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 

Read more stories on RocketNews24.
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Eating on Trains in Japan: Survey Asks “How Much is Too Much?”
Young People Speak Out: Recent Survey Suggests That Japan’s Older Generation’s Manners Stink


  • 0


    The thing that makes me so angry in this country about seats in the morning is the way that no one gives up the priority seats to those who need them at ANY time.

    I wish the government/train companies would do something about it - fine those people sitting in the seats who don't need to be (such as middle aged lazy salarymen taking a nap, or school kids) and make them available to those who really DO need them - the old, the broken legged, and the pregnant who are standing nearby praying to sit down.

    Maybe they should make a "blue seat permit... " We could hire inspectors like the old guys who check for smokers in no smoking zones. It would be good for the economy.

  • 3


    Don't forget getting on at the earliest possible point on the route. This should have been no.1. it's the most basic piece of advice. This could mean taking a different line because it starts closer to your station, or getting a train back a few stops first so you can get an express at an earlier stop.

  • 1


    Maybe they should make a "blue seat permit... " We could hire inspectors like the old guys who check for smokers in no smoking zones. It would be good for the economy.

    Some train lines do this. I remember the Sotetsu line in Yokohama did.

    Impossible during rush hour though.

  • 5


    I used to enjoy getting the trains here when I was new to the country and knew little about the culture here.

    Now I hate it, as it is basically the same as sitting in a sweltering tin can with the most humourless, lifeless people on the planet.

  • 4


    Riding 10 miles one way to work is 1000x better. Makes me so much more happy. Feels great and a stress-free part of my day. No more fighting for space on the train and I get sick a lot less as a result of not being butt to nut with trains full of people. Also saves me tons of money. My company still pays me for transportation costs but I no longer put that money on my Suica. Win, Win.

  • 2

    Dennis Bauer

    easiest tactic don't wash, lots of space :p

  • 8

    Ewan Huzarmy

    Just being a a johnny foreigner helps, I usually end up getting a double seat !

  • -9


    Car no.4 often has fewer passengers, because the number symbolizes death. The "low air conditioning" cars are also a good bet.

    As for pet peeves, I dislike the flat, bench seats, designed with no thought for personal space. I want horizontal armrests, like on London's Tube, or scooped out seats, like in Singapore.

  • 3


    Ha! If you think trains are crowded now... they used to be far worse 30 or 40 years ago. Once I was on one that was so mobbed the glass window actually popped out due to pressure from passengers inside. The cars are better designed, and there are more rail lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but I think the thing that's made the biggest difference is adoption of flextime by many companies. One thing that hasn't changed all these years is the mindless attitude of Japanese commuters, who retreat into their own heads and blatantly disregard others. Now they have new toys, like iPods, hand-held games and cell phones, by which to ignore their fellow passengers. Manners posters in stations are a huge waste of money since it's obvious that they fall on blind eyes.

  • 4


    “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.”

    I don't believe anyone has ever done this.

  • 1


    i always board the first compartment of train and usually get the seat. maybe be japanese ppl think it's riskier to ride in the first compartment?

  • 11


    Car no.4 often has fewer passengers, because the number symbolizes death.

    That is the silliest thing I have heard on here in a long time. I've been here 20 years, and I've NEVER heard anyone say that they're not going to ride in train carriage 4 because of "shi". Most people ride a certain carriage because it's closest to the stairs of the station they're betting off at or whatever, or because it gets fewer people.

  • -6


    That is the silliest thing I have heard on here in a long time.

    You obviously commute on different trains from me.

    The cars are better designed (now)

    Not on my regular train. The new models have wider doors, and hence the number of seats has been reduced to make the space. The result is more standing up than before, even when the train isn't particularly crowded. Now that sucks.

  • 2


    A droll bit of writing, Mr Kendall - thank you.

  • 1


    That is the silliest thing I have heard on here in a long time.

    You obviously commute on different trains from me.

    I hope so.

  • 2


    The only one that requires less effort above is No. 5: Choose your door wisely. But instead of "door" it should read "car." The car that is farthest from escalators, steps, exits, etc. Seems that it is easier to get a seat here.

    As for the Priority Seats, why not reserve them for young people looking at their kaitai. It seems that young people glaring at their kaitai are always sitting in the Priority Seats. They ignore the world around them. So let the oldsters, handicapped people, pregnant moms etc. save time by not going to the Priority Seats, but by placing some hope that passengers sitting in regular seats will be kind enough to offer them a seat.

