Not until arriving in Japan did I ever consciously acknowledge the existence of a concept concerning proper escalator etiquette. Besides not raising one’s feet before the teeth of the platform, riding it via the synchronous handrail on the side, or being that goon who tries to run in the opposite direction of the automated motion, I thought anything was more or less fair game. Should someone be in another’s person’s way, a mere cordial interaction politely indicating that someone needs to step aside is all that’s needed to maintain peace in the restless black-stepped valley between floors. Well homie, the rest of the world doesn’t play that way. Especially good ol’ 日本。
Now, there is no eye-opener or any big surprise here, but there is that minute difference that sets Japan apart from what we are/were used to. In Japan, most escalators are wide enough for two reasonably sized people to stand side by side on any given step, but there are also quite a few that are only wide enough for one. With regard to the latter, there seems to be no rule. People step on and usually remain stationary till they reach their destination. Some will walk, but it’s a rare sight. Now for the former!
These escalators have an idle lane and a fast lane. Should you feel the desire to rest your legs and body for a moment, just stay behind the person parked in front of you and keep all limbs and luggage out of the fast lane. Should you be in a hurry or stark protest of idly passing time, then once you step off the platform maintain any pace you desire. You can book it at top speed or try to match the that of a great grandpa pushing 80 years old. No matter what you do, please take full notice and care to ensure that you don’t harm the idlers or their belongings.
One small point of interest about this cultural trait is that there is a regional difference. In the areas near and in Tokyo, the left side is for the leisurely and the right side is for the impatient, while in the Osaka area, things are reversed. When enquiring as to why this was, I was unofficially informed that it had to with samurai cultural influence. Starting at the time when Tokyo and the surrounding areas became the effective capital of Japan, Tokyo apparently had a higher concentration of Samurai. Samurai all wore their swords in the same way on their left side. Because of this, they had to take care to not smack others with their sheaths; and to ensure this on the stairs (there weren’t escalators then) most people walked up and down steps on the left side. Seems simple enough, but what does this have to do with the Kansai area? Well, since most of the leaders were in Tokyo and their samurai with them, the concentration of samurai in Kansai wasn’t so high relative to that of merchants and traders. This, coupled with the natural occurrence of people tending to walk up and down the right side of steps for whatever reason, is what was reported to me as explain the regional variation. It is probably all complete baseless fable, but an interesting explanation nonetheless. What do you think?
Another thing that shouldn’t go unaddressed is that there is an exempted group of people from this etiquette. That would be retired and senior citizens. The necessity to take time to rest on an escalator trip is more than easy enough to understand, but I still have the most irksome trouble fathoming why Grandma and Grandpa have to park it in the center of the escalator step and stop up the fast lane of people that have somewhere to be in a timely manner.
So, should you be fortunate enough to make your way out to the land of the rising sun, choose one side of the escalator and do your thang. Though, be sure to be patient with grandma and grandpa who forgot that the being the center of the universe does not necessitate one to occupy the center of an escalator step.
Note: 邪魔だけど (pronounced じゃま・だけど) means “but it’s a hindrance.”