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A crazy-cool “no sleeping” sign in the train station

A kind of “train sleeper” culture has evolved throughout Japan’s most ubiquitous form of transportation, which is probably what inspired the crazy-cool “DO IT AT HOME” sign you see above, which can be found at most major stations in the country. The drawing above may be slightly exaggerated, but the sleeper phenomenon isn’t.

A typical morning commute in Japan

As you can see here, people do it all the time, whether night or day! I was floored (or at least, seated comfortably and on the verge of a peaceful sleep) the first time I went to Japan.

Some random people and, uh, a sumo wrestler

Of course, the trend isn’t limited to businessmen. Moms, kids and even sumo wrestlers (?!!) have been known to get a few winks in now and then, too. Which is cooler, the fact that he’s sleeping among all the regular-sized folks or the headphones he’s wearing? You decide!

Two foreign guys “gone native”

Whether you stay in Japan for a week or for 12-plus years like yours truly, you will learn to “sleep like a native” on the train. Trust me, it’s that cozy (I’ve never been as cozy as above, but hey…) And no matter how comfortable I get, I’ve never once had anything stolen!

Another sign, this one warning passengers to practice “extreme politeness”

Japanese trains are not only extremely sleep-friendly; people are generally polite and cars are squeaky clean, with hardly any trash in sight. Of course this cleanliness has a lot to do with the dedicated janitorial staff hired to make each car sparkle, but most ordinary citizens do their part NOT to do most of the above. The “don’t apply makeup” part makes me laugh. There’s a whole series of these signs worth checking out.

A helpful (but certainly less amusing) sign at JR Akihabara Station

Speaking of signs, don’t worry about trying to decipher mounds of Japanese characters during your train trip. Most signs, especially at major Japan Rail stations, are written in both Japanese and English. There’s usually a helpful “arrow” as well, to help keep you oriented. For example, the above sign tells you that you are currently at Akihabara Station, and that the train on this side will take you in the direction of Kanda; if you stand on the other side, the arrow (and your train) will be pointing to Ochanomizu. Pretty simple, right?

The train staff are ready and willing to help you

If after all that cleanliness, politeness and helpful signage you are still dazed and confused, you can always turn to a member of the train staff. Whether a he or a she, a ticket-taker or a conductor, each person will do their level best to be at your service whatever your question. Basic mastery of English can only really be expected at major, big-city hubs in Japan, but fear not–especially when I first came to Japan, lots of smiles and gestures got me a long way. Many people will appreciate the chance to communicate with you no matter the language barrier!

Some train-happy people

For me, Japanese trains are like a little microcosm of the country itself–clean, helpful and mostly crime-free. I still don’t know if that’s enough to put Japan at the top of the “World’s Safest Country” list, but I personally have never felt safer, not to mention rested! 😉 All kidding aside, I would seriously suggest taking an extended holiday or tour in Japan to find out for yourself.

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