Friday, January 5, 2018

Japanese Train Manners

Train Manners Survey Questions

Japanese train stations certainly have a number of signs posted about rules and good manners that people should be observing when using public transit. Most of these are obvious rules for civil behavior: 
  • about three years ago there was a surge in signage asking people not to be violent, or more specifically, not to attack station staff (I don't know what prompted this but if I worked at a station I would be quick to tack those to a wall too). 
  • Kyoto had their own kendo-themed campaign of posters against train molesters.
  • about two years ago signs appeared at every station asking people not to use selfie sticks (maybe people [tourists] were swinging them around on crowded platforms or trying to get head-on shots of approaching trains).
  • There have always (?) been the priority seats that are clearly marked to give preference for the elderly, infirmed, pregnant and parents carrying small kids.
  • Recorded messages (Japanese, English and, sometimes, other languages) on the train ask people not to talk [loudly] on their cell phones while riding public transit.
In November of 2017 the Japan Railways advertised a survey, in their "Nishi Navi" newspaper, a website address ("" which has since disappeared). The survey was being hosted by a marketing research company, Nomura Research Institute.

The survey (only presented in Japanese) asked train riders about various issues and whether they are becoming more or less problematic in society. Below is a screen shot from the survey:

These questions are interesting because they reveal a variety of behaviors that some train riders must consider an issue or the survey company anticipated that these options would be sought after complaint points.

The first page asked users to choose up to three actions the participants find annoying on the train.
Preventing cantankerous visitors from complaining about everything and seeking the priority problems. Here are the points list on the first page [Q.1] (to which I have added some parenthetical notes):
  1. How to sit in a seat (I imagining that this is mainly addressing the problem of "man-spreading")
  2. Leaving garbage, like empty aluminum cans.
  3. Manners when getting on and off (people shoving against people moving in the opposite direction?)
  4. Drunken behavior
  5. Eating and drinking in crowded cars ( note that the qualifier of "crowded")
  6. Using noisy electronics
  7. Smoking
  8. Excessive sound coming from headphones
  9. [method of? / amount of?] Carrying luggage or putting it in the racks
  10. Noisy conversations
  11. Applying cosmetics on the train.
  12. Sitting on the floor of the train.
  13. Operating a smartphone while walking (the have been many new signs about this recently)
  14. Reading newspapers, magazines, books etc.
  15. Ringing phones
  16. Other
  17. Nothing in particular

Most of the points seem obvious but a few are interesting cultural points for Japan. Notice that number 11 implicitly condemns women who put on their makeup during a commute, I am not sure why people find this offensive but I certainly would not like someone accidentally getting cosmetics on my clothes (and I don't even have a wife to try explaining that to :).
Numbers six and eight are similar but number eight implies that the people THINK they are enjoying their super loud audio in private but the sound is "leaking" out and bothering others.
Public drunkenness, particularly people passing late at night, is a common problem that Japanese people seem to easily ignore with minimal discomfort.
Also note that many of these problems are directly connected with how crowded the trains are; nobody cares how you carry your luggage if you are not going to bump into them and if the train is empty it would just be weird if you sat on the floor but not functional problem.
I have never seen anyone smoking on train, so I hope that common sense has prevailed to eliminate this problem.

Question 7 involved a chart with radio buttons asking respondents to rate the relative trajectory of the issues over an unstated time period; from "extremely improved" to "much worse" (with an "I don't know" option). This questioning format seems problematic in that grumpy, older people could present a "back in the good ole days" / "make Japan great again" bias imagining that their generation was somehow superior.
Here are the points expressed in question seven:

  1. General train manners
  2. Ringing phones
  3. Using noisy electronics
  4. Using mobile phones / using mobile phones while walking
  5. Reading newspapers, magazines, books, etc on crowded trains
  6. Drunkeness
  7. Eating and drinking on crowded trains
  8. Noisy conversations and horseplay.
  9. Sitting style
  10. How to get on and off the train
  11. Sitting on the floor
  12. Leaving garbage
  13. Applying cosmetics
  14. Sound from headphones
  15. Carrying and stowing luggage
  16. smoking
Most the questions are the same, but they are in a different order for some reason.
I would be interested in seeing the results but I have heard no reports of the findings from this study. Perhaps the results will be reflected in the new signs that we will see appearing at train stations in the near future.