Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
The article “Baffling Japanese Politeness – Queuing” touched briefly on good Japanese manners at a train station – more specifically, at the train platform. It also talked about how politeness goes down the drain amidst the chaos resulting from fighting for a train seat. This article follows it up by providing a picture of what goes on inside a train, with the focus on politeness.
The first thing you’ll notice when you step into a train is that it’s awfully quiet – kinda like inside a movie theatre. No one in the train is talking, and if there are people who talk, they either do so in low volumes, or whisper (though there are exceptions, which will be touched on later in this article). The two main sounds you’ll hear are that of the train moving and the frequent, loud and utterly annoying barrages of announcements telling people what the next stop is, what train they’re on, where it’s bound for, what time they’d arrive at which station… any train delays due to extraordinarily strong winds, massive earthquakes, heavy snowstorms or people jumping off train tracks to commit suicide (and these happen pretty frequently)… The list goes on and on. Sure, the train system in Japan is known to be highly efficient, but nothing’s perfect.
One particular, repetitive (read: annoying) announcement – that, by the way, comes a lot more often than other announcements – reminds passengers to switch off their mobile phones when they are near the priority seats (near the doors, for the elderly, pregnant and handicapped peeps). In other areas, mobile phones are supposed to be switched to “silent mode” (called “manner mode” in Japan). Talking on the mobile phone in a train is taboo. No one will ever do that. If you do see someone doing it, he or she is not Japanese. Perhaps because of this taboo, it is common to see people either texting furiously away with their phones, or playing mobile phone/PSP/DS/3DS games in a train.
So everything is all nice and quiet inside a train in Japan (besides the train announcements…). All for the sake of not disturbing the others. Sweet… Or so it seems…
As mentioned earlier, people don’t normally talk inside a train, and if they do, they whisper. But there are many cases where they do talk loudly – sometimes, for the entire duration of the journey. The main culprits are high school students, but even adults are guilty of it. This happens more often than not in the big cities.
So, the thing is, what is the point of telling people to refrain from talking on their phones, when you don’t tell them to refrain from talking face-to-face? How effective is that?
If they really want to implement a system whereby passengers would not disturbed at all, they might as well go all the way – put up signs or make announcements telling people not to talk in trains. Heck, they might as well not have train announcements at all except when it’s absolutely necessary, since they’re the loudest and most annoying to passengers.