Japanese Train Vocabulary: Learn The Basics Not to Get Lost!

  • LANGUAGE
  • CULTURE
  • Most of Japan’s trains have basic English translations for key areas, and virtually all station and railway line names are romanized. (You can even see Korean and Chinese at most of the stations now, especially in Tokyo.) But the moment you step into a train station, you’ll realize that a majority of what you’ll see and hear is still in Japanese, and to a foreigner that speaks little or no Nihongo, this may seem a little daunting.

    There’s no doubt, at least one Japanese civilian will be willing to help you out in dealing with any confusing situation, but wouldn’t it be great to understand the basics? With the help of this article, let’s learn some useful Japanese terms used when riding trains and how they are used.

    Important Vocabulary
    Densha 電車 Electric train
    Chikatetsu 地下鉄 Subway train
    Eki Station
    Homu ホーム Platform
    Sen Line
    Abunai 危ない Dangerous
    Kiken 危険 Danger
    Mamonaku まもなく Shortly
    Gojosha ご乗車 Boarding
    Tsugi Next
    Yuki 行き Destination
    Homen 方面 Direction
    Shuuten 終点 Last stop
    Kippu 切符 Ticket
    Otsuri おつり Change
    Doa ドア Door
    Futsuu 普通 Regular trains
    Kakuekiteisha 各駅停車 Train that stops at all stations (local)
    Kaisoku 快速 Train that stops on selected stations only (rapid)
    Norikae 乗り換え Transfer
    Kakekomi かけこみ Rush or last-minute
    Gochuui ご注意 “Please note…” or “Please pay attention to…”
    Goannai ご案内 Information or guide
    Kinnen 禁煙 No Smoking
    Nobori 上り Going up
    Kudari 下り Going down
    Migi Right
    Hidari Left
    Esukareta エスカレーター Escalator
    Erebeta エレベーター Elevator/Lift
    Deguchi 出口 Exit
    Iriguchi 入口 Entrance
    Typical Usage of Vocabulary

    Now that we know some basic vocabulary, let’s see how it is used in real life!

    • when a train is approaching, stations usually display 「電車がまいります」(“Densha ga mairimasu”) or「電車がきます」(“Densha ga kimasu”).
    • when a train is about to arrive, voice announcements are usually stated in this manner: 「まもなく、一番線に東京方面行きがまいります。 危ないですから黄色い線までお下がりください」(“Mamonaku, ichiban sen ni, Tokyo yuki ga mairimasu. Abunai desu kara kiiroi sen made osagari kudasai”). The first sentence means that in a short while, a Tokyo-bound train will arrive at platform (line) one. The second sentence tells passengers to wait behind the yellow line as it is dangerous to stand near the edge. Note that the (sen) in the first and second sentences are different – the first one refers to a platform while the second refers to a certain yellow  line on the platform.
    • an announcement similar to the previous may be stated in this manner: 「白線の内側にさがってお待ちください」(“Hakusen no uchigawa ni sagatte omachi kudasai”). This one tells passengers to wait behind the white line.
    • the moment you enter the train (or sometimes, while the train is running), a voice announcement would say 「ご乗車ありがとうございます」(“Gojosha arigatō gozaimasu”). This means “thank you for riding” and is a way for the train operators to say welcome and thank you for using their services.
    • train drivers will sometimes announce 「発車します」(“Hassha shimasu”) to signal that the train is about to depart.
    • information about the next station is given with a 「次は、___ 」(“Tsugi wa, ______”) or 「まもなく、__ 」(“Mamonaku, ____”) followed by the next station’s name. 「まもなく」(“Mamonaku”) is usually announced when the train is seconds away from the 「ホーム」(“Hōmu”).
    • announcements for last stops usually include 「終点です」(“shuuten desu”). This is important because many operators designate a terminus that is not the absolute end of the line.
    • when the train is about to stop, an announcement will tell which side of the train will open: 「出口は、左/右 側です」(“Deguchi wa, hidari/migi gawa desu.”). Alternatively, some trains have digital displays on doors to indicate the opening side.
    • closing doors are signaled by 「ドアが閉まります」(“Doa ga shimarimasu.”) while opening doors by「ドアが開きます」(”Doa ga hirakimasu.”). Safety prompts like 「閉まるドアにご注意ください」(“Shimaru doa ni gochui kudasai”) ask passengers to pay attention to closing doors.
    • stickers at train doors usually have a 「かけこみ乗車はキケンです」(“kakekomi jōsha wa KIKEN desu”) to tell passengers not to rush as it is dangerous. Notice that 危険(kiken) is written in katakana (キケン) for emphasis.
    • when stopping at a station where more than one line operates, announcements would include transfer information: 「___線はお乗換えです」(“____-sen wa o-norikae desu”). This means that a passenger may transfer to the indicated line. Transfer information may likewise be announced after a「乗り換えのご案内です」(“Norikae no goannai desu.”).
    • train types are both announced and digitally displayed. Local trains (trains stopping at all stations of a line) are designated as 普通(futsuu) or 各駅停車(kakuekiteisha) while rapid trains as 快速(kaisoku).
    • 切符(kippu) are sold at a きっぷうりば(kippu uriba). Markers for these machines are usually written with just hiragana. When purchasing tickets, do not forget your おつり(otsuri)!
    In Conclusion

    This collection of terms and usages probably isn’t enough to cover all that you’ll ever need, but I guess it’s good to start with. For those who know better, please put other useful terms and phrases in the comment section below! Happy train traveling!

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    Important Train Riding Etiquette in Japan