When you go to another country, there is a different culture, customs, and manners.
While I was living in the UK, I was surprised every time I saw things I didn’t do in Japan on public transportations.
Like eating smelly foods, chatting on the phone, getting on the train without waiting for the passengers to get off.
These are actually taboo in Japan.
Indeed, Japanese culture (manners) are very complicated, because there are undocumented mannersthat each person has own because everyone thinks everyone has a common sense.
Also, the Japanese first priority is “don’t bother other people”.
But common sense is not so common.
I (The Japanese) am going to tell you details of Japanese etiquette on trains, subways, and Shinkansen today.
However, Don’t be so nervous after you read all.
Japanese people don’t expect foreign tourists to follow all complicated manners, even some Japanese people can’t do.
I want to help you not to get dirty looks from local peoples to explain these rules.
Prepare IC card or Ticket in advance
Prepare an IC card or a ticket before approaching ticket gates.
Passengers after you expect you to pass through gates without stopping.
Especially, while rush hours, you better pay attention to do so.
In case you forget to prepare, immediately get out the way to aside of gates.
I highly recommend you to avoid morning rush hours if possible, especially when you are traveling with some luggage or children.
How Awful Japanese Rush Hours
One word for this thing, just awful! It happens between 7 – 9 in the morning and between 6 – 7 in the evening due to a large number of people heading to work and school at the same time or going home at the same time. It happens in any major cities nationwide, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya … especially Tokyo is worst… (also Misosuji Line in Osaka.)
The “passenger packed level” (I named it) is over 180% on the worst 10 Tokyo railway lines during morning rush hours. Literally, passengers are packed and pressed against each other, even they can’t move.
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
able to seat or to hold a handle
and a pole
|150%||Still able to read a newspaper |
|180%||Still able to read a newspaper |
|200%||Be pressed against each other |
but able to move arms
|250%||Be squashed against each other, |
be pushed to lean and unable to move arms
About the IC card
In Japan, the prepaid transportation card called “IC card” is very common and handy.
10 local transportation cards that you can buy in major cities are compatible with each other for most types of public transportation nationwide. (Not use for Shinkansen ride.)
“STAND ON THE LEFT SIDE” if you don’t walk up, and keep the right side for other people who walk up.
However, in Osaka and other few regions, you must stand on “the right side of the escalator”.
If you are not sure, just follow the other people doing.
Pay attention to how you hold the umbrella
Pay attention to how you hold the umbrella.
- Don’t point the person behind you with the ferrule (the very top) to prevent an accident of poking him/her
- Hold a wet umbrella with your left (or right) hand to avoid touching walking-up people
Follow the arrow on the stairs
At busy stations, there are arrows on the steps to keep spaces for passengers that are getting off and vice versa.
Follow the arrow if you can.
It will be meaningless during rush hours because too many passengers occupy stairs, but better to pay attention.
It might be possible to cause an accident in case someone running down (or up) to catch a train and bump you.
By the way, running for catching a train is bad manners for security reasons.
Get in lines
You have to get in a line or make a line on the platform.
If you are the first person to make a line, stand under the overhead electric bulletin board along the track, or stand the marked position on the platform.
In Japan, the train ALWAYS stops at the exact position. It NEVER misses the door position which means at the position of the electric bulletin board.
Let get Passengers off the train first
When the train arrives, step aside and give away for the passengers on the train,
you have to wait for the passengers to get off the train.
DO NOT skip or cut in lines to get on.
It’s very RUDE behavior in Japan.
Do Not stand around the door
When there is no seat available, passengers generally shouldn’t stand around doors. Proceeding to the middle of the car is the appropriate manner, especially in busy cars.
Announcements always tell us “Don’t stay around doors” on trains.
Yet, most people do.
However, it might be barely acceptable, when you are going to get off the next or a couple of stops ahead, or when it seems like being hard to get off if you proceed in the crowd.
It is a new issue about the “carrying backpacks” manner on public transportations in Japan.
People complain that
- The backpack bump around other passengers.
- It takes a space (Do you know how much the train gets packed during rush hours?)
Therefore, pay attention to how to carry the backpack especially on the packed train.
Railways companies suggest to passengers,
- Hold the backpack with the hand
- Hold the backpack on the chest
- Use the overhead shelf
Don’t occupy other seats
Shouldn’t occupy the empty seat with your belongings.
Seat properly, not like some ill-mannered passenger seat beyond two spots and do not give other passengers.
Give seats for someone need
Most transportations in Japan have “priority seats”, if they are available, you can seat.
But the people who need the seat, they have priority to sitting there.
Give the seats for them.
Even though your seat is regular, better give a seat for someone need.
for instance who needs the priority seat,
- People with a disability
- Elder passengers
- Expectant mothers or those carrying infants
- Those with a broken limb
- The person who feel sick
Give a seat for the person when you see a sticker or a key ring like this, it means that “I am pregnant”.
The “Women Only” Car
Sounds interesting or not, there are “WOMEN-ONLY CARS” in Japan.
The main reason for “WOMEN-ONLY CARS” today is to protect women from sexual harassment, and also to prevent innocent men to be suspected as a groper wrongly. ( It is the real story happened .)
“WOMEN-ONLY CARS” runs certain times (generally rush hours in the morning and in the evening) on weekdays and all day on weekends, but it depends on the railway companies.
You can find special cars looking signs on the platform, and on the cars. The colors of signs and cars are generally PINKY.
