Japanese culture consists of certain etiquette that are followed for certain things like the use of an onsen, how to eat with good table manners, and no surprise: how to behave on public transportation. Train etiquette is observed and followed closely in Japan. People everywhere always compliment the public transportation system here and its something that Japanese people are proud of. Commuters and visitors are always sharing space on the train, so it’s good to know some train etiquette guidelines to be considerate of all riders.
Please keep in mind that while these are not exactly “rules”, respecting the social norms can make everyone’s commuting experience better!
If you’re at a busy station and see people lining up while waiting for the train, that’s a sign that you should wait behind the yellow line too. These lines are generally to the side to make it easier for people to get off from the train. Please wait for passengers to get off before you get onto the train.
Shopping bags and backpacks
It’s difficult to visit Japan and not indulge in some, or a lot, of shopping! Do your best to keep the bags nearby on your lap, the floor or the metal rack overhead. Don’t use the seat beside you for your bags. If you’re wearing a backpack and the train gets crowded, please move it to the front of your body to create additional space. Doing that also makes the flow of people coming in and out of the train smoother.
It’s unkind to sit in the priority seats when there are other passengers that those seats are saved for. Able-bodied people aren’t prohibited to sit there, but it’s good etiquette to offer up your seat to passengers who are elderly, pregnant, or handicapped. Also, don’t take up more than one seat space when the train is crowded.
Eating food should be avoided, especially ones with strong odor – Japanese people usually don’t eat in public and that includes the train too. This doesn’t apply to the bullet trains, however, so enjoy your bento box and drinks on your shinkansen ride.
Talking loudly and phone usage
Trains are usually very quiet even when it’s during rush hour and the trains are packed with people. Feel free to chat with with your companion but do it with low voices. It’s completely acceptable to use your mobile phone, but don’t forget to put your phone on silent. If you’re using earphones to listen to music or play games, notice if the volume level is low enough so that it doesn’t disturb others.
Don’t forget your dear items along with any trash. The trains are generally not equipped with trashcans, however, you can find some at the station where you can throw away your trash.
Getting off the train
To avoid shuffling or struggle while getting off, it’s best to already be near the train door before approaching the station. If you’re standing near the doors but it’s not your exit, you can make it easier for others to leave by moving to the side or stepping off the train to let those people out first.
Drinking alcohol is definitely enjoyed in Japan, however, drunk behaviors on a train can cause a great disturbance. It’s good to follow all the previously mentioned etiquette, even while being drunk. Try not to act rowdy or fall asleep on top of several seats.
If an accident happens and you think you’ve done something rude, a “sumimasen” (excuse me or sorry) follow-up is helpful. Are you fascinated by Japan’s public transportation system? Take a look at our article that explains how to use Pasmo and Suica cards.