11 common things to know about riding Japanese trains
In Tokyo and many other cities across Japan, people ride the trains every day. As they are a convenient way of accessing tourist spots, they’re also a popular way for visitors to get around. You might have heard that there is a certain etiquette associated with riding the trains in Japan, so in this article, we’ll explain some of the manners expected and common encounters you may have on Japanese trains.
1. Commuting during “rush hour” is best avoided
Urban trains in Japan become very crowded during the daily rush hours, which are generally when commuters are going to work in the morning and coming home at the end of the day. If you’re traveling with a lot of large luggage, it’s best to avoid traveling during these periods as space is limited. Peak times are roughly from 7:00 am to 8:30 am and from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm.
2. What are direct trains?
To meet the demands of passengers traveling between the city center and outlying areas, there are direct trains available that connect the lines of multiple railway companies. This eliminates the inconvenience of having to change trains mid-journey and reduces the congestion experienced at terminal stations. While direct trains are convenient, the fares can be expensive as you are traveling on lines owned by different railway companies.
For example, the Metro Fukutoshin Line and the Tokyu Toyoko Line can be ridden on direct train service from Shinjuku Sanchome Station to Yokohama Station, without having to change trains at Shibuya Station.
If you have trouble finding direct trains, search Japan Travel by NAVITIME for transfer information.
3. Do you need to exit the ticket gates even when you are transferring?
The orange ticket gates often seen on the Tokyo Metro are for transfers only, so if you exit through here with a valid ticket or a coupon ticket, you will receive a transfer ticket. It’s also worth noting that any IC card can also be used here. If you are transferring from the Tokyo Metro to another railway company, such as JR, you will have to exit the ticket gate and re-enter the relevant ticket gates for your connecting service.
Orange ticket gates
4. Your IC card balance cannot be negative!
In some countries, it’s possible to use an IC card even when it has a negative balance. But this is not the case in Japan. If you don’t have enough money on the card, you won’t be able to exit the ticket gate and will need to top up your balance at one of the automatic charging machines installed near the gates.
Automatic charging machines
5. Japanese trains are warm in winter!
While winters in Japan can be very cold, the trains are always warm. You may even be lucky enough to have a heater at your feet!
6. Do you need to push a button to open the doors?
Most city trains have doors that open automatically when you arrive at the station. But in the countryside, you sometimes have to press a button beside the door to open and close it. This is because people don’t disembark and alight at every station (like in the city), and it helps to maintain a constant temperature inside the trains, rather than letting hot and cold air blow inside the carriages. So if you’re traveling in the countryside, be ready to push the door button!
Push a button to open the doors.
7. Women who don’t like crowds can opt for the "Women Only" cars
During the rush hours, trains in Japan become very packed and people have to stand in close contact with one another. To avoid the discomfort and harassment of women, “Women Only" cars have been added to some services, depending on the time of day. In East Japan, they’re known as "Josei Senyosha” while in West Japan they’re called "Josei Senyo Sharyo”. So men should check the markings on the platform and be careful not to get into the wrong carriage!
"Women Only" cars
8. What do you do if you drop something on the tracks?
If you accidentally drop something on the train tracks, you may start to panic and press the emergency stop button. But this is only reserved for emergency situations that may cause a train accident or are related to human life. Instead, you can notify the station staff and they will assist you in retrieving your item from the tracks when it’s safe to do so.
Emergency stop button
9. What are the main reasons for train delays?
Japanese trains have a reputation for being on time, so you might be wondering what’s the cause of the delay if you do experience a late-arriving train. There are a variety of reasons why this might be the case, other than issues with the railway companies themselves.
Long delays of 30 minutes or more may be caused by personal accidents, obstruction on the tracks and natural disasters, as well as animal interference or vehicle failures. Short delays of around 10 minutes are usually due to longer than normal boarding times, lost items on the track, and the reopening and closing of doors, or they might be caused by the sudden illness of railway staff and/or passengers.
10. There are many stairs!
If you’re traveling by train in Tokyo, you’ll soon realize that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of stairs. But there’s no need to worry, as there are also escalators and elevators available for those who aren’t feeling fit or are carrying heavy luggage. Elevators are clearly indicated on station maps, so you can check here if you don’t want to take the stairs.
There are many stairs!
11. Basic train rules
When it comes to Japanese train etiquette, here are a few rules you should know:
• Don’t make phone calls while on the train as this is considered rude. Instead, set your mobile phone to silent mode and wait until you disembark to make or receive calls.
• It’s fine to eat or drink on the trains, provided you are not disturbing others or making loud noises.
• People exiting the train should stand right in front of the door while those waiting to alight should line up on either side of the door to allow the disembarking passengers through.
• If you are getting onto the train, wait until the disembarking passengers get off the train completely, rather than rushing or pushing to get on.
Basic train rules