By Asian American in Tokyo | June 10, 2008
Japan is known for proper etiquette and you can find evidence of “proper behavior” everywhere. Perhaps one area less noticed by visiting foreigners is escalator etiquette. In Japan, every time you ride an escalator, people who are just standing/riding stay to one side to ensure a clear lane for others (who may be in a hurry) to pass. You’d think this is simply common courtesy, but it doesn’t happen in most countries since most people invariably choose a different side to stand on creating a zig zag obstacle course for the walkers most of the time. Japan is so crowded, yet the system somehow works as everyone stands on the same side no matter what. The Japanese create maximum pedestrian transportation efficiency in one of the most densely populated places on Earth by using social pressure to maintain “wa” (the Japanese word for “harmony”) in a homogenous society. Check it out.
This is certainly an amazing societal feat in an of itself, but here’s where it gets really interesting. In the Kanto area (where Tokyo is located), everyone stands to the left and walkers pass on the right. In the Kansai area (where Osaka is located), everyone stands to the right and walkers pass to the left. Legend has it that in Tokyo, samurai preferred to stay on the left so they could draw their swords easily, whereas in Osaka merchants preferred to be on the right to protect their belongings carried in the right hand. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that since I doubt swords were used much since escalators were placed into use, but that’s the theory I’ve heard. Most Japanese people I’ve asked simply say “I don’t know, that’s the way it is”.
Anyone out there know why this is?
Oh, one more thing. Next time you’re at Narita take a few minutes to watch human behavior on the escalator. Because it’s an airport and many people from different cultures are passing through, escalator culture clashes occur resulting in chaos and irritated Japanese. Yet, none of the foreigners seem to notice. Be sure to check it out and smile knowingly to yourself.
9 Responses to “Escalator Etiquette: Kanto vs. Kansai”
You must be logged in to post a comment.