Japan is known for its various civic rules for smooth functioning of public services but one of the first things that you will probably use in Japan is an escalator and you don’t want to get stares for not using it right. I hear you, why would something as simple as standing on an escalator need to be complicated by rules?
Leave one side free
In most regions of Japan, this rule is almost always followed. One side of the elevator is kept free for those in a hurry or just wish to climb up or walk down. This is also done in the most polite manner and Japanese make sure not to disturb those who are standing. If you have a suitcase, keep the suitcase on the step right above or below you. If you have a backpack or big shopping bags, hold them in front of you as you move on the escalator.
But which side do you stand on?
In Kanto, the east side of Japan including Tokyo, as well as most other regions, people stand on the left while in Kansai, especially Osaka, people stand on the right. How did these differences come about? Wouldn’t it be easier for all regions to make this consistent?
Apparently in Osaka standing on the right began when Hankyu Railway made announcements instructing people to stand on the right. This was when Japan’s first moving walkway was installed in 1967 at the Hankyu Umeda Station. Another assumption is that during the World Exposition held in 1970 in Osaka, there were announcements to stand on the right to be consistent with international standards (Australia is an exception) as about 60 million people visited from around the world. But we also think, its the friendly rivalry between Tokyo & Osaka and Osaka folks just wanted to be different!!
Is it really safe to walk on escalators?
In recent years, railway companies have been promoting the “do not walk, stand on either side” campaign. Apparently, over the years the number of people who suffered injuries due to walking on escalators is increasing. In order to prevent any accidents, you will see many posters in stations instructing people to stand instead of walk on an escalator. You will see images like the one below warning you of falling or slipping. To be honest, as long as you are careful and not looking at your smartphone you should be fine!