefore, if you see the train doors closing, it’s best not to attempt to rush onto the train. Instead, wait for the next train to arrive.
While on Board
Avoid Staying Near the Doors
Now that you’ve entered the train carriage and there are no available seats, where should you choose to stand?
When riding trains in Japan, another crucial etiquette rule is to avoid lingering near the doors. Door areas are the primary points for passengers to board and disembark, so maintaining smooth access around the doors is vital. Therefore, if you’re already inside the train, when the train arrives at a station and the doors open, try to avoid standing right at the door and make an effort to move further into the carriage. If you’re preparing to board, once you’re on board, move toward the middle of the carriage and hold onto a handrail for stability.
In some cases, if the train is crowded and you have no choice but to stand near the doors, it’s recommended to temporarily step off when the train arrives at a station to make space for passengers inside who need to disembark. This is a common practice when riding trains in Japan.
When riding trains in Japan, maintaining silence is a highly important train etiquette. Japanese people place a significant emphasis on tranquility and order in public places, especially within the confines of a train carriage.
If you’re traveling with companions, it’s essential to lower your speaking volume during the journey or try to avoid loud conversations. If you need to communicate with your companions, it’s best to do so in hushed tones to avoid disturbing other passengers.
If you have a mobile phone, please switch it to silent or vibrate mode to prevent loud ringtones or notifications from bothering others. Generally, answering phone calls is not allowed while on the train. If you need to take a call, you should disembark first, complete your call on the platform, and then reboard the next train. If you must make or receive a call inside the train carriage, please ensure that it’s in a soft voice and try to keep it as brief as possible so as not to disrupt other passengers.
In addition to conversations and mobile phone ringtones, using audio devices or playing music aloud within the train is highly discouraged. If you need to use headphones, adjust the volume to an appropriate level to ensure that the sound does not leak out.
When carrying luggage onto the train, please make an effort to minimize space consumption. If you have large luggage, try to place it in the area designated for wheelchairs inside the carriage. However, you should not leave your luggage unattended while you find a seat. Instead, stay with your luggage and ensure that it remains stable. Be cautious not to block exits or hinder the movement of other passengers.
Please refrain from placing luggage on the seats. In Japanese train culture, maintaining the cleanliness of seats is crucial. Placing luggage on seats can obstruct other passengers from finding available seating, preventing them from sitting down. For small items like handbags, backpacks, and the like, you can stow them in the overhead luggage racks above the seats. These racks typically offer ample space for small luggage, making it convenient for you without inconveniencing other passengers during your train journey.
Avoid Taking Up Excessive Space When Seated
When seated, it’s essential to maintain a comfortable posture without occupying unnecessary space. Men should try to keep their knees together, avoiding spreading their legs too wide, which allows the adjacent seat to provide more space for other passengers. If someone is sitting next to you, refrain from crossing your legs in front of them to avoid causing inconvenience.
During the train journey, be mindful not to overly expand your body. Sometimes, passengers may unconsciously extend their arms or place their backpacks onto the adjacent seat, making it difficult for others to use that seat. Please be attentive to your posture and ensure that you do not encroach upon the neighboring seat’s space, as this could inconvenience others.
Avoid Eating Inside the Train
When traveling on trains in Japan, it is strictly prohibited to eat inside the train carriage. This rule is in line with the strong emphasis on cleanliness and etiquette in Japanese culture, especially in public transportation.
Please refrain from chewing gum while on the train. In Japan, chewing gum in public places is considered impolite and unhygienic.
Furthermore, avoid bringing foods with strong odors into the train. If you do bring food on board, ensure that it is well-packaged and does not emit strong smells. If you happen to get hungry while on the train, opt for odorless snacks like dried fruits or biscuits and try to remain quiet. Avoid consuming foods with strong flavors or those that require loud chewing.
In some train carriages in Japan, there are designated “priority seats” that are reserved for passengers in need. These seats are typically marked with special symbols, such as baby stroller or wheelchair icons, and are prioritized for use by pregnant women, the elderly, individuals with limited mobility, or families with young children. As courteous passengers, it is important that we avoid occupying these seats to ensure that passengers in need can use them comfortably.
Mobile phones are wireless devices that emit and receive radio signals, which can generate electromagnetic waves. While the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones is generally low, in specific environments, it may interfere with sensitive devices. In Japan, some train operators have regulations prohibiting the use of mobile phones near priority seats. This is primarily done to prevent electromagnetic interference with sensitive equipment, such as medical devices, hearing aids, pacemakers, and more.
Train Etiquette in Summary
In Japan, adhering to proper train etiquette is highly valued. It not only shows respect for others and society but also is an essential part of integrating into the local culture. Following train etiquette helps create a comfortable traveling environment and makes us considerate travelers. Of course, the train etiquette mentioned here is just a part of it. When riding trains, the most important thing is to stay attentive and respectful of others’ needs.
If you are traveling to Japan, observing these train etiquette guidelines will help you have a pleasant experience with Japan’s transportation culture and harmonious interactions with locals. At the same time, appreciate the convenience and efficiency of Japan’s trains and experience the unique charm of this beautiful country.
Finally, I wish you a pleasant and smooth journey on Japan’s trains, filled with wonderful memories and experiences to take home.
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