One of the first things I had trouble with when I moved to Japan was riding the trains. The train system is efficient and complicated, but there is also etiquette to riding the train. This involves things nobody will ever tell you you’re doing wrong. So here’s a quick primer on riding the trains around!
First, when you get onto the train, move out of the way so people can get off. This sounds obvious, but it can be really crowded and you might be looking around, trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be or something. Try as much as possible to keep out of people’s way. It can get hectic, so always try to keep clear!
Next, try to find a seat. You’ll notice that you rarely see anybody sitting with their legs all sprawled out, taking up two seats. This is because there is no space. If you want to sit down, you have to kind of make yourself as skinny as possible. Sometimes when it’s crowded, sitting is actually less comfortable than standing.
You’ll notice the seats on the end that are colored differently, or have a sign on them. These are the priority seats (on JR Lines, they are red instead of blue). These are for old folks, pregnant ladies or handicapped people. If none of those are present, anybody can sit there. I usually avoid sitting in the priority seats anyway, just to keep them open.
If you see a man or woman get on the train and they look to be about 100 years old, and you see them looking around wearily at all the sitting people, by all means give up your seat.
They will probably say, “No, it’s okay. I don’t want to take your seat.” But, in reality, they do. And you should give it up for them. You will often see people pretending to be asleep or conveniently not noticing the old people who want to sit, and that’s really rude.
Everybody knows you’re not supposed to talk on your cell phone on the train. Actually, you can, but you should speak quietly and cover your mouth out of respect for the other passengers. That’s the reason why it’s taboo, because it’s annoying. Remember all those people screaming into their cell phones back home in some otherwise quiet place? That could be you!
Now, for a lot of us, it comes as a pleasant surprise that it’s okay to drink alcoholic beverages on the train. But, look around. Who’s drinking on the train? Old men and foreigners. I’d recommend waiting until you get somewhere to say, “It’s Miller time.”
Finally, if you’re on a crowded train near the door and you’re in the way of people getting on or off, step off the train. You can step just off to the side and wait and get right back on again.
Basically, try to stay out of the way and respect everybody’s space as much as possible. I know, that might seem impossible on a tiny, crowded train, but if you use common sense, you’ll be doing well and setting a good example!