3 Reasons Why the Japanese Don’t Talk on the Phone on Public...

3 Reasons Why the Japanese Don’t Talk on the Phone on Public Transport

When catching trains in Japan, especially in the more crowded cities like Tokyo or Osaka, you may find yourself wondering why the journey is so quiet, despite the number of people squished like sardines in a can, into one carriage. A few thoughts may flow through your mind like, perhaps they are on their way to work or traveling alone and don’t want to be disturbed.

However, on the odd occasion where a cell phone has gone off on the train when someone has forgotten to switch it to silent mode, it appears to be an embarrassing struggle until the person reaches their phone to push the caller away. Also, in very rare occasions, they pick up, mumble something quickly and then hang up again.

So, what is happening, why do the Japanese choose not talk on the phone when using public transport? Let’s take a closer look at the three main reasons.


phone when on public transport2

If one talks on the phone, unfortunately, everyone in the vicinity is involved in the conversation, no matter if they want to or not as they are forced to listen. They start to imagine and complete the unheard responses in the conversation which has interrupted their current reading, thinking, or sleeping, as you will notice that a lot of commuters often grab a quick nap on their train journeys.

Public disturbance

phone when on public transport4

On the other hand, there is privacy and sometimes it’s connected to shame. Especially when it comes to private disputes, most people don’t want strangers involved. In most cases strangers do not care and have no interest getting invested in other people’s problems. Whereas in general, people abroad don’t think twice about spending hours talking on the phone on public transport but in Japan, it is considered unacceptable when riding public transport.

Train etiquettes

phone when on public transport5

phone when on public transport6

Many trains have signs that kindly ask to refrain from talking on the phone. Some stations have posters that address train etiquette, too. So, next time you catch the train or bus, be courteous: if your phone rings either refuse the call or quickly pick it up and explain that you are on the train and that you will return their call once you have hopped off the train or bus.

phone when on public transport1

As a tourist traveling through Japan, adhering to all of the Japanese etiquettes can be difficult, so I hope this has helped at least clear up the etiquette around making or taking phone calls when using public transport in Japan.

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  1. To this day I’ve yet to differentiate the difference between talking to a human or to a phone. I put this down to robotic Japanese culture that simply blindly follows rules, regardless of any logical reasons involved.

  2. Culture varys everywhere but what makes japenese culture more attractive and beautiful is their way of respect and understanding.

  3. Who wants to talk on the phone when everyone can hear you?, it’s simply embarrassing. Unless of course you’re expecting a call due to a life threatening situation. Like if need to go to work and your kid is in the hospital.

  4. i love this admirable trait of the japs. other folks should follow.
    at the end of the day its all about respect.

  5. Everyone keeps on saying they are respectful individuals. I’m not hating on their culture moreso, nationality. But everyone has to open their eyes to the real Japanese. They hate confrontation – as they claimed, and that is their lame excuse for not helping people that needs it during daily little situations. Also, they never say sorry when they accidentally bump into you or knock you over. They refuse people of service because of language barrier. There are some nice Japanese people but, I just wish that, before these praises are being shared to the whole world they get to know Japan – the true Japan.

    • Which part of Japan do you live in??
      How long have you been in Japan??
      What ever you said above Japanese are not true.
      Have you ever tried confronting a Japanese, even if they do not understand you.
      They would leave their work & help you out.
      If any Japanese even accidentally bump into you(knock you down – are you kidding me..!!)
      They would instantly respond to you saying Sumimasen (excuse me) or Gomenasai (Sorry).
      Language barrier is a concern, but they NEVER refuse help.
      Once I got off the wrong station & asked a person how to reach a particular place just by pointing to a map.
      He came along with me, put me in the right train & made me get off the right station.(Beat that).
      If you haven’t heard these words, You have not lived in Japan.
      I have traveled all over Japan, all 4 islands, almost every prefecture.
      What you said was not true at all.
      Please do not spread wrong information about Japan.
      You must hate Japan for its food or something else, That is why you only see it with negativity.
      True Japan is truly Beautiful.

      • Yes that’s right, they are very helpful and approachable. I remember when I was there, the only person who helped me fix my bike is a japanese, though he’s wearing a formal black coat,maybe he’s on his way home,when he saw me, he didn’t hesitate to help me… he didn’t even know me but there’s the initiative to help others, and that’s what I admired them most, also they’re polite and honest person

      • Where do you live again? This is a public post where I can state whatever feelings I have. Just writing this makes me really upset because you talk about Japan like you are Japanese. But the truth is youre just like us, a foreigner. Sure that’s nice you had really good experiences. But mind you, that even Japanese people have answered my own questions about their behavior. I’m not going to take back whatever I said because all the things I mentioned in my previous post were all own experiences. I would never dare speak of them like that had it not been firsthand experiences. I respect your opinion if you think they are “nice.” But you have to respect my opinion about the bad apples of this country too.

