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

  • SOCIETY
  • CULTURE
  • Japan is a country with many rules. There’s no need to worry too much if you don’t know all of them, as most of them are manners and not criminal offenses! But you will likely notice some differences between Japan and the rest of the world when it comes to etiquette on public transport.

    This article will talk about one specific rule, which is that on public transport you should not talk on your phone. If you travel on the subway or train in all areas of Japan (even busy and crowded cities such as Tokyo and Osaka) you will notice that everybody is quiet.

    People will not talk on their phone, and will rarely even talk to one another. If someone is talking on their phone loudly, it is likely they will get a few judgemental looks for doing so! Similarly, if someone’s phone starts ringing loudly, it is an embarrassing ten seconds of fumbling to quickly silence their phone.

    Japanese society is all about not invading other people’s space and privacy, and refraining from talking on the phone on public transport is just one representation of this. Read on to find out three main reasons for this silence.

    1. Privacy

    It can’t be overstated how important privacy is in Japan, and how seriously Japanese people take it. In public places, people are expected to consider how they are invading people’s privacy and should refrain from doing so.

    It is regarded as a real invasion of privacy for someone to have a private conversation on the phone if there are others around who can hear what is being said, and are therefore forced to listen.

    On trains and buses in Japan, people are using their travel time to sleep, think, work, or just sit calmly and read. Many people work long hours in this country and are under consistent stress. The train or bus ride is regarded as quiet time and a bit of peace. Perhaps this is why being quiet on the train is so important.

    Therefore, don’t be surprised if you get a few dirty looks if talking on the phone on public transport. In some cases, someone may even confront you and gesture for you to finish your conversation.

    2. Public Disturbance

    Related to the need for an expectation of privacy for each individual, there is also the fact that in Japanese society, people tend to keep themselves to themselves. They often won’t get involved in public disputes, listen to other people’s conversations, or get involved in other people’s business. Equally, if a person is having a public dispute with someone, they would expect anyone to intervene or try to make the situation more or an issue than it is already.

    Of course, this is a controversial part of Japanese society. There have been reported cases of women being sexually harassed very publicly on public transport, and people not getting involved even though most people would agree she would need help. Sometimes on trains in Japan, I wonder, would anyone help me if I was in trouble?

    The western world seems different from this, with people often standing around to witness fights or arguments taking place, getting involved in public disputes, and definitely not taking issue if they can hear another person’s chat on the phone.

    It makes me wonder how Tokyo will manage when they host the Olympics in 2020. There will be many people on public transport, from many different cultures and countries. It could be a culture shock for both the Japanese and also people coming here for the first time!

    3. Train Etiquette

    You may notice that many trains will have clear notices reminding passengers to refrain from talking on the phone. Some stations will also have posters with etiquette guidelines in English, too. Train travel has a clear etiquette that goes with it, of which not talking on the phone is just one of them.

    Another politeness you may wish to observe (although I’ve seen some Japanese doing this), is to not eat while on public transport. If you eat while in transit, especially if the food is smelly or hot food, you will be sure to get a few looks from fellow passengers. However, this rule does seem to go out the window late at night, when people have been drinking and want some junk food on their way home!

    Further to this, and similar to most parts of the world, you should give your seat up for people who are elderly, disabled, pregnant or have small children with them. Although there are allocated priority seats for people who need them, you will be expected to give up your regular seat, too. If you see someone staring at you angrily for a while, it probably means you should give them your seat!

    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.

    1. Chris says:

      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.

      1. GL Bulanon says:

        Do you smoke Sir?

        1. Anonymous says:

          Weed? :)

      2. mae says:

        The Japanases are just more well mannered than you and know how to respect people. The ‘robotic’ culture that youre talking about is on of their most admirable traits.

        1. Anonymous says:

          Very true, exactly! Very well mannered.

          1. Anonymous says:

            agreee….i luv japanese people

        2. well-mannered and well-discipline people.