    I have seen Japanese scream and yell at the top of their lungs at ignorant teens, early 20 people etc. who are sitting in Priority Seats with their kaitai turned on and ignoring old people standing right in front of them. And these young people seem to be really miffed at all the screaming & yelling ... as if it is disturbing them ...

  • -3


    As the train pulls in to a station, saying "Does anyone smell sarin?" 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.

  • 1


    Strike fast. Strike hard.

  • 1


    I prefer to stand, even on empty trains. Standing burns 100-50 calories per hour more than sitting., moving trains activate balancing muscles too: it's free exercise. Humans sit far too much. Just search the words "chronic sitting". Not caring about a seat, has freed me from the worry of the seat-hunt and inevitable disappointment. I'm happier for it.

    .As for train-equette I once was on crutches due to a full leg cast, on several occasions not one single person offered me a seat or even bothered to look up. People cling to their seats like seats on lifeboat bailing from a sinking ship. I actually at that time preferred to stand as my leg stuck into the aisle and 'oblivious to their surroundings' bumbling idiots continually kicked the cast, none said sorry, they just looked annoyed that it was in their way. Commuters can be uncaring soulless wretches while commuting. They walk through the ticket gates at the station and transform from humans to commuters and then back again at the end.

  • 4


    As for train-equette I once was on crutches due to a full leg cast, on several occasions not one single person offered me a seat or even bothered to look up.

    Sorry to hear that. On the other hand, my friend dressed up in a mummy costume for Halloween and got offered a seat about 5 times on the way to Roppongi!

  • 4


    Commuters can be uncaring soulless wretches while commuting. They walk through the ticket gates at the station and transform from humans to commuters and then back again at the end.

    Well I'm not sure about whether they become human at the gates or not, but the first part is definitely true. I had a neck hernia and had to wear a neck collar for a few weeks in the rush hour. In all that time, one nice older lady offered her my seat, and a junior high school student in a priority seat silently sweated for several stops till her eyes crossed mine and the person to person shame overtook the internal shame of "if I offer her my seat, everyone will look at me" and she gave me her seat. I was in pain, but I swear she suffered more.

    About the idea of going back a few stops to get on the train at a place where there are still free seats, this is actually forbidden! It's one of those pieces of Japanese non-logic that you can beat your head against the wall and still not understand. You may think that your fare should depend on the distance between the place you get on and get off, but to these train companies, if you "trespass" outside the route, you should pay a higher fare. From the same companies that refuse to do the logical step of offering a cheap unlimited all-day ticket valid across different lines for big cities like Tokyo or Yokohama.

    As far as improved design goes, it seems the resolute Galapagosness of Japan means they refuse to incorporate half of the things that would make standing in overcrowded trains more comfortable and less dangerous in an emergency stop, like eliminating sharp angles and sticking out bits, and incorporating "bum shelves" on bits of wall people can lean against. Oh and while they're at it, I wish the designers are at it, I wish they'd ride in one of their trains at rush hour, and they'd find that the height of the hanging straps is all wrong, and often the low hanging ones hit me in the face. Or I can't use them because if I do, my crooked elbow will jook someone in the eye.

    Back on topic, I think the bench seats are designed to squash in a larger number of people than most transport systems cater for. I don't remember sitting anywhere else and finding my shoulders have to curve forward because I'm so squashed against my neighbours. Having Tube-style armrests would reduce the number of seats, and they've got people trained to suffer being more compacted.

  • 9


    Here's an idea; instead of an article about how you can score seats, how about one on why you should give up your seat to those who need it? It's utterly embarrassing when some highschool students or middle aged man or woman will fill the priority seats and pretend to be asleep when someone who needs the seat more approaches them. If ever I need the seats and someone who doesn't is sitting there I'm just going to sit down on their lap.

    As it is, the degradation of train etiquette has forced me to change from riding the train to riding my bike all the time, and I'm the better for it in a number of ways. I've ridden the train a total of two times in the last four months, and I don't miss it at all.

  • 2

    Ms. Alexander

    I agree with those who are saying that seats, especially priority seats, need to be given to those who really need it! I can't stand the rude high school kids or OLs who know that they are in the priority seats and don't give it up for the elderly.

    A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I were on the train. Both of them were sitting and I was standing. A young lady walked in with her mother who was holding her grandbaby (she looked only to be like 2 months old). At first I was like, "Hey, where's the baby bjourn?" but people are entitled to hold their baby however they want so I decided to ignore it. The people arround me saw she was holding a tiny baby - even the ones sitting donw. Did anyone get up?! No! I had to make my 6-year old get up so that this grandma could sit with the baby. I was sooo mad! So fricking rude!!

