From the moment a foreign commuter enters a train station, they are bombarded by unexplained kanji. At first, it can be tempting to simply ignore it, after all you can catch your train without understanding more than one or two. Instead, it is worth resisting that urge. By carefully looking at the kanji in the station, learners soon discover that there is a lot of useful information that is easily missed hidden in all the squiggles.
Even something as simple as checking the schedule for the next train involves a lot of these kanji. While the English-derived word スケジュール is becoming more common, most of the time the train schedule will be written as the far more difficult
This 時刻表じこくひょう・Timetable is also further divided into
Of course 発車はっしゃ・Departure is not the only tricky thing that can be found on schedules. To make things more complicated, the schedule will occasionally be divided in half with the times for trains traveling in each direction written alongside each other. It is not uncommon for people to find themselves waiting for much longer than expected because they looked at the timetable for the wrong direction. To avoid this confusion, a useful kanji to look for is
Another kanji that tells the commuter which direction the train is going in is
As well as being divided by destination, trains are further divided by speed.
普通ー Ordinary 準急ー Semi Express 急行ー High Speed 特急ー Special Express 新幹線ー Bullet Train
Most of the time the faster trains have fewer stops, so be careful not to ride past your station.
You can, of course, ride past your station and come back on yourself to save time. However, be careful not to mention this to the station staff as this is called
Now that you know which train to catch, it is worth checking that you are on the right platform. In Japan, trains are divided into track numbers by the kanji
Interestingly, this ordering doesn’t stop at the platforms. If you look closely at the door, you will see that the carriage you are in is written there. For example 3
These are just some of the many kanji to look out for at the train station. The best part is that kanji like 行, 方, 通, 特, 乗 are really useful characters that appear in many words, so simply by riding the train to work every day you can quickly improve your Japanese. Combining your daily activities with Japanese practice is the quickest way to master the language. Happy travels and studies everyone!