Japan’s Mysterious Escalator Manners/エスカレーター「片側空け」の謎

in life •  last year 

Japan’s Mysterious Escalator Manners: Railroad Companies Urge Passengers to Stand in Two Lines after a Series of Accidents

March 8th is Escalator Day in Japan, where the country’s first escalator was launched for a test run in Tokyo on this day in 1914. To commemorate this event, Your Special Mission News Crew has investigated a simple question from a woman from Fukuoka City who commutes to and from work by subway. She asked: “Escalators are always crowded. Users invariably leave the right side open, but wouldn't it be more efficient to just stand on both sides of the elevator steps?” Keeping one side of the escalator open has become an established etiquette, but what is the actual situation?

Tenjin-minami Subway Station bustles with commuters. Observing those on the escalators, many people line up on the left while people who are in a hurry rush up the right side. This is a familiar sight, but the sign nearby encouraged otherwise: “Please hold on to the handrail and stand in two lines.”

The stationmaster explains that leaving one side open is a not desirable way use the escalator. “For everyone’s safety, it is better to stand on both sides.”


The escalators at Tenjin-minami Subway Station in Japan. Many people stand on the left side for others who are in a rush to pass on the right. Chuo Ward, Fukuoka City.

There is a reason behind this policy. Back in 2016, a woman in her fifties was injured at this station when she was knocked over by a man who was running the escalator. According to the Fukuoka City Transportation Bureau, such tripping or falling accidents have occurred 28 to 48 times every year since 2011. JR Kyushu has also been urging people not to walk on escalators since 2010.

According to the Japan Elevator Association, the steps on a standard escalator are about 20 cm to 23 cm tall and 1 m wide. On the other hand, stairways in public facilities are required by the Building Standard Law to be less than 18 cm tall and more than 1.4 m wide. “Escalators are not designed for people to walk on,” says a spokesperson for the association. It is, in fact, dangerous to walk on them.


Leaving one side open on escalators is a common sight at department stores, too, but what was the history behind this behavior? “As Japan became more globalized, the perception expanded that the people should learn Western manners,” says Masakazu Toki, a professor at Edogawa University who researches escalator culture.

According to Professor Toki, the idea to leave one side open was first promoted at London stations around 1944, and this later spread throughout Europe and North America. At the time, this was not for etiquette, but rather, intended for better transport efficiency. The custom was introduced to Japan by Hankyu Railway inside Umeda Station, before Expo ’70 in Osaka. This was around the time when Japan was overcoming its defeat in WWII and growing rapidly into an economic power. The practice became widely accepted through the mentality that the Japanese must “learn manners that are comparable to that of foreigners.”

By the 90s, escalators had been installed in most subway stations in central Tokyo. Newspapers at the time introduced the custom as the “New Order of Escalators,” which spread across the nation. This was characterized by the different rules according to each region; the right was kept open in Tokyo, while the Kansai region kept the left open for walkers. Professor Toki says, “The efficiency-oriented value to keep one side open for those in a hurry fit with the times.”

It is difficult to change habits, once it is believed to be good manners. Tomio Kinoshita, professor emeritus at Kyoto University with extensive knowledge on herd behavior, states that “It is difficult to win the understanding of people without evidence such as statistics on safety improvements.”

エスカレーター「片側空け」の謎 鉄道会社は「2列で乗って」 転倒事故相次ぐ











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