Public transportation in Japan is awesome for a number of reasons, not the least of which are how punctual and clean the trains are. An equally important factor, though, is the remarkable politeness of most passengers, which is an especially big plus if you’re stuck on a crowded commuter train with hundreds of other people on your way in or out of downtown.
But while Japanese societal norms and values keep most people on their best behavior, that doesn’t mean Japanese train passengers never feel the desire to let their manners lapse for the purpose of making themselves a little more comfortable. Sometimes they even give in to such temptations, as revealed in a survey by Japanese media organization Standby, which polled 200 working men between the ages of 20 and 39 and asked them what etiquette slip-ups they admit to while on the train.
The survey participants were presented with a list of 13 commonly frowned-upon behaviors, and asked to select the three they most often find themselves doing, with one point given to their top pick, two to their second, and one for their third. When the points were tallied, the top 10 were:
10. Sitting in a priority seat even though other seats are open (46 points)
Japanese trains customarily have priority seats for elderly, physically handicapped, or pregnant passengers located at the corner of the carriages. But the corners are usually the least crowded part of the carriage, making them also the most comfortable place to sit. Since fully able-bodied passengers aren’t prohibited from sitting in the priority seats (they’re simply asked to give the seat up if someone in need wants it), grabbing a seat there even if you’re not one of the service’s target demographics is a common quasi-transgression.
9. Keeping your bag on my shoulder when the train is crowded (59 points)
Because of the contours of the human body, you’ll take up the least space if you hold your bag in front of you, as opposed to keeping it slung over a shoulder or two. But even when the train fills up and space is at a premium, some guys keep their bag on their back to help distribute its weight.
7 (tie). Taking out a newspaper, book, or smartphone even if the train is crowded(75 points)
On the one hand, a little light reading is a great way to kill time while riding from Point A to Point B. But when you’re literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow passengers, whipping out your reading material or apparatus, even if it’s as compact as a smartphone, is sure to be cutting into someone else’s severely limited personal space.
7 (tie). Putting your bag on the floor in front of where’re your sitting (75 points)
This isn’t really an issue unless the train gets crowded, but if it does, holding your bag on your lap, as opposed to putting it on the floor, opens up a bit of foot space for passengers who weren’t lucky enough to snag a seat.
6. Dozing off and leaning on the person sitting next to you (106 points)
Taking a nap on the train is a time-honored tradition in Japan, but using the stranger sitting next to you as a pillow is a no-no (though it’s A-OK if you and your human pillow are a couple).
5. Putting your bag on the seat next to you when there are a lot of empty seats(108 points)
At first, there might not seem to be anything wrong with this. After all, if there are multiple empty seats open, what’s wrong with taking up one of them for your bag?
But by putting your bag on the seat, you’re essentially telling anyone getting on the train “Go look for a seat somewhere else,” which isn’t a particularly courteous thing to do. Plus, should someone really want that seat for whatever reason (maybe it’s near the door that’s closest to the exit at the station they’re getting off at), putting your belongings there means they have to ask you to alter your behavior for their benefit, which can be an awkward and embarrassing exchange,
4. Getting on the train while other people are still getting off (114 points)
When you’re waiting on the platform and a train pulls up, the polite thing to do is stand to the side of the doors, leave an easy path for people to exit from, and only hop on once everyone who’s getting off has left the carriage. But the sooner you can get inside, the greater your chance of grabbing an open seat, and so some people who want to rest their feet try to move against the flow and get a head start on their seat-hunting rivals.
3. Folding your legs (118 points)
Japan isn’t all too keen on leg-folding in general. It’s a serious faux pas in business situations, for example, but it’s an especially aggravating maneuver on trains. Most Japanese trains have bench seats designed to just fit a certain number of passengers (seven is the norm for many Tokyo area trains). So when you fold our legs, you’re coming close to sticking your foot in someone’s lap, especially if you’re above average height.
2. Using your phone near the priority seats (154 points)
Passengers are asked to refrain from talking on their phones on Japanese trains, regardless of which part of the carriage they’re in. Using your phone to fire off emails or read SoraNews24, though, is acceptable…unless you’re sitting in or standing near the priority seats, in which case you’re asked to power down your phone entirely.
This rule comes from concerns that the signals sent by mobile phones may interfere with pacemakers of other medical devices, whose bearers are likely to be sitting in the priority seats due to their health issues. But with smartphone use being such a ubiquitous part of rail travel in Japan, many people forget, or simply don’t bother to, shut their phones off.
1. Refusing to give up your spot next to the door no matter what (235 points)
If you do have to stand, one of the best spots on the train to do it is next to the door. There’s usually a short length of wall between the edge of the bench seat and the door opening, and if you can position yourself there and lean against the wall, you’re probably going to be a lot more comfortable than if you’re hanging onto a hand strap and having to use your back, leg, and abdominal muscles to balance yourself as the train makes it way down the tracks.
However, being near the door also means you’re right next to the flow of traffic as people get on and off the train. Depending on your stature, your shoulders might actually be jutting into the space people need to move through, in which case the polite thing to do is move out of the way or step off the train onto the platform, then reboard the carriage before it pulls away.
Doing that, though, means you might not be able to reclaim that prime location, and so many of the survey respondents are loath to give it up. Hopefully they at least remember not to hit anyone in the head with their bag while they’re standing there.
Source: Livedoor News/Standby via Otakomu
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