10 Japanese Train Irritations

By Donald Ash | Public Transportation In Japan

10 Public Trasport Irritations

Yamanote. Hibiya. TX. Keihin-Tohoku. Chuo. Sobu.

What do all of these words have in common? Are they the names of the newest hottest anime series from Shonen Jump? Nope, guess again.

Are they the Japanese names of Donald’s six illegitimate Japanese children? NO! See?!? that’s how rumors get started!

You know what, just forget it. I’ll tell you the answer. These are the names of several of the many train lines here in Japan.

The Yamanote, Keihin-Tohoku, the Chuo, and Sobu lines are part of the Japan Rail company. While the Hibiya Line is one of the lines on the Tokyo Metro (Japan’s Subway System). The TX (Tsukuba Express) probably isn’t as popular as the others (being that it’s expensive as all hell), but it’s near and dear to my heart because Tsukuba the was the first city I really lived in here in Japan.

For the vast majority of people living in Japan, whether you’re a foreigner or a Japan native, whether you have wheels of your own or not, riding public transportation at some point is nearly inevitable.

There are so many wonderful things about Japanese transportation:

  • It’s safe
  • It’s affordable
  • It’s fast
  • It’s relatively clean (except for that one time with the vomit…I’ll save that story for a “Tales from Japan”)
  • It’s convenient
  • It’s efficient

Not to mention that train lines traverse nearly every part of this entire country.

So, yeah, there are some wonderful things about the Japanese transportation system, but we’re not going to discuss the happy, jolly goodness that is Japanese public transportation. Instead we’re gonna talk about that stuff that makes your stomach churn, that makes your blood boil, that makes steam pipe out of your ears, the stuff that makes you wanna kick other passengers square in the pills.

Let’s Talk About 10 Japanese Train Irritations:

1. Smart Phone Space Cadets

Let’s start this off right. This is without a doubt one of the biggest pet peeves that public transportation patrons face here in Japan.

Have you ever JUST missed a train because of someone was doing the molasses walk down the stairs?  You wonder why the hell they’re waking so slowly.  Curious to find out the reason, you look over their shoulder. And What do you see?!?

A person fully caught up sweeping his finger across an iphone or Android screen…GAMING!  Or sending messages on Line.

The train doors close just as you get to them.  Your left eye twitches with rage.

Listen, I have a smart phone, too. I have the new, snazzy iPhone 4 (nope that’s not a typo). I use it everyday, it’s how I stay connected to people and the world around me. BUT having a smart phone is no excuse for being inconsiderate.

I really do try my best to put my phone away when I’m walking through the station, because I don’t wanna be that guy holding up lines. Or if I am walking, I try to position the phone so my head is up, so I can see everything in front of me.

It’s a wonder to me how many people in this country don’t get robbed or worse.   Because so many pay absolutely ZERO attention to world around them when those phones are out.

Other Ways the Smart Phone Space Cadet Can Really Get on Your Nerves:

– They can make you miss the good seats on the train, because they waited too long to get on the train as they were texting or gaming.

– They bump into other patrons on the stairs or just walking through the station, because they’re just not paying attention.

– They slow down everything!

I have been so tempted to push people UP the stairs when they’re doing this, but the angel on my right shoulder stops me every time. something stops me every time.

HOW TO DEAL WITH A SMART PHONE SPACE CADET:  It’s hard to say.  I have physically guided a few with one hand, especially if I’m in a hurry.  So when I walk left, gently guide/nudget the space cadet to the right.  I don’t do this forcefully, to keep from making someone angry.

2. The Pungent Salaryman

Pew! Do you smell that? It’s the smell of heavy cigarettes, alcohol, and the sun-dried, musky sheen of a hard day’s sweat. If you’re lucky there’re a couple of drops of cologne to help you keep the nausea at bay.

If you’ve ever tried riding home to during that late rush, I’d say between 9:00 and 11:30, maybe you’ve run encountered this guy.  They’re riding home late, sometimes after drinking too much with their colleagues.  They haven’t had a chance to shower or change yet, and you get to reap the “rewards.”

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE PUNGENT SALARYMAN: if the smell is that strong, you may even want to change train cars.

3. Mr. Crotches

This is the exhausted gentleman who jumps on the train but wasn’t fortunate enough to find a seat.  He stands up and hangs onto the support beam or one of the support handles.

“What’s wrong with that?” you may be asking.

Well as this guy begins to doze off standing up, he spreads his legs apart into a nice, wide base and thrusts his hips forward.  Some poor soul gets an delightful eyeful of crotch for the remainder of this guy’s ride.

