6 Things you Should not do on Trains in Japan

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Last month, I wrote about the five horrible things that foreigners need to stop doing on trains in Japan. It involved things like talking on the phone, accidentally sitting in the priority seating section, smoking on the train, and wearing the proper amount of deodorant. Since then, I’ve been keeping a list of the other, smaller, less socially-taboo things that foreigners always seem to do on the train.

And, of course, I made a list.

Without further ado, I present:

6 More Things Foreigners need to stop doing in Trains in Japan

1. Don’t talk loudly. Talking softly is fine… just try to keep is not obnoxious. I’ve ridden on a train with friends, where we can hear someone on the other end of the car, being loud.

It’s uncomfortable.

Especially if you’re talking about something personal, like your bad string of relationships or the last girl you hooked up with. Believe it or not (despite what my other posts have been telling you) more people in Japan speak English than you would first imagine.

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If you’re chatting loudly (and not embarrassed because you don’t think anyone can understand you), think again. My friend was telling me the other day that she was mid-conversation with someone else, when she looked down and saw the businessman in front of her was reading a book in English.

She was freaked out until she realized he was reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” – which doesn’t exactly verify his English-speaking ability (if you know what I mean).

So yeah. People can speak English in Tokyo. Be careful about that (regardless of what country you are in).

2. Don’t blast your music too loudly, especially on the crowded trains. If you have a pair of crappy headphones during the morning or evening rushes, the people next to you might hate you.

They even have public service announcement posters for this (so apparently it really is a problem, not just something I’m making up).

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3. Don’t eat really smelly food. There is (surprisingly) nothing (too) wrong about eating food on the train, just don’t eat a hamburger or something that smells or can create a mess.

If you want to eat something, stick to some curry bread, an onigiri rice ball, melon bread, or anything small that you can buy at a convenience store. It is still somewhat frowned upon to eat food on the train… but as long as you are not being obnoxious about it, it should be fine.

4. Don’t remove nail polish on the train, even if you have those cute, compact little remover kits. I’ve done this before (sorry guys). I made the entire train smell like nail-polish remover. It was awful. I switched cars because I felt so bad (and so that people would stop judging me).

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And painting my nails is a stress-release. I can’t quit.

5. Don’t cough on people. I’ve never actually seen this happen, but hey – if they made a poster of it, then you should probably be careful.

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6. If you have a large backpack or shopping bags, put them on the rack above the seats. I didn’t do this for a while, mostly because I didn’t feel like it. I’m never on the train for more than 30 minutes; I can hold my own backpack or purse. I’m not that weak.

But then, a couple months into my stay in Japan, I realized that people weren’t putting their baggage on the silver rack above the eats because they were incapable of holding the object, they did it to free up room.

Trains in Japan can get crowded, especially in the early mornings and near the last train. In order to utilize space, people typically put their suitcase or purse on the rack. Even if it ends up being more work and even if it is not crowded, keeping your stuff on the shelf limits the chances that you might accidentally hit another passenger with your bag. I’ve been hit by a foreigner’s giant backpacking pack before. It smacked me right in the jaw. It was awful.

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Don’t do that to someone.

Once again, comments, additional things that people shouldn’t do on trains in Japan, and thoughts are appreciated. Just leave a comment below.

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

4 Comments on 6 Things you Should not do on Trains in Japan

  1. Eliabeth // 20 May, 2016 at 12:39 am //

    Hi! I am coming to Tokyo on Sunday. Is it okay to listen to music (with good headphones) and/or play games with your phone on the train. What about taking pictures? Thanks!
    P.S. Do you have family near Poughkeepsie? I know a Ginny Buchele there.

  2. Eric Janson // 22 July, 2014 at 7:41 pm //

    This one isn’t a “do not do” but rather a “what should I have done?”
    Some years back I was on a train with 3 American and 3 Japanese work colleagues. It was an express train so it was underway for some time between the stops. There was a really creepy guy eyeing a young woman who was seated at the end of the long seat between the doors.
    After a bit, he began to commit a pretty seriously lewd act, his gaze fixed on her, which was obvious to everyone. I and my American colleagues were standing there, amazed, and whispering things to each other like, “If he touches her we are going to beat the s**t out of him” and such. But our Japanese colleagues, the rest of the passengers and even the young woman who was the object of the Perv’s attentions were totally uncomfortable but trying as hard as they could to pretend that it was not happening. They would not look at what was going on and buried their faces into their manga or looked away. We took our cue from the locals and did nothing (except stare at the Perv and whisper to each other about how incredible this was.)
    Finally, he completed his act, went over to the door, hunched over and made himself as small as he could, and when the train stopped, he rushed out of the doors towards the station’s exit.
    Later, even at drinks at the end of the day, our Japanese colleagues would not discuss it. They were too uncomfortable to answer any of our questions. Harmony preservation in action, I guess.
    So we Americans were left wondering if we should have intervened – because I’m sure the incident was traumatizing for her- or if doing nothing was okay as long as he did not physically touch her.

    • Those kinds of situations are… hard.
      And sadly, you’re not the only person I’ve heard from who has seen a similar thing happen.
      Never physically attack the offender – the best option is to just shout “chikan” as loudly as you can, while pointing at the guy. Even if he’s crazy/whatever, the shame is usually always enough to get him to stop and move to a different cart.
      other than that… there’s not much you can do. Or at least, not anything I know about.

      • What you can do is move quietly in front of the guy with your back towards him and facing the girl, and if she look at you give her a it’s-ok look. I’ve done that and she was almost in tear with gratitute.

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