  • 2


    Tip #9 ( like #8, this may not go down well with your fellow passengers )

    ( you have to be standing directly in front of someone sitting down, which often you can't do )

    Pretend you're about to get sick. I've seen this happen more than once, though I personally wouldn't do it.

  • 3


    They forgot one: #11 Diet: find the food that gives you the worse gas which will surely clear our a few seats for you...

  • 0


    I say screw getting on the stupid trains to begin with! My first few years I rode the rails, what an inhumane awful awful ride.

    So at first I started going in for 10am, it helps but still sucks! And the trips home with the drunks forget it(hey I like to drink more than the next guy but....).

    Then finally after about 4yrs of nonsense I decided to work outside Tokyo, now I work from home, my office(20min drive) or where ever I happen to be!

    WHAT A DIFFERENCE, I will never again do the maddening comute again, rather be homeless life'd be better!

    Do yourselves a favor either move closer to work or move work out of the city, your mind, body WILL thank you!

  • 7

    Ivan Coughanoffalot

    I used to get annoyed by Two-arse Tanaka, the shiny-suited salaryman who positions himself with nine inches of space on either side and sits with his arms folded, daring you to try and take his territory.

    Then I thought "sod it" and just started sitting down. He moves along quite sharpish once he realises the alternative is thirteen stone of Englishman on his lap.

    That's one good way to get a seat folks. If you paid for the same number of tickets as he did, he doesn't get two seats while you get none.

  • 0


    for me, i dont seat even there are plenty of free seats.... since i seat like 10 hrs in the office

  • 0


    bicultural wrote above: "my friend dressed up in a mummy costume for Halloween and got offered a seat about 5 times on the way to Roppongi ..."

    I think if a "mummy" stood in front of me I'd offer it my seat too. Probably not only offer it but get the heck out of there ... even if it is Halloween ...

  • 0


    When I'm in Japan I always try to avoid the busy trains... although when I went to Nagoya last month I had to get an early train to Tokyo to get the Shinkansen... I let FIVE trains go past until I saw one which had what I would laughingly call a space. Just as well it was only three stops, but blimey... you couldn't have got a sheet of paper between the people in that carriage.

    As for sitting... my ex and I were coming back from Tokyo Bay and the train was busy... I could see she was tired so I asked "daijoubu?" and immediately a space appeared on the bench. So, maybe the guilt tactic works?

  • 6


    I can give two tips.

    Move to a smaller city than Tokyo/Osaka. Create a job working from home, or very nearby.
  • 0


    I used to hate traveling to Chiba because the old ladies there were some of the most vicious seat rushers I had ever seen.

    More than once I and others in line would be waiting in line and 2 or 3 old Chiba ladies would bum-rush the doors as they opened. Hell, a few times I and others got elbowed by those same old ladies. I learned to keep my eyes open after a few elbows to the ribs.

    My advice know the area you were at.

  • 3


    Car no.4 often has fewer passengers, because the number symbolizes death.

    I don't know about Car no.4, but I have often noticed that the last Car usually gets less commuters on it, because in many cases it is the most distant from the exits/escalator. But this is not always the case.

    In any case, I prefer standing up than having to fight over a seat. Not to mention that you will get those "suspicious/angry" stares from middle aged women if you get a seat and they don't. And of course, you must always offer your seat to the ones who need it, contrary to most Japanese who prefer to pretend they are sleeping or play with their keitai.

    And yes, many Japanese commuters prefer standing up than siting next to a foreigner and this is one of the most annoying feelings than anyone can get in Japan. Especially when another seat gets empty and they prefer to sit next to a perverted-looking-creepy-and-drunk-old-man than you, a foreigner in armani suits. (and I am only half joking here)

  • 7


    As I always get a seat, because I know all the tricks. I also have fun on the crowded trains. Being a Gaijin, no Japanese wants to sit next to me (I am a clean non smoker who does not smell) I pretend to get off the next station by getting my stuff ready and start to stand up as the train begins to stop. Bingo! somebody sits down in the empty seat next to me. I then sit right back down again and ask in English, 'Hey mate what's the time?" It really is great to see the blushing, sweating that goes on.

  • 3


    Do as I do for the priority seats when you notice someone who needs it. I stand in front of them and use every lurch of the train to "lose my balance" and step on some feet (and I'm no lightweight). When they look at me, and they always eventually do regardless of how stubborn they are, I simply point to the person that needs the seat.

