Many first time visitors to Japan may notice an etiquette the Japanese people observe when traveling on an escalator. As with many busy cities around the world, Japan’s subways and shopping centres are full of escalators and everyone in Japan who rides one automatically heads to one side to stand and the other side to walk down the escalator. If you don’t follow the etiquette be prepared for some stern looks from other escalator users.
One of the first questions you may be thinking of now is what side of the escalator should I stand on? Well, that depends on where you are, because the rule is different when you are visiting Tokyo compared to Osaka.
In the Kanto region, of which Tokyo is the largest city, people stand on the left, but travel to eastern region of Kansai, home of Osaka, as well as Kyoto, Kobe and Nara and everyone stands on the right. The reason for the alternate versions of escalator etiquette have been debated for many years and many of the locals seem to have no idea why you swap sides in a different part of the country, it is just something that you do.
Some of the theories of why range from the fact Kanto was once dominated by samurai who preferred to pass strangers on the left to draw the swords easily, while Kansai’s merchants preferred to pass on the right. Others even say the practice only dates back to 1970 when Osaka swapped during their World Expo and the habit stuck.
So if you find yourself in Japan make sure you pick the correct side of the escalator to stand on, if you can’t remember what side that is just follow the person in front of you, unless they are from the other side of Japan and have forgotten the regional etiquette that is.