8 tips for getting a seat on Japan’s crowded trains
Taking the train during weekday rush hours is a grind in pretty much any country, but Tokyo and Osaka are almost in a league of their own. We’ve all seen pictures and videos of station staff wearing white gloves leaning against walls of commuters and stuffing them inside trains to the point that the entire carriage tilts dangerously to one side, and no doubt many of you have experienced the sweaty, space-invading hell that is Japanese inner-city transport firsthand, but did you know that it doesn’t always have to be such a miserable experience?
Thanks to the knowledge being shared by Japan’s commuting elite this week, you might just be in with a chance of grabbing a seat – and with it a few cubic inches of breathing space – during your next rush-hour journey.
Here are eight seat-scoring secrets.
1. Location, location, location
“If you’re standing by the doors, you’re missing chance after chance to sit down,” said one clever netizen. “You want to position yourself further into the train car and stand directly in front of the row of people sitting.”
Makes good sense. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the person sitting directly in front of where you’re standing will be alighting before the train reaches your stop, but should they start gathering their possessions and putting away their mobile phone, you can almost guarantee that the seat will be yours next. That is, of course, unless there’s an elderly person or a nice young lady standing beside you, gents; remember your manners and earn your fellow foreigners some brownie points by offering the seat to others before you take it.
2. Handrail watchers
“If a passenger who is seated suddenly starts eying the handrails and leather straps above where they are sitting, the chances of them disembarking soon are very high,” remarks one frequent train user.
Especially on crowded trains, those support handles are valuable real estate and sometimes the only means of keeping yourself from crashing into your fellow commuters when the train shudders or comes to a sudden stop. As I discovered firsthand when a businessman lost his balance while kneeling to tie his shoelace and fell face-first into my crotch, it is important (and preferred) if passengers keep a hold of a handrail or support while the train is in motion.
With this in mind, many passengers try to secure a handrail or means of support before leaving their seat, which means they’ll be checking their surroundings soon after the announcement for the next station. Watch for the subtle hints and their seat should be yours!
3. Know your enemy
“Be aware of the people you travel with and which group you belong to,” suggests another netizen. “By putting the people who use your train into categories like office workers, students, tourists and the like, you can determine the times they’ll be travelling and work around it.”
If you find yourself regularly riding a train used by, say, high school kids, try to schedule your own journeys around the times before or after they make theirs. Office workers finish later in the evening than school kids, but this also means that they take trains slightly later in the morning, too. Like a hungry lion that must know precisely when and where the wildebeest move, you should time your own movements to take advantage of the situation and travel at less busy times whenever possible.
4. It’s all about the outfit
Speaking of high school students, as creepy as it may sound at first, a good knowledge of which stations school kids use is vital for any commuter hoping to bag a seat. If you know where they get off – and they usually do so in great droves, leaving the train car deathly quiet – you’ll know when whole batches of seats open up.
It’s not advice that we’d like to recommend for use in many other situations in life, but following groups of school kids onto trains in Japan is one of the better strategies out there.
5. Choose your door wisely
If the train’s about to leave, most of us usually make a mad dash for whichever door is closest. But if you have a little time to spare before the train’s arrival, choose doors that are slightly further away from the stairs or escalators.
Thanks to that famous Japanese efficiency, train doors almost always line up with the little colored labels adhered to the platform, meaning that there’s no need for people to stand around in small, non-committal herds hoping that they’re in the right spot. This is hugely helpful, but it’s only part of the battle.
As is the socially accepted rule in Japan, it’s polite to wait for all passengers to alight from the train before throwing yourself in. But if you find yourself attempting to board the train via doors that are close to the station’s exit or stairs, you’ll find yourself waiting longer to board than you should due to the number of clever passengers who purposely moved down the carriage to exit the train via those exact doors.
“Board the train via the second set of doors away from the stairs;” said another wise commuter, “fewer people get off there, allowing you to enter the train sooner and grab a seat.”
6. Read people’s books
According to some netizens, paying attention to the type of book other train users read yields valuable information about the length of their journey.
“People reading novels, reference materials and things like English language textbooks are likely to be in for the long haul. Readers of sports magazines, evening newspapers and comic books, meanwhile, are far more likely to just be flicking through them to kill a few minutes.”
If you want to go hardcore and use some of the detective skills you picked up from watching “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote” reruns on TV, another pro commuter suggests looking for anyone reading books borrowed from a library. With a keen pair of eyes you might even be able to see which library they borrowed the book from; it’s probably close to their house and, of course, the station they’ll be getting off at. Just try not to creep people out by getting your nose too close to their reading material.
7. Widen your field of vision
It’s important not to put all your money on one horse. Just because you think you may have spotted someone who looks like they’re about to leave their seat doesn’t mean that there aren’t other possibilities. As another commenter suggests, “Like national footballer Yasuhito Endo, look far and wide for openings!”
8. Shock tactics
OK, you’ve read this far; you deserve this extra-special nugget of seat-grabbing gold. But bear in mind that this powerful smart bomb is for use only in desperate situations and may not go down well with your fellow passengers.
“As the train pulls in to a station, tapping a sleeping passenger on the shoulder and telling them simply ‘we’ve arrived!’ will often have them leaping up and scrambling to make it off the train before the doors close. The seat is then yours for the taking.”
Technically, it’s not a lie. Technically. But it is really, really mean. Suffice to say I’ll be trying this one later today if I find myself standing in front of a sleeping beauty.
Happy travels, everyone! We hope that these tips will go some way to alleviating some of your rush hour pain. And, if you don’t have any immediate success putting this knowledge into action, look at it this way: at least you killed some time by people watching and keeping an eye out for signs of a seat opening up.
Source: Naver まとめ
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