        3. allen says:

          I think so too.

        4. Anonymous says:

          Yes it’s true

        5. Anonymous says:

          I agree

        6. Anonymous says:

          Very true

        7. Anonymous says:

          I’m an Indian and Yeah I think so too they are really well mannered

        8. siop says:

          Don’t make me laugh, Not everyone are nice just because they are Japanese.
          Some of them are really rude than you think they are. Bear that in mind.

      3. Khen Di says:

        Its not a robotic Japanese culture, we just simply call it RESPECT and PRIVACY. Maybe you should learn from them more. Very disciplined people. Salute!

        1. Debia says:

          Ur right… :)

        2. Anonymous says:

          hoo that they are all happy and willing to follow… but maybe won’t work ini other countries who are more attached to their loved ones. And got bored with their long travel.

          I know how to respect but this idea is so boring… Peace

          1. Anonymous says:

            weh

          2. Anonymous says:

            Boring idea? Respecting others’ peace, not disturbing them is boring? Is your idea of the opposite better?

        3. Anonymous says:

          True!

        4. Vilma Merano says:

          i admire Japanese people .They are very respectful and well mannered…

        5. Anonymous says:

          True! He should live there sometime..

        6. Anonymous says:

          I think Japanese culture is never robotic but homogeneous meaning the general public share a common opinion on many matters or a common view on what is acceptable or not acceptable.

      4. Some one says:

        You know how people tend to excuse them selves when they answer their phones. Then they would go some where, away from other people, before answering the call. That one is quite common. In the train though you cannot do that. Not using it is probably the next best thing when you cannot go some where more private.

      5. Anonymous says:

        Follow if it may, anyone with a common sense knows when to answer it and when not to.

        1. Anonymous says:

          Most people don’t have COMMON sense OR common courtesy these days. That is the point of the article, isn’t it?

          1. Anonymous says:

            i agree..

      6. Jj says:

        Perhaps you should read more on cultural relativism, with all due respect, so you may understand. Peace!

      7. Lem Aquino says:

        The difference is, a human is there to understand the social context you are in when engaging you in a conversation. A phone does not offer the same on site context and thefore presents just a false pretext for the person on the other end of the line.

      8. Anonymous says:

        you dont respect others their manner is well impressive than anyone in the world

      9. Anonymous says:

        Thanks for the insult.

      10. Anonymous says:

        Well, if you cannot differentiate between speaking to a human and talking on a phone that may be your problem.

      11. Ley Gorospe says:

        They are not robotic; they are just cultured ppl who respect rules and other ppl. I lived in North America for 30 years and they don’t give it a thought to answer or even make calls while in public transport. Though there a few discreet and considerate ones, there are those who seem to want to broadcast their lives and talk too long and loud and unnecessarily while disturbing and annoying other pax. We should learn from them and learn how to be more respectful of others. Talking to ppl is quite different, but it also disturbs others; no one stops you from doing it, but we must keep it short and quiet – we are not in our living rooms. I also lived in Japan and though I don’t agree with all.their customs and traditions, I love that they are very polite. I didn’t see this degree of respect among North Ameeicans. I was raised to respect others and I’ve travelled and experienced living with other cultures, and I can say that “Respect” is the key to harmony despite our differences. Respect is what is missing in our society nowadays; hence, we’re living in a chaotic world despite of all the technological advances we are now enjoying. It is earned, not demanded. You have to give it order to get it. That is the logic, and you too, sir/ma’m, can learn a thing or two from them. Peace!

      12. Col HG Singh says:

        Japanese rule is formed with lots of logic behind it. Which country do you belong? I belong ti India where this rule isn’t followed but I wish it is applicable to India also.

      13. サニー says:

        They don’t talk to each other on trains either..

    2. Anonymous says:

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

    3. Anonymous says:

      i do the same as the Japs..

