The 6 Types of People You Meet on a Japanese Train

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Taking the train in Japan is always a challenge. With the main lines most always crowded — especially before and after work — you can never be quite sure which body part will be mangled into what painful shape as you enjoy becoming a sardine.

After spending time riding the rails here underground and overground, I’ve begun to notice distinct groups of people that also frequent the hell that we all go through on the morning commutes.

1) The Sleeping Beauties

These people are a personal favorite of mine. Although they quickly become my least favorite when I desperately need a seat.

It’s not uncommon to see people sleeping on the train. Japanese people even seem to be able to master both standing and sleeping at the same time.

The Sleeping Beauties will often be found in train seats, very much awake. As soon as the car door opens, they will suddenly drop their phone into their bag and flop their head back in an effort to appear asleep so they never have to offer up their seat. However, the Sleeping Beauties are not always confined to the seats. You might also see them standing in the middle of the train — their eyes closed to try and pretend they’re anywhere except on the Yamanote line at 8:05 a.m.

2) The Gandalfs

These commuters don’t wear flowing white robes and wield a staff. I tried it and was told that I wasn’t allowed to get on the train. However, they do act similarly.

If you’re standing around the doors that are going to open, you should get off the train and stand at the sides — there’s even an announcement; no excuse.

However, The Gandalfs take their life advice from the great wizard himself. Not the whole fighting fiery demons inside caves thing, but the famous bit before that: “You shall not pass!” When the doors open, The Gandalfs don’t move an inch, lest they lose their precious spot.

3) The Sumimasen-ers

No matter how packed the train is, there will always be more room for people to get on. It’s like a Tardis from Doctor Who — only a really sad, sweaty, painful one. As a personal rule, if I would literally need to lever myself into the train to get inside, then perhaps I should wait for the next one. However, The Sumimasen-ers view it differently.

These are the people who dive onto the train, grabbing the top of the door on the inside and pushing backward to force themselves into the carriage — there’s always one who thinks they’re in a mosh pit. They’ll often expect that a nice little sorry will expunge them from any annoyance this might cause. But I remember. I remember all of them.

The unspoken rule is that if nobody needs the seat more than you (elderly or pregnant or human-eating space monster) — you can take it.

4) The Phone Lookers

I don’t know what it is with Tokyo, but the number of people looking at their phones and not where they’re going (especially at the station) seems uncharacteristically high.

The Phone Lookers never remove their nose from their illuminated screen. It’s gotten so bad that you can see manners signs up all over the stations declaring that walking while looking at their phone is dangerous. However, the Phone Lookers dare to challenge the established laws of the land. I can only assume they also talk in cinemas and put their milk in their tea first.

5) The Snatchers

The Snatchers are as cunning as they are fast. They’re like a fox mixed with some kind of monkey-cat hybrid. A “fonkeycat.”

If you’re standing in front of a seat, and you’re lucky enough that the person sitting down gets off, the unspoken rule is that if nobody needs the seat more than you (elderly or pregnant or human-eating space monster) — you can take it. However, the Snatchers don’t view this rule in such the same light as us civilized people.

You’ll often be able to spot them when they enter the train; rapidly looking left and right, hunting down their prey (an empty seat). Upon spotting one, with all the grace of a drunken gazelle, they will launch themselves towards the nearest empty seat.

6) The Artful Dodgers

Have you ever noticed how many people run through the station? Able to seemingly dodge their way around hordes of people unscathed? I call these people the Artful Dodgers. Either because they woke up late, missed their train or just want to get in some cardio before sitting in the office all day, you’ll do yourself a favor by getting out of their path.

You’ll often see them running through the station, energy drink in hand. They’ll even jog on the spot while standing on the train, just to make sure they’re optimizing their route, only to burst out of the train at lightning speed then dip, dive and dodge their way through the crowd — and stand in line for the escalator. Seriously, next time, watch it happen.

Did we miss a type? What category are you in? Let us know what kind of train commuters you see in the wild in the comments below!

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British teacher, Japan explorer and writer. I will exchange witty jokes for Marmite.

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