Learn the simple tricks and sit comfortably in a train in Japan
As a country that is widely recognised for its politeness and manners, Japan seems to implant these values in almost every corner in the country. As a foreigner travelling to Japan for the first time, you might find all these etiquette rules bizarre yet interesting. One of the first situations a foreigner might encounter in Japan would probably be this – you arrived in Narita International Airport with your travel buddies and boarded a train excitedly when suddenly you realised that you and your partner in crime were the only people talking. Yes, this is awkward and you will wonder what you have done wrong.
In Asia at large, train etiquette seems to be a normal practice among commuters. The common etiquette like no smoking and eating are among the unspoken rules while taking a train in Asian countries, although this might not be that common in western countries. However, if you find these non-smoking and non-eating rules bizarre, let’s wait until you step in a train in Japan. No joking. My personal experience is that I thought I have just entered a library.
So, I’m going to share some of the train etiquette rules that Japanese take seriously. You do not have to agree, but I guess foreigners should at least respect them and do as the same when you are taking the trains in Japan.
1. Silence your mobile phone
You will find the no-phone sign everywhere in the trains. The Japanese take it so seriously that every few minutes there will be an announcement, both in Japanese and English, reminding you that talking on phone is strictly prohibited in the trains. I believe that there is no punishment for those who break this rule, but it is more like respecting others like how you want others to respect you. After all, Japan is well known as a courtesy-savvy country.
2. Do not talk on the phone
Yes, no one in Japan seems to be interested in your newly installed ringtone. So, do remember to silence your mobile phone, or as the Japanese call it the “Manner Mode” before entering the train. As I said before, riding a train is like sitting in a library, so any little noise will be obvious. This doesn’t mean that your keypad tapping will sound less obvious. Silence those as well, please.
3. Keep your music only to yourself
This might be a little bit difficult to keep up with, especially for those who are having the earphones all the times. You might ask, how low is low?? Exactly the same question I asked. Apparently, the Japanese are able to do it. Just like any other cities, you will see many commuters are on their mobile phones with their earphones on. So, the curious me tried to find out the answer by sitting next to a school boy with his earphones on. And my finding is – the volume that you should consider low is when the next person hears some little sound without being able to understand if it is music or a movie.
4. If you need to talk to your friend, keep it as low as possible
And if you think that keeping your music’s volume low is difficult, I guess this might sound ridiculous to you. As a person who speaks very loudly, I find this etiquette a real torture to me. It keeps me wondering how can these Japanese communicate with each other in such a low voice. So, if you are a person like me, I will suggest you to keep your mouth tightly shut when you are riding a train in Japan.
5. Women only coach
This “Women only Coach” might sound ridiculous to foreigners, especially those from Western countries, but it does receive good responses in Asia. Many countries, for example my home country, Malaysia has also adopted the idea to create “Women only Coach”. To be very honest, I still cannot understand the rationale behind this, but well, gentlemen, just be more alert on which coach you are boarding in Japan. You do not want to stand in the middle of furious women, don’t you?
6. Priority seats
Priority seats are usually differed by colour. This is a pretty common practice in Asia where it is good manners to offer the elderly, handicapped or pregnant women a seat. Although train companies will assign certain seats as priority to this group of people, it does not mean that you do not have to offer your non-priority seat when a old woman standing right in front of you. Again, it is a simple manner that most of the Japanese think is necessary.
7. Do not eat in local trains
Generally, Japanese are mostly shy when it comes to eating. They will not feel comfortable eating in public, and hence, eating in a local train does not look that polite to them. However, in long-haul train, like the Shinkansen, where privacy is more secured (no standing-up commuters and high seat), eating is acceptable.
8. Do not smoke
Not only applied in a train, you will find many places where you are prohibited to smoke. Usually there will be a smoking room prepared for smokers. And so, it just makes sense that a common place like a train is prohibited to smoke.
9. Brace yourself with “Arigato” and “Sumimasen”
Last but not least, don’t forget to say “arigato” (thank you) and “sumimasen” (excuse me) when you feel that it is appropriate.
So, here you go, some little tips for you before you board the train in Japan.