        • He/She has lived and travelled all over Japan as it has been mentioned. Nobody said you cannot speak out but it seems that you have focused more on the negative side and it more so strengthens the idea we have about you when you reacted out of context. What you said about Japan is not true indeed, perhaps a few but it is not the True Japan as you eagerly posted. Nobody even disrespected you. Ayayayyayy…

      • Totally agree with you! Had the same one-of-a-kind experience in Japan. They are absolutely admirable! Wish all people are as helpful, courteous and disciplined as they are.

    • I’ve been to Japan many times and encountered them in my worldly travels. I’ve never met a Japanese that fits any of your description. You probably mistake them to another culture. Even if they don’t understand you, they go out of their way to help you. I got lost on my last trip to Kyoto. The guy I asked for directions did not understand me so he called another person who spoke English. This person not only gave me directions but insisted to walk me there. I was embarrassed and very apologetic but he said not to worry. He bowed profusely as he said goodbye.

    • This is totally opposite of my experience when I recently visited Tokyo. I met the most wonderful people. Nicest cab drivers who went out of their ways to help me search for places even without a lick of English in their vocabulary. The warmest welcome in small mom and pop places even when I had to basically charade my way through conversations. And the best welcoming parties I received from colleagues.

    • its quite obvious that you tend to Look more on the negative side of the Japanese with you cLaiming “they never” and “they refuse”.. Do you reaLLy know what is the True Japan? Maybe your own version of Japan is not reaLLy far from what you can cLoseLy reLate to.. just saying

  6. I respect individual privacy in a public transport thats why i refrain of answering my phone calls even it is important. I believed that adopting this kind of japanese culture is very difficulty for us because we are showy,and we let anyone heard of our private conversation most especially is something to flaunt of.

  7. A good trait. To emulate. Some people have no respect for others let alone them selves by putting their dirt for other people. Perfect example. Social media.

  8. Japan is beautiful. .so are her citizens! !All of us should learn the etiquette from Japanese because they’re the best in that business. …and those who oppose .should visit psychiatrist soon. ..

  9. Wow…..this rules are just perfect. And the people of japan know how to respect it,,,,,,this is not a robotic rules or people, they just respect it?

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  11. Japanese as other nationality some people are good than others, I’ve been working in a Japanese company for 18 years I’ve love their punctuality they refuse to be late at work same as they hate waiting. And they do say “Im sorry”everytime and they meant it.

  12. It is a kind of practice or descipline everyone in the world shoud emulate unless you’re still living out of this world and yet need special attention and desperately trying to harbor one.

  13. I don’t make a call but if I have to answer one, I politely say I’m on a public transport and will call back when I alight from it later, and I am not Japanese. It all stems from desire of privacy and respect of others.

  14. Let’s just say there are good and bad apples everywhere. Pick up the good ones and leave the bad ones. Simple. Have a good day everyone.

  15. Not ALL Japanese are respectful. But the culture weens us that a MAJORITY are, as compared to other cultures.

  16. Japanese people are the most respectful and disciplined people I’ve met. Language barrier does not hinder them from helping a tourist…

  17. Simply don’t answer your phone when you are on the train, turn it off before boarding the train. If you do that, well then bravo! You just followed rules and respected japan, how hard can that be ? Geeez some people here always making an excuse,

  18. Why not text? In silent mode, if it’s really urgent…
    I have been in Japan (Kyoto) as a tourist andthe people are all very courteous. And they do try to help the best they could, and even apologize if they couldn’t express themselves well.

  19. they kill themselves in the name of honor…that is real respect in the highest regard…”harakiri”… banzai nippon!!! they shout with dignity before taking their own lives… remember ww2? zero pilots were heroes of japan…demolishing the pearl harbor…

  20. We are speaking about a country not an individual. As of my experience with Japanese, I have encountered with different people I can classified them in to three:
    1. Regardless of their language barrier, the go far away beyond expected to help you. They drive you to your place if you ask them for a direction. They call to their friends for you to get someone who could speak your language and give you proper help. ……
    2. For their language barrier, they fear speaking to strangers. Such kind of individual, though you ask them something, they just ignore you and they try to go away from you as far as they can.
    3. Arrogant and racist, but vey few in number.

  21. Been there twice, been working with japanese people most of my career, I can say like us they’re humans too. But the level of respect is just that high. I was able to witness on the train a young woman giving up her seat to an elderly respectable-looking man.

