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Japanese Customs: Riding the Escalator – Tokyo and Osaka-style

One of the things I noticed during my first visit in Japan is the custom of riding an escalator. In my country, I haven’t really thought about which side of the escalator to stand. But when I came here in Japan, I noticed that people stand on one side to give way to other people who are in a hurry. This is a usual scene you see at escalators located in the train stations especially during rush hours. And it doesn’t end there, did you know that which side to stand differ in different areas in Japan?

Riding an escalator in Japan can be grouped into two – Tokyo-style and Osaka-style.

Tokyo-Style (stand on the left side)

Escalator scene shot in Roppongi HillsAn escalator scene shot in Roppongi Hills
(photo by d’n’c)

Osaka-Style (stand on the right side)

An escalator scene shot in OsakaElevator in Osaka – people are standing on the right side
(photo by Norio Nakayama)

In Tokyo, people stand on the left side while in Osaka, people stand on the right side. In general, it seems that where people stand on the escalator actually relates to which side on the road people in that country drive. Since in Japan, driving on the left side of the road is a standard, it would be understandable why people in Tokyo stand on the left side of the escalator. But then you may ask, why it is different in Osaka?

Osaka-style and its background

One of the theories believed that started this custom in Osaka is the announcement aired in Hankyu Railway, instructing people to keep on the right side. It is when Japan’s first moving walkway or sidewalk was installed in Hankyu Umeda Station in 1967. Another theory is the World Exposition held in Osaka in 1970 where more than 60 million people from all over the world came to participate this big event. To conform the international standard of standing on the right side of the escalator, similar announcement was aired and Japanese people at that time might have adapted it and eventually established into a custom that can still be witnessed at present.

Escalator Regulation

Although it became a custom to empty one side of the escalator to give way to other people who are in a hurry, Japan Elevator Association strongly discourage people from walking on the escalator to prevent any accidents.

When you have the chance to visit Japan or if you are in Japan now, try to notice where people stand on the escalator. Do they stand on the right or on the left side? Maybe you need to be aware also not to block the side where people pass especially during rush hours or else you might get a cold look from people around you.

How about in Okayama?

Escalator in OkayamaJR Okayama Station – elevator at east exit

Looking at the picture above, it’s Tokyo (left-side standing) style.

The World’s Shortest Escalator

Talking about escalators, you can find the world’s shortest escalator in Japan. It’s located inside the More’s Department Store near JR Kawasaki Station. Honored by the Guinness Book of World Records, this escalator has a height of merely 83.4 cm with a distance of 2.7 feet. 

Comprehensive Living Guide for Foreign Residents in Japan – Tips on using an escalator
Escalators at the stations and boundary of  leaving the left side empty
Escalator, Osaka’s Right-Standing Style and The Reason Behind
Why It’s Left-Side Standing in Osaka?
The Huffington Post – The World’s Shortest Escalator

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A gaijin in Okayama who enjoys viewing cherry blossom in spring, fireworks in summer, eating grilled sanma (Pacific saury fish) in autumn and oden in winter.

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