Given the amount of time people spend riding trains in Japan, it’s no surprise that there’s a whole set of both implicit and explicit protocol passengers are expected to follow. Eating on the train is considered bad form, for example, and passengers are expressly asked to refrain from talking on their cell phones or allowing them to ring.
One of the trickiest aspects of Japanese train etiquette involves giving up your seat on a crowded train. Good manners stipulate that the elderly and young children have priority, but as the stories from Twitter users below show, what seems like it should be a simple act of kindness isn’t always so simple after all.
One of the most common problems is determining just where to draw the line in treating someone like a senior citizen. Sure, giving up your seat may be a sign of respect and consideration, but at the same time, you’re essentially announcing “This person is old!” to everyone around. Understandably, it’s a label not everyone is so keen to accept.
“There was a handsome guy on the train, and he was trying to give his seat to an old lady,” one Twitter user recalls about a recent train ride, to which the woman gave the common reply, “I’m not that old yet.”
“The guy winked at her and said, ‘Just treating you like a lady, Miss.’ The old woman blushed. I blushed. I think everyone on the train blushed.”
Not everyone agrees on just what constitutes a lady, though. On another train, an elderly woman without a seat loudly complained to all in earshot that “Japanese men don’t know how to treat a lady.” A high school boy sitting in front of her took issue at the criticism.
“Hey, do you even know what the word ‘lady’ means? It means a woman with manners and grace. You ain’t no lady, so I ain’t giving you no seat!” he retorted, sending the embarrassed woman scurrying to another car.
In an attempt to prevent these kinds of problems, many trains in Japan have specially designated “priority seats,” generally at the corners of each car, with signs strongly encouraging passengers to give them up for the elderly or infirm. Leaving these spots open, though, makes them all the more tempting when every other seat is filled. After all, if every other person on the train at the time is young and able-bodied, what’s the harm in taking the weight off your feet for a while, as long as you give the seat up should someone who needs it step onto the train?
Unfortunately, napping on the train is a well-establish Japanese pastime. “There was a thuggish looking guy sleeping in the priority seat while an old woman was standing,” another account begins, “so a little boy shook the dude awake, ordering him to give the woman his seat. He stood up right away, patted the kid on the head, and told him, ‘Sorry about that, squirt. You keep on doing the right thing.’”
While this was an honest mistake, one of the dirty tricks for nabbing a seat on a crowded train is to plant yourself in a priority seat, then simply pretend not to notice the more deserving person standing right in front of you. One senior, frustrated by this underhanded tactic, resorted to asking the teenage girl taking up a priority seat to give it to her. When the high schooler clicked her tongue in exasperation, Granny launched into a tirade.
“You know, the reason your legs are so fat is because you sit all the time. Keep it up, and before you know it, you’ll be fat all over, even in your heart.”
Thankfully, there are teens who are more considerate, not to mention inventive, than the selfish, apparently thick-legged individual above.
“Two high school boys were sitting next to each other. One of them gave his seat to an old man, saying ‘It’s OK, I’ve got somewhere else I can sit,’ even though there were no other empty seats on the train. As the old man sat down, the boy calmly perched himself on top of his friends knees.”
Truly, friendship at its weirdest.
The priority seats we mentioned above are also for pregnant passengers, which leads us to another Twitter user’s story. “There was a scary looking guy sitting in the priority seat. Suddenly, he got up and walked over to a pregnant woman. All of us were worried about what he was going to do to her, when he said ‘Standing up isn’t good for you. With your stomach so big, you shouldn’t even be out walking around by yourself, so just sit yourself down.’”
Yes, it’s true that you shouldn’t judge people by how they look. However, it’s not really polite to let the person know how pleasantly surprised you are.
“A family with a small boy came onto the train, so I gave him my seat. The kid and his family thanked me, but as he sat down, he turned to his mom and whispered, ‘You really can’t judge people by their appearance, huh Mama?’ I felt like kicking his little butt.”
At least the boy’s heart was in the right place, unlike the following elderly woman.
“After I gave my seat to an old lady, she told me, ‘Even though you’re a punk, you at least know to give up your seat. You’re the scum of society, and you’ve got no business sitting down in the first place.’ Please don’t call me a punk just because I dye my hair….Actually, I think people like you, who can’t even say thank you, are the real scum.”
▼ God, just look at all these uncouth punks…
Other seniors displayed better etiquette, and occasionally even surprising strength. “I tried to give my seat to an old man, but he kept saying, ‘No, no, I’m totally fine!’ He even pressed me back into my seat. I couldn’t help feeling like I’d been defeated, and it was kind of humiliating.”
Some seniors are so tough that the roles even become reversed.
“There was this teenager strutting around the train, trying to act cool. But because he was all slouchy and stumbling around, an old lady started worrying about him. ‘Do your legs hurt? Do you need a seat?’ she asked. The boy sat down, muttering ‘Man, this is so embarrassing.’”
It’s good to know that there’s someone looking out for the members of the younger generation, whether they really need it or not.