With Japan continuing to be one of the top travel destinations in the world, it is always good to know and understand a little bit about train etiquette in Japanese culture. Keep in mind that the trains in this country are impressively punctual and on time. This is a hallmark of the Japanese culture and about everything they do. They pride themselves on being organized, disciplined, and hard-working. Also, note that train transportation in this beautiful, intriguing country is remarkably efficient and well-designed. With millions of people using the train system every day, understanding proper train travel etiquette in Japan is essential.
Japanese Train Proper Eating and Drinking Tips
In most cases, eating on a train in Japan should only be done while embarking on a long-distance trip. However, even with this said, avoiding foods with a strong or offensive aroma is recommended.
In addition, short-distance train trips are not recommended for those who wish to eat. Drinking water is acceptable on long and short hall train trips, but it is best to avoid drinking coffee, soda, and other flavored drinks. Even the use of mobile phones on the Japanese train system network has some limitations.
Japanese Train Priority Seating Protocol
Priority seating on the Japanese train system carries a lot of weight. Most priority seats near the door will have a sign indicating their status. These seats are intended for pregnant ladies, those with disabilities, the elderly, or families with small children.
If the train happens to have a light load or is not crowded, anyone can take advantage of the seats with limitations.
Always be ready to give up your seat to someone in one of the mentioned categories. In Japan, chivalry is alive and well, so if all the priority seats are full, it is always held in high regard if you were to give your seat to someone who would be better served by sitting.
Mobile Phone Use on Japanese Trains
For example, in today’s world, where everyone is connected via smartphone, many people use cell phones while on a Japanese train. However, being aware of your phone usage is important, ensuring it does not offend or disturb other travelers.
A limited number of the train systems, specifically the special express and bullet trains, found in the country will have designated phone areas for those wishing to make a call.
One good recommendation is always to use headphones so that others are not disturbed. Also, it is best to turn your phone off if you are sitting in priority seating. This is a courtesy so that the elderly with pacemakers are not affected. As a special note, excess noise is strongly frowned upon, including making loud phone calls and playing music out loud. Be prepared if you do to be stared at and maybe even scorned a bit.
Getting on and off a Train in Japan
When leaving or disembarking a train in Japan, exercise polite behavior and never push or shove. As your stop approaches, you should begin collecting your belongings and heading towards the door. Japanese people are polite and will typically move aside so that you are able to exit easily.
If necessary, use the term “sumimasen” or “sumimasen, orimasu”, which are translated simply into “excuse me” and “I am getting off” to exit efficiently.
Tip: If you don’t read Japanese, pay attention to the number of triangles, circles, or even footsteps symbols on the platform. The triangle and circle indicate the train type. Match it with the train’s indication board. The number next to the triangle or circle means the carriage number. The small number below indicates how many lines you should form while queuing.
Also, what is worth noting is that littering on trains in Japan is never tolerated. Always avoid leaving trash or litter behind on the train. Even neatly folded newspapers or small food wrappers should be taken with you when exiting. As with disembarking, the queuing process for boarding can be expected to be organized and orderly. It is best not to resist this disciplined flow and wait your turn as you board. The Japanese do not like disorder, which quickly becomes obvious once you spend more and more time in the country.
Japanese Train Cars Specified Specifically for Women
One unique aspect of the Japanese train system is that some commuter trains will have clearly marked areas that specify “for women only.”
These train cars are reserved for female occupants who wish to avoid being in close proximity to male passengers. When visiting Japan and traveling on the train system, always respect these signs if you are a male by never boarding a car with a sign indicating ladies only.
The sign will usually be pink, and the seats may either be pink or have a variety of colors.
Just note that during certain times of the day, even ladies-only trains may be open to all travelers. Be aware of these simple facts to always remain within proper etiquette when traveling on a train in Japan.
Personal Space and Luggage Considerations
Japanese trains are frequently crowded, so avoiding taking up too much space with your luggage and belongings is best. When carrying a small suitcase or other similar types of luggage, it is recommended that you place the item on your lap or between your feet on the floor. Using the overhead luggage rack when possible is also a good idea.
Note that some long-distance trains will have designated areas for large suitcases or other big items. Short-haul trains like the ones from the airport may have less storage space than long-distance intended trains. The longer haul trains are sometimes equipped with wider space between rows. One good tip if you plan to travel with a lot of luggage is to consider the advantages of using a luggage forwarding service.
Finally, as is the case with many countries today, Japan does not allow smoking on any of their trains. That said, you may occasionally come across a train with a designated smoking space.
Consider these useful and important tips for navigating the Japanese train transportation system. Understanding local cultures and complying with their cultural norms is respectful and will make your travel to this beautiful, intriguing and delightful country much better. Visiting Japan has never been a more exciting proposition – get your travel plans started today!
For other useful information, refer to other articles in the Japan Travel Tips category!
SIM Card, eSIM, or Pocket WiFi: Which One to Use in Japan?
If you haven’t already, get your internet connection in Japan sorted out as soon as possible. The last thing you would want to do after landing in Japan is spend time deciding what product and from which company you should rent a pocket WiFi or purchase a SIM Card. Another common question is whether to rent a pocket Wi-Fi or purchase a SIM Card.
So refer to our SIM Card, eSIM, or Pocket WiFi: Which One to Use in Japan article that answers all your questions about how to stay connected to the internet when you are in Japan!
Getting a Better Understanding of Tokyo’s Train System
If you had a chance to look at Tokyo’s train map, you might be startled at first glance. With so many train companies owning train lines and stations in Tokyo, the city’s train map can be confusing and seem complicated to many tourists.
So if you want to gain a better understanding of Tokyo’s train system, refer to our Guide to Tokyo’s Transportation System and Train Routes!