5 myths about Japanese subways that aren’t always true

  • With more than 8 million tourists visiting Japan each year, many stereotypes have been created to explain Japanese culture to friends and family back home. However, there are almost always exceptions to these stereotypes, none more evident than those pertaining Japanese public transportation etiquette. Learn these 5 myths before your first trip to Japan so that you aren’t surprised when they aren’t true.

    1. Talking is not allowed

    While the subway is quiet during morning rush hour, business people can be quite chatty on the way back home. The best thing to do is pay attention to what the Japanese people around you are doing. If they are talking quietly, then it is acceptable to do the same. If you notice that you and your friends or family are the only ones talking on the train, gently remind your company to wait until you depart the subway to continue the conversation. The one rule for which there is no exceptions is no talking on your phone. Even if you see a Japanese person doing so, it is considered very rude and there are signs on most subways telling you not to do so!

    2. There are no disabled people in public

    Japanese public transportation is very accomodating for the differently abled, with each station being outfitted with elevators, braille, audio announcements, priority seating, and station staff who will provide assistance. Thus, it is not uncommon to have elderly, blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled people riding the subway alongside you!

    3. You should always walk on the left

    While the rules of the road dictate traffic to the left, this is not always the case for foot traffic. Arrows on the subway floor guide foot traffic to the left throughout every subway station, but some stairs and corridors guide traffic to the right. This is why it’s important to always pay attention to the directions below you! Additionally, many busy stations such as Shimbashi Station have flows of people converging from multiple different directions, so some people walk towards the middle or to the right to avoid busy intersections and blind corners.

    4. The left side of escalators is for standing, the right side is for walking

    Yes, this is true. Some business people must rush to the next station, so if you have luggage with you put it in front or behind you to the left. However, there are some escalators that are too narrow for 2 lanes of traffic, such as in Uniqlo’s flagship store in Ginza. In these cases, please feel free to take the entire lane.

    5. Japanese people never jaywalk

    Jaywalking is frowned upon and illegal in Japan. Even at the smallest crosswalks, many Japanese people will wait until the crosswalk signal turns green. However, some subway transfers require commuters to walk to other stations, and it is not uncommon to see busy business people jaywalking these minor crosswalks to make the next train. Do not follow suit!

    *Featured Image: PhotoAC