There are a lot of peculiar rules and manners when on Japanese rails and foreign sightseers are also perplexed with a lot of things. Here, we will be enumerating ways on how to efficiently ride on several railroads focusing on getting on and off from trains in urban areas.
1. IC Card is more convenient than buying a ticket each time
Japanese railway is complicatedly stretched around because of several railroad corporation's lines. In this light, especially in urban areas, it's very difficult to know which ticket to buy when purchasing one to your destination each time. Here we would like to recommend the transportation IC card (a card used instead of a ticket in each public transportation line). You load an amount into the card beforehand and you pay by tapping it on the ticket barrier. However, if by chance the balance in the card is not enough, you can charge it and make exact calculations using the fare adjustment machine before going out of the ticket barriers. Although "Suica (JR East Japan)," "PASMO (Tokyo metro and others)" and "ICOCA (JR West Japan)" among other transportation facilities have various types, you will be able to use any card in most of the railway company's line. In addition, it also comes with "electronic money feature" so you can use it when buying things in the train station stores and in convenience stores. You can buy the ticket from automatic ticketing machines or from the ticket window in major stations (for Suica: 1,000 JPY ※ with 500 JPY deposit). You can ask for repayment of the remaining charge if you don't need the card any longer. They will return your deposited amount (for Suica: 500 JPY).
2. After the queue, line up to board the train
It's common sense to form a line to board the train in Japan especially within urban cities. On the platform at the place where the doors arrive when the train stops, there are stopping position signs such as "entrance to number ○ train car." People who are waiting for the train fall in line parallel to that sign and board the train in that order. When there's already one in the platform, don't cut in between and proceed to the end of the line. In addition, it's customary to give way to those who will alight from the train. Do not board the train unless the passengers alight.
As shown in the picture, the "boarding entrance" sign is the green line drawn in front of the commuters' feet.
3. It's best if you avoid the rush hour
Trains during commuting time, especially in urban areas are really congested. There are lines where passengers exceeds twice in number. Passengers are glued together and you often get stuck. If you're not used to it, it's possible that you'd miss your stop. Even Japanese people who are used to it have a hard time, so it's all the more difficult for tourists. Above all, it is highly possible that backpacks, suitcases among other large luggage may inconvenience other people. Businessmen often commutes to work from 7:00 am to 9:00 am and goes home during 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, so it's best to avoid these hours. It's also best to avoid the last train (10:00 pm to 12:00 am according to the line) as people who worked overtime or those people who come home late from drinking parties often board this train.
4. There are "railroad cars only for women" in metro trains
In order to prevent molestation crimes to women inside the train especially in urban areas during rush hour, many line have installed "train cars only for women." These train cars are only intended for women (with the exemption of old people, disabled persons, and those with infants). Although there are no severe penal regulations, a guy who unintentionally boards this type of train car may be bathed with stern glances from women, so it's best to take caution. Please check prior to boarding since it's indicated on the window of the train car and on the operation time on the platform's boarding entrance. There's a sign which says the train car is exclusive for women placed on the platform or boarding area and on the train car's window.
5. Manners while on the train
There are various manners while riding the train. We'll try to give you the major ones. It uncustomary to make phone calls while on the train. If you want to make a call or if you are receiving one, please hold it off until you have boarded off the train. Speaking in a loud voice or sounds from your earphone and any other troublesome noises are frowned upon. Although it's different from Shinakansen or any other train which sells bento in the platform, it's best if you avoid bringing in food and drinks because of the congestion in the city. Some of the seats are marked as "priority seating," and when riding the train, it's necessary for you to offer your seat to elderly people, pregnant women or people with physical disabilities. Even if you can't speak Japanese and only offer your seat through a gesture, they'd certainly be very happy.
※ This is an image of the mark. There have been few changes in the mark from October 2015.
The peculiarity of the manner of boarding train in Japan might be caused by the national traits of Japanese as people who are sensitive to manners. Please have a wonderful trip while riding Japanese trains.