Don’t be so nervous, sometimes gentlemen make mistakes to board. If you(a gentleman) feel something happening atmosphere and find out it is “WOMEN-ONLY CAR”, change to the regular car.
Eat and Drink
This is a very tricky topic to talk about.
Well, there is NO REGULATIONS that you shouldn’t eat and drink on trains in Japan. (except for Nagoya-city subways)
However, the tricky point is that there is an undocumented manner for it.
In other words, how many people have matched common sense about
Generally speaking, no-smelly foods are alright (I mean alright for other passengers) and shouldn’t eat strong smelly food like Mcdonalds.
Some people are bothered by eating noise from crunchy foods like Japanese hard rice crackers and potato chips.
But again, you are allowed to eat and drink unless a sign says “No Food & Drink”.
You don’t get bitches from other people but may get dirty looks if it’s not OK for other passengers around you.
Ridiculously, some people say that it is OK to eat even smelly food for the long-distance train ride, but it shouldn’t be for the short-distance ride.
Indeed, you can buy many kinds of “to go” foods in Shinkansen stations.
There are undocumented manners and common sense is not so common, so there is no correct answer to this issue.
Chinese Bun Issue
People are relieved about eating and drinking on the Shinkansen.
Maybe because hundreds of stores sell “Bento-box” and other “to go” foods for Shinkansen ride in stations and also you can buy foods on the train.
But there has been a long-term silent battle among passengers about “SMELLY FOODS”.
The famous issue is called “Chinese bun issue” aka “551 Horai issue”.
The “551 Horai’s Chinese bun” is one of the popular staple Osaka food so visitors from other regions are looking for getting a box at the Shin-Osaka station to taste on Shinkansen.
You know, Chinese buns are not “smell-less” foods.
Someone started calling the action that eating Chinese bun on Shinkansen “Chinese bun terrorism” on SNS.
Yes or NO
It is no regulation for eating and drinking on trains, however, consider the smell of foods and drinks for other passengers.
Actually, foods sold on Shinkansen are considered not to make a strong smell.
Don’t forget that trains are called “PUBLIC transportations”.
If you think you will care about the smell in case you are another, you shouldn’t eat it.
However, like “551 Horai issue”,
there is no answer…
This is why Japanese culture is tricky…
Consider The Volume
I talked about talking loudly is considered as a bad manner in Japan on this page.
Japanese people think it is impolite to talk loudly and to hear private conversations in public space.
In fact, you will notice how much quiet on public transportations in Japan.
Chatting is allowed, just better consider the volume.
Cell Phone Manners
- Put the silent mode on the train
- Do not talk on the phone at your seat, move to the deck or get off the train if needed.
Make sure that your cell phone is on “silent mode” when you are traveling on public transportation.
On trains and subways, NEVER TALK ON YOUR CELL PHONE!
It’s really bad manners in Japan.
Yet, you can use a cell phone, and allowed to talk on decks on Shinkansen or
other types of the train have decks.
On the shinkansen, be aware of the place to put the luggage.
Tohoku and Hokuriku Shinkansen operated by JR EAST, they have carriages with baggage storage but Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen operated by JR CENTRAL and JR WEST haven’t ready for replacing to new carriages with baggage space.
Do not block the aisle with your luggage.
A food cart often comes through during the ride, and also it bothers other passengers too.
What you can do
- Use overhead shelves
- Use your legroom
- Fight for the seat in the last row on the regular car
- Reserve the seat in the last row on reserved car
- Upgrade to “Green car” (has wider legroom)
Ask someone who sitting in the last row to use the space behind his/her seat (Until May 2020)
- Use the delivery service to reduce baggage
Generally, there is enough legroom to hold a carry-on bag, a suits case and my travel bag in your legroom.
I am very tiny (5ft), so I can out my carry-on bag and my travel bag together in my leg room (on green car).
Put your luggage on the overhead shelfor keep it in the legroom if you can.
If you don’t want to spend extra money to reserve a seat,
fight with other passengers to take a seat in the last row which is a very popular seat.
I can’t say the exact price to reserve the seat due to the price varies depends on the season and types of Shinkansen, but it will be between ¥330 and ¥ 850, for regular reserved car, from Tokyo to Osaka.
So if you don’t mind paying the extra money, better reserve the seat in the last row.
How To Reserve Your Seat
You can reserve the seat at the ticket office aka “Midori no Madoguchi” at the major station.
You can also purchase a Shinkansen ticket with your credit card.
If you are “Japan Rail Pass” holder, show the pass and tell them you want to reserve the seat in the last row. (Regular reserved car or Grenn car)
How to say “I want the seat in the last row” in Japanese?
“Ichiban Ushiro No Seki Onegaishimasu”
You can use the space in the last row until May 2020 before the new rule coming, but it is polite to ask the passenger whether he/she does not mind about putting your suitcase behind him/her because he/she will be not able to use a reclining.
The Delivery service
To reduce your baggage, at least a large suitcase, use the delivery service to send your next destination.
To send baggage between certain hotels and the airport, it is possible to order online.
I talked about 13 Japanese etiquettes for trains, subways, and Shinkansen, but again you don’t have to be so nervous.
You have to follow the rules, but Japanese people will not complain even you make mistakes.
If you can’t remember all, at least follow these.
- Don’t cut in the line to get on the train
- No talk on the cell phone
- Consider the chatting volume
- Don’t block the aisle with your luggage
There are many undocumented manners but the Japanese don’t have clear answers.
And, Better avoid rush hours to get on trains and subways in busy cities before you get used to using public transportations especially when you have big bags.