HOW TO DEAL WITH MR. CROTCHES: Change seats or hold a book in front of your face.

4. Mr./Mrs. Sweet Nothings

This isn’t a passenger at all, this actually a train conductor.

It can be the most annoying thing in the world when you’re riding to a new station and as your train slows, you have to crane your neck every which way to find out if you’re at the right station.

Why would you have to do that?  There are train announcements, right?

Well yes, many of the JR Lines use a prerecorded voice that’s very clear and very easy to understand. But there are some lines where the train conductor has to announce the stations instead.  There are so many cases where a soft-spoken conductor will mumble sweet nothings into the train announcement system.

While some speak too softly, others get too close to the mic.  In either case it’s hard to make out a single word.

SPEAK UP! D@MMIT! We need to know which station we’re at!

HOW TO DEAL WITH MR./MRS. SWEET NOTHINGS: There are charts posted showing which stations your train will be stopping at and the approximate times. Take a glance and know where you’re stopping before you get on that train.

5. Mr. Inconsiderate

If you see a freakin’ pregnant woman on the train, stop acting like you don’t freakin’ see her! If you see an elderly person that can barely stand, get your punk a$$ up and let them sit down.

I have seen some really inconsiderate Japanese guys on the trains and I can’t help but shoot them dirty looks.

Generally it’s a professional male in his late thirties or early forties who just has no concept of other people.

I saw a guy like this just the other day:
There was a woman carrying all these bags and (he was empty-handed except for his smart phone). One passenger got up leaving an empty seat up for grabs. He quickly slid into the seat and just kept looking at his phone.

The lady’s face just sank. I ended up getting up to offer her my seat, since my stop was coming up soon. She seemed so relieved when she sat down.

HOW TO DEAL WITH MR. INCONSIDERATE:le lot you can do. But in your mind you can play a delightful gif movies where you choke him over and over again.

6. The Fake Sleeper

This person can sometimes fall into the same league with Mr. Inconsiderate. Have you ever seen a person sitting in the priority seats on a Japanese train who you KNOW is awake? You know because you saw them with their eyes open two short stops ago. But when an elderly person steps on the train, or someone else who they should potentially give up their seat for, they pretend to be asleep. I’ve seen both men and women pull this one.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE FAKE SLEEPER: Again, this is another one you have no real control over.

7. That Dude Who Ignores Your Personal Space Boundaries

When it’s rush hour, you just have to accept being packed on a train. That’s just the way it is. But what about when it’s not rush hour? What about when are plenty of spaces to stand? Have you ever had a person who stands right up under you, but there’s is tons of room? SO ANNOYING? I had my suit bag with me last time this happened and tried brushing my suit bag across the man’s head to see if he’d get the message. He didn’t even budge…he kept playing his game, and I ended up moving because it was awkward.

Maybe it’s the testosterone in me, but if a woman decides to ignore my personal space boundaries (especially a hot one) I guess I don’t mind so much.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE DUDE WHO IGNORES YOUR PERSONAL SPACE BOUNDARIES: Ignores Your Personal Space Boundaries: Ask him “Why are you standing so close to me?”

8. The Chikan

Chikan (痴漢 or ちかん) in Japanese means a pervert. Although I’ve witnessed a chikan first hand there are some sickos out here. Ever wondered why they have “Women Only” cars here in Japan during the busier commuting hours? It’s Because of these chikans!

Here are some of the things a that chikan might do:

– Fondle women on crowded trains
– Take pictures of under women’s dresses on escalators or while on jam-packed train car.
– Rub his no-no place against the nearest available woman’s no-no place. If you’re on a crowded car, a simple, deliberate thrust of the hips can make you cross that line between upstanding citizen and sex offender.

HOW TO DEAL WITH A CHIKAN: I may need to do a more extended post on this issue, but ladies I’ve hear that some Japanese women will grab a chikan’s hand when they’re grabbed and hang onto it until they can flag down a station worker. I don’t know how well this works if a guy is quite strong, though.

The option I HIGHLY recommend is to punch the chikan square in the face.

9. The Sardine Can Rush Hour

There’s crowded and then there’s sardine can crowded. Sure, crowded rush-hour trains are an everyday thing here in Japan, but that doesn’t mean that it’s pleasant.

Having a station and attendant who’s job it is to literally push people onto a train car makes for a rather uncomfortable ride. This discomfort gets compounded when you’ve been walking to the station in the heat and you’re dripping sweat.

