How to Behave on a Train in Japan: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

Updated on June 28, 2019
poppyr profile image

Poppy has been living in Japan for over five years. She likes to read novels, write, and play video games.

When traveling somewhere new, it is important to know local cultural norms and expectations. You may be on vacation, but it shows respect and consideration if you do some research on what is expected of you beforehand, even if you are only going to visit for a short while.

Japan is a vibrant country of futuristic technology, excellent cars, delicious and exotic food, and undying traditions. A trip to this amazing nation is a must at least once in your lifetime.

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During your food tasting, picture taking, and memory making, it's very likely you'll ride the train or shinkansen (bullet train) at least once during your trip, especially if you're in a big city. Keep in mind these cultural trips when riding on a train in Japan.

1. Let People Off Before You Get On

Especially during rush hour and busy times, it can be tempting to try and jump onto the train as soon as the doors slide open. However, it's normal manners to stand slightly to the side of the door and wait for everyone who is getting off to disembark before trying to climb aboard.

This is so that people getting out don't get stuck, and elderly people or those with pushchairs to disembark safely.

If you are on a crowded train and you're near the doors when they open, it's also expected to step outside the train so that people behind you can pass. If you don't, you'll be in the way and find you get jostled. You can climb back aboard when people have finished disembarking.

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2. Take Up One Chair Per Person

This might sound obvious, but when you're tired or distracted it can be tempting to stretch out, unintentionally taking up more than one seat.

Even if the train has very few people, keep your legs together and take up one seat. Here are some other points to remember:

  • Don't cross your legs. Doing so isn't considered polite and it takes up more room.
  • Only sit on chairs. Sitting on the floor is absolutely unacceptable.
  • Don't lie down on the seats. For obvious reasons, this isn't done.

3. Keep Quiet

When you're in a group, it can be very easy to get caught up in your excitement and chatter loudly. This is discouraged in Japan and people are expected to keep the noise down in consideration of other passengers. Many people like to sleep on the train and sudden loud laughter or chattering can disturb their rest.

You don't have to be completely silent, but keep mindful of keeping your voice down if you're talking. Here are some other tips:

  • If you're listening to music, keep the volume down so others near you can't hear it.
  • Never talk on the phone on the train; it's considered extremely rude. For unavoidable calls, answer and say quietly that you're on the train and you'll call them back.
  • Keep your phone on silent mode, including game sounds and notification pings.

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3. Don't Eat or Drink

Bullet trains are an exception, but for local trains where the seats face each other, avoid snacking or drinking coffee. The smells of fried foods, potato chips, coffee, and other foods can be disturbing to other passengers and stink up the whole carriage for hours.

If you have food, keep it in your bag until you disembark. Shinkansen and other express trains serve food, so of course it's fine to eat then.

4. Honor the Rules of Priority Seating

It can be tempting to go for priority seating, or yuusen-seki in Japanese, especially when the train is crowded. However, honor the rules by only sitting there if you:

  • Are elderly.
  • Need aid walking (with a cane, wheelchair, or crutches).
  • Have a heart condition.
  • Are physically disabled.
  • Are pregnant.

If You're Pregnant

You can get a pregnancy badge for free from any train station. Ask for a ninshin badji at any train office. Keep it on your bag as proof you're pregnant and to let others know (if you're not showing enough yet for it to be immediately obvious).

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5. Keep Your Luggage Out of the Way

If you have a lot of luggage, be mindful of others by keeping it as out of the way as possible. Standing in priority seating is fine, so keeping a suitcase here is fine when riding a busy line.

  • Put smaller bags on the overhead rack.
  • If you're carrying a backpack, hold it in front of you instead of on your back so people can get past.
  • Keep other bags on your lap, never on an empty seat beside you or on the floor (unless absolutely necessary).

Visiting Japan is an amazing experience, and it's always even better when the locals appreciate your effort to fit in, too. While riding the train, keep these tips in mind for smooth travel.

Not everyone abides by the rules, and it's likely you'll see young healthy people sitting in priority seating or passengers pushing themselves aboard first. This is the minority, so don't let it deter you from exercising politeness and consideration during your trip.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Poppy

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      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Hi Jason. Great advice, thank you; I'll add it in!

      • Jason Capp profile image

        Jason Reid Capp 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Another point you can make in the "Let People Get Off Before You Get On" section is that if the train is really crowded, it is polite for you to step out of the train for a second to allow people behind you to exit more easily. This applies especially to travelers who hang by the doors, as they can be in the way when people are trying to get off.

        But other than that, excellent article! I've been living in Tokyo for almost 10 years, and it's just such a great country. I love living here.

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Hello, Anne, and thank you very much for your comment! Hopefully, this article will help people visiting Japan behave better on trains. I don't like foreigners to leave a bad impression to local people.

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        They're very useful. I used one while I was pregnant and a few people gave up their seats. However, I recently read a blog post about women who don't like to wear them; apparently, up to 10% of pregnant women in Japan have been harassed, which I find very upsetting. I don't know if I'll wear a pregnancy badge if I get pregnant again.

      • Anne Harrison profile image

        Anne Harrison 

        2 weeks ago from Australia

        Love this - Japan is such an amazing place, and it's the cultural differences which help make it so. It takes only a little effort to watch and observe what others do, but unfortunately too many travellers don't make the effort. Thanks for a great summary.

      • Penny Sebring profile image

        Penny Leigh Sebring 

        2 weeks ago from Fort Collins

        Interesting information. I find it interesting and like that they have pregnancy badges.

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Hi there! Not everyone has common sense, unfortunately, so I added things that might seem obvious to most people as well, just in case culture or inexperience hinders people’s knowledge. Thank you so much for your comment!

      • Angel Guzman profile image

        Angel Guzman 

        2 weeks ago from Joliet, Illinois

        Tbis could easily apply to Chicago too. I enjoy riding the train. Its more convenient sometimes. Good read and common sense tips Poppy.

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Hi, Lorna! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I absolutely agree; people should always be aware of local cultures and norms. Many people do not, unfortunately.

      • Lorna Lamon profile image

        Lorna Lamon 

        2 weeks ago

        Great advice on how to be culturally aware, which is so important.

      • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR

        Poppy 

        2 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Hi, Liz! Yes, it would be wonderful if people were more polite and considerate in general. Japan is nowhere near perfect, either.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 weeks ago from UK

        These are very useful tips. I only wish everyone would adhere to them in my country.

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