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Manners in Public in Japan

by Ewa Nowogorski

Different countries have different manners and social obligations, and because of Japan’s huge population, people often come into an uncomfortably close proximity with each other. Because of this, strict unspoken rules must be followed in order to make crowded experiences as normal and comfortable as possible.

First and foremost, one should always walk on the correct side of the sidewalk and stairs, which is the left side. Don’t walk in the middle of the street unless it’s completely empty. People are always in a rush, and they can get to places much more quickly when there is order on the street. This rule bleeds into lines and queues for things like waiting for the train, stores and restaurants. It is an everyday occurrence to see people standing neatly in line on station platforms, not pushing each other or trying to get on first. The platform floors are also covered in guides for where to stand depending on what train you want to take.

Speaking of trains, train etiquette is probably the most important etiquette to know because this is the most likely place you will ever involuntarily have to have your body brushing up against multiple complete strangers’ bodies. Staying quiet and keeping your arms to yourself is a must, and refraining from talking is also advised during rush hour or the later parts of the day when tired businessmen are trying to get home after a hard day of work. Eating and talking on the train are 2 no-no’s although ironically you will occasionally see people drinking cans of beer, which is generally OK.

 Crossing the street when the light is red even if there are clearly no cars coming (and even if the street is only 2 meters wide) is also something that is not done here. Rules that are followed are followed no matter what the circumstances are.

There are many other manners that one must be aware of, but the most important thing to remember is that the more crowded the area is, the more you have to keep yourself in check.

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