Nobody wants to drip on a car that crowded. It’s kinda gross. But I’ve definitely done it.

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE SARDINE CAN RUSH: PATIENCE. Breathe slowly and try to remain calm. You’re going to be stuck until either your stop comes up, or until people get off at one of the busier stations.

10. Disgusting Passengers

No pretty names for this last one, just the plain ol’ truth!

So many people talk about how polite Japanese people are, but I have to say that you can’t ever fully generalize whether it’s good or bad. I’ve seen some DISGUSTING stuff on trains.

I remember making my Tales from Japan video about the man I caught eating his own scabs.

Or how about the high school student who hocked mucus into a tissue, folded it up and just put it on one of the bag storage racks,

Or the people who cough like the have Tuberculosis 2.0, the ones who cough and hack, cough and hack, without covering their mouths or using masks.

I may have to take back the 1st one in this list my biggest pet peeve. It’s gotta be this one.


These are some of the many irritating things I’ve come across on Japanese trains. How about you? Is there something that REALLY gets under your skin when you’re riding public, Japanese transportation? Or a small, constant irritation?

Please share in the comments section below.


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Stacey Johnson says:

    That reminds me of the older, nicely dressed Japanese woman who plopped right next to me on the train. I was surprised, but what surprised me even more was that her fox stole was invading my space by having it’s head resting on my shoulder for the whole train ride.

    • thejapanguy says:

      Gotta love those trains right, Stacey? It’s never fun being THAT close to other passengers…sigh.

  • jo says:

    Good morning Japan Guy….well…afternoon for you. I came upon your site while looking for a way to deal with this horrible jet lag I am experiencing. I returned from Japan a week ago (now in SC) and am absolutely miserable. I’ll take your advice about getting some vitamin d via the sun and hopefully that works.
    Enjoyed reading your blog…

    • thejapanguy says:

      Thanks, jo! I appreciate you checking out the blog. Sorry to hear about that jet lag. It really can affect people differently. After having been here for a while it always seems like it hits me like crazy when I go back to the U.S.

  • Carlos Castillo says:

    Sounds much nicer than the buses in LA. No, not sarcasm. I have dealt with all of those. Plus the weirdo, the crazy crack head, the loud black chick. Seriously though not sure why but the loud rude person in the train is 100% of the time (obviously in my experience only.) a black lady or latino lady. Usually fat. This is why there are stereotypes. Also, the whole place smells terrible and looks unsanitary the all the time.

    • FromTokyo says:

      Guess you’ve never experienced a gaggle of “loud Japanese women” before. Drunk or no, they’ll rival any stereotypical American minority.

  • Amz says:

    Great article and I can definitely relate to a couple on the list. I wouldn’t advise anyone to get physical though because being foreigners we may end up in the wrong. It’s best to just scream at them and report it to a station master.

    • thejapanguy says:

      Thanks! Totally agree, Amz! If you do end up in a situation on the train, as a foreigner, the odds are kind of already against you. Reporting to a station attendant sounds good to me.

  • NenshōRyū says:

    Oh man, great article. Had me in stitches over here with some of your phrases: “Tuberculosis 2.0” “He didn’t even budge…kept playing his game”, too damn good. I’ve been in Japan for about 2 weeks and have already seen almost everything you’ve listed. I guess thinking back, I’ve seen this for a long time now since I used to come to Japan often growing up. But man, when you’re on your own and hyper-aware that first month…it’s almost hard being happy go-lucky and aloof and not noticing this stuff. A wonderful read!

  • Denversun says:

    I can’t stand the kids who’ll come onto the train and then toss their trash right out the door right before the doors close. Then they act like they’ve done nothing wrong. This kills me.

  • Clare says:

    This is wonderful. You said everything every foreigner living in Japan can relate to. It’s also sad for women when they get pushed and shoved for a seat by Obasans, and worse, when women (and men) lean on other passengers cuz it’s too crowded and convenient at the same time! Wtf?! Japanese people are polite? Omotenashi? And all that niceness? 真っ赤な嘘 (outright lies)

  • FromTokyo says:

    I’ve encountered all of these multiple times. One I would add is the person who doesn’t want to sit next to you because you’re a foreigner (or possibly a darker-skinned foreigner). Even when there are 2 seats open and you know they meant to sit down too, even though the train is packed, they’ll stand up instead. Or they’ll get up if they’re sitting down.

    Also, I thought it was just me and a friend who noticed how salarymen often smell. We’re less polite about it, though. We say it smells like death.

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