      1. Anonymous says:

        well aren’t you a special snowflake

    4. Dan Brillo says:

      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.

    5. Anonymous says:

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

    6. Someone who is living in Japanp says:

      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.

      1. Anish C says:

        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.

        1. Anonymous says:

          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

        2. Someone who lives in Japan says:

          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.

          1. Anonymous says:

            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…

        3. Yuhka says:

          True to that!

        4. Sheilah says:

          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.

        5. Agree.. Japan and its people are truly beautiful!

        6. Henry says:

          100% agree with you…. I love japan, their culture and it’s people…. So nice and well disciplined!

        7. Anonymous says:

          I agree very nice people

        8. Anonymous says:

          Absolutely right!

        9. When i was looking for my train, an old japanese lady who couldnt speak english walked with me all the way to the train. Im sure i made her miss her own ride.

        10. Anonymous says:

          bless you..you had said and explained one of the best people in the world

      2. Anonymous says:

        Liar.

        1. Anonymous says:

          This is not nice. Apologize.

      3. Anonymous says:

        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.

      4. lawpanda says:

        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.

      5. Anonymous says:

        Very true

      6. Anonymous says:

        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

    7. Anonymous says:

      i don’t do phone calls either in public transpo’s and im not Japanese :D neither in Japan.

    8. Anonymous says:

      In our country? Never mind..hahaha..

    9. sam says:

      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.

    10. Anonymous says:

      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.

    11. Banty patro says:

      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. ..

    12. angie says:

      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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    14. Topaquits says:

      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.

      1. Anonymous says:

        This is very true..

    15. Anonymous says:

      Perfect example of good trait. Respectful and considerate. Salute!

    16. Anonymous says:

      I just wonder why you need privacy in a public place..

      1. Royax75 says:

        The same way you need privacy when you’re having lunch in a restaurant

        1. Anonymous says:

          Great hit! Right! I salute japanese!

    17. Efraim Fuertes says:

      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.

    18. amy says:

      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.

    19. Troyy says:

      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.

      1. Ma. Venessa L. Balisi says:

        Sir Troyy…u got it correct.

    20. John C says:

      Interesting, I’ve got more info, what we should to do to if we visiting Japan. http://navigasing.com/top-things-to-do-in-japan/

    21. Anonymous says:

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

    22. mare vae says:

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

    23. Rojz says:

      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,

    24. Haryz says:

      Let’s just put it this way….
      You may own the phone,
      but not the train.

      1. Ssacha says:

        Check!

    25. Anonymous says:

      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.

    26. Anonymous says:

      That’s true! They are well organized..

    27. Anonymous says:

      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…

    28. Anonymous says:

      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.

    29. Anonymous says:

      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.

    30. Anonymous says:

      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..

    31. 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.

    32. Aeri Park says:

      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.

    33. Ivana says:

      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?

    34. Anonymous says:

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

    35. Anonymous says:

      Do Japanese really grope girls on train?

      1. Eve ThunderThighs says:

        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. ;))

    36. Anonymous says:

      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….

    37. Train is too fast, they could not understand their conversation, both sides.

    38. Ivana says:

      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?

    39. Innate characteristics of mostly Japanese are Honest and Well-disciplined.

    40. Anonymous says:

      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.

    41. Anonymous says:

      i respect their work ethics…

    42. Anonymous says:

      That is just sooooo way out of topic we are talking about respecting others.. Not about the war..

    43. Eve ThunderThighs says:

      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.

      While walking my friend and I were like “OMGOMGOMG!!! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?! FOR THE PAST 5 DAYS WE COULD NOT COMMUNICATE WITH A SINGLE JAP AND WERE GIVING UP! SUDDENLY THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH SO WELL IT COULD PUT US TO SHAME!!!”

      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!

    44. Anonymous says:

      Japan .., .love or leave .

    45. Dan says:

      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.

    46. T.A. Follett says:

      B nice or b quiet

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