    When my friend accidentally left his digicam in the toilet (they don’t call it cr btw), it was still there. Imagine if it happened in the phils. But when I had my $100 exchanged erroneously with excess amount of yen, imagine the look on the face of that japanese when I returned it. Well, I’m pretty sure.he would have doubts if people would say filipinos are dishonest.

    I haven’t seen people talking using their phones in the train though there are many doing that in the train stations, esp in tokyo.

  22. Apart from respect, we talking about discipline and etiquette that most Japanese have. I admire their culture and wish we can implement it here in my country. It is not a shame to copy if it is for good..

  23. Thats how they were brought up in their cultures. We varies in our customs and cultures. Japanese are trained that way. But they have their own share of bad apples also. Thats good practice of not talking or answering calls while on public transpos. Its a choice and practicing good manners where ever we are. Whether a Japs or not.

  24. So true! Last August was the first time I came here in Japan. The air was very nice and I kept smiling the whole time. Theyre very organized. When we board on train, there are lots of passengers but surprisingly, they wont talk loudly. And from what I noticed, only the tourists talk :D hahaha.

  25. To make the long story short, Japanese or not, as long as it is a policy we should just follow. It means mostly Japanese people are obedient and disciplined, that’s their innate characteristics. Right, Folks?

  26. Japanese are so disciplined and well-mannered. It’s okay because they are just showing good manners and right conduct.

    • No…. In fact if the train is not packed, they don’t stand close to one another unless they know each other. My friend and I wore shorts/skirts throughout the trip and we actually got disapproving stares from the men! At least that’s whatwe experienced during our 9D8N trip. :)

      (I had the same question as you before I went. ;))

  27. My two visits to japan changed my perception of them… They will go out of their way to help which made me think twice before asking again….

  28. To make the long story short. Japanese or not as long as it is a rule, everybody must follow. Respectful, Honest and being Well-disciplined are innate characteristics of mostly Japanese. RIGHT, FOLKS?

  29. What if you have a companion with you? Does it mean the two of you are not allowed to talk to each other? Because if you’re going to take a look at it, it is worse than hearing someone talking on the phone since you can hear the conversation completely, you can hear both sides. This rule in Japan is simply bullshit.

  30. I visited Japan back in July for the first time. We weren’t very well prepared for our trip but that’s besides the point. Throughout the trip we couldn’t find anyone who could speak a little bit of English (except a guy in Mitaka) and only during our last two days did we find out some of them can read chinese!! Haha yes, we totally went on a trip without finding out about the culture and all~

    One of the days we struggled to find out way to the Ghibli Museum from Kichijõji station.. We were googling which bus to take and discussed for probably 10mins or so.. A guy came up to us and spoke in very fluent English. My friend and I were so shocked I just kept staring for a few seconds. The guy told us we could actually walk and reach the museum in 15mins and gave us directions (he probably thinks the bus is pretty costly for such a short distance too!) When I managed to regain my composure, I thanked him and started walking according to his directions.


    Then at one of the traffic lights I turned to look around and saw the same guy just 3m away. I guess I really can’t keep a straight face coz after probably 3 secs of my frozen stare, he assured me that he wasn’t following us and that he was just going in the same direction and as we turn left at the next traffic light, he was going straight. I feel bad to this day. Really really bad.

    But hey, I have encountered a fair share of both rude and nice Japanese during my 9D8N trip! The rude, just kept throwing pissed looks at us on the plane.. (I swear we just slept throughout the whole journey and went to the washroom only once!) The nice, just kept feeding us free additions to the food we ordered etc..

    I really loved that the people silence their phones and all. In fact I did witness a Jap reminding another of that by point to the sticker reminders in the train and it made me feel so.. good. Don’t judge me! I just appreciate silence when commuting and wish we have such a rule in my country! ;)

    In all, I enjoyed my trip to Japan and can’t wait to plan my next trip there!

  31. A lot of people commenting here have no idea and are going off a 1 week temple tour if not their love of samurai and manga. I would argue that the culture is very robotic as its not a choice to act the way they do but rather the only option. Generally speaking the japanese have little ability to form an opinion or free thought they can vocalize. Someone commented on the sumimasens and gomennasais but again this is only in the robotic pattern its allocated to. Daily i watch as they turn around and force themselves into crowded trains with no care for who is behind them or how squashed they are. One might think to get the next train but one can not when theyre programmed to get this one at all costs. The amazing japanese culture also demands untold amounts of illegally unpaid overtkme at work but its for the common good so dont mind that hey. For anyone who has watched star track, japanese are basically the borg.

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