    As a big guy, I've also taken to standing like a rock when boarding, or on those damn escalators. Sure... you can TRY and push by me.... good luck.

  • 1


    At my station the best place to stand is at the bottom of the stairs, the marks for the door are 20 cms off from alignment to the door, I am always first on and always first into the only seat left. You beauty!

  • 3


    Don't have this problem in Okinawa.

    No trains!

  • 2


    You have that little elevated thingy in Okinawa, but maybe no one looks up haha!

  • 0


    I take trains VERY rarely in Japan, and when I do it is always annoying. The only saving grace is when some tasty bird gets on, but with the aging populous, that is becoming a rarity.

  • 0


    You have that little elevated thingy in Okinawa, but maybe no one looks up haha!

    WHich is pretty useless for the overwhelming majority of people who live here.

  • 1


    If you are a decent person, in shape, NOT lazy, it should be no problem to stand. Elderly's, pregnant women and people with physical abilities should ALWAYS get first priority, a no brainer and as to why people would want to make an article as to how ensure to get a seat. If people have moral and decent values, this should come second nature. I ride the train everyday and my train ride is 45 min., I stand, not a problem. I stand on the platform and when I board the train during rush hour, I stand aside and watch how people fight, push and shove their way on the train and literally trample each other just to get a seat, amazing. I think a lot of people are selfish and apparently, some people didn't receive a proper upbringing in etiquette and mannerism.

  • -1


    You guys forgot the most basic trick of them all: push your way into the crowd until you find a seat, and if it's already occupied, then swing your ass both sides to make room. At least one of the two passengers you're sit between will get up. Just don't mind the flames his eyes will throw at you.

  • 4


    "remember your manners and earn your fellow foreigners some brownie points by offering the seat to others before you take it."

    Yeah, you have got to be kidding. Stop reading right here.

  • 0



    You have that little elevated thingy in Okinawa, but maybe no one looks up haha!

    WHich is pretty useless for the overwhelming majority of people who live here.

    You'd be surprised how many local people do use it.

    Try riding the monorail at morning and evening rush hour times.

    I just wish they'd extend it along the highway, at least as far as Okinawa city.

    Then we might have to cope with the problem of finding a seat!

  • 0


    BertieWooster is right, It's hard to find seats during rush hour.

  • -3


    Ivan, I will actually go out of my way to sit next to these people. One seat empty on one side and Ms "I put my bags on the seat, am sitting in two seats.." Yep, I'll sit on her jacket or stand in front of her and say "Excuse me" and look at her bags. It drives me nuts that others who want to sit down won't tell these people to move or and get their crap off the seats. it is EXACTLY why these people do it.

    Ditto all the complaints about people not offering up their seat to those who need it - silver or not. If someone 75 year old guy gets on with a cane, he should get a damn seat. More so if those riding the train are young and students. Mind you, folks learn their manners from their parents so... I find OLs and salarymen the worst with this.

  • 1


    When I had a leg cast and double crutches, I was offered countless courtesies, seats, and assistance. Only once did I have to bang my crutch against the ankles of some clod in the priority seat who was ignoring me, reading his rag and ears stuffed with earbud/"music". Once. The rest of the time, people were very caring. I will always be grateful, and am only too pleased to leap now (on both legs) if someone with a crutch, disability, or pregnancy, or simply age, is standing in front of me. I usually leave the priority seats to others now that I have enjoyed it when I desperately needed it for my long commutes. Standing was agony back then, not to mention physically dangerous.

    Otherwise, pretty good ideas from commenters and the writer, although I do not favor being mean or treading on toes. As foreigners and guests of the country, our individual behavior will be brushed onto the entire group.

  • 0


    yeah just being a foreigner helps, also look around at people like your in a really bad mood nobody will sit within 5 feet of you, works every time. LOL

  • 1


    Lessons from the Sunflower Samurai:

    It is difficult to look past when people in busy situations step on your polished shoes or even damage your suits /dress etc. I really try my best in these situations to stay positive/happy and focused on my life. -but even more important -I never want to bring this miasma of anger/evil home with me. By succumbing to this evil -or even worse encouraging it- you become part of this evil miasma and the evil becomes part of you.

    =I wear shoe protectors and a crappy overcoat now.

    Even in the worst of situations people should be positive/happy just like the Sunflower.

    If you feel like you are succumbing to the miasma of evil by taking the train, -try something else and refresh yourself in life. Like "Smith" said -ride a bike- (and historically I have never agreed with Smith on anything)

  • 0


    I'm a forigner I always get a seat or space. JUST because I'm a forigner. :(

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