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Comprehensive Living Guide for Foreign Residents in Japan

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Helpful tips on rules and etiquette for a less-troubled life

The following tips are provided in the hope of making your life in Japan easier and smoother. In addition to legal regulations on subjects such as smoking and parking, there are some unofficial rules or manners you are expected to observe in Japanese society, from how you stand on an escalator to how you wait for your turn in line.

(1) Smoking restrictions

In Tokyo's municipalities (wards, cities, townships, villages), smoking while walking and/or in any other manner while on the street may be prohibited by local ordinance, and fines may be imposed on violators. Furthermore, smoking is almost entirely banned at train stations throughout the metropolitan area, and measures have been put in place to prevent the exposure of citizens to second-hand smoke. If you insist on smoking in public, please remember to find and use a designated smoking area.

(2) Ladies-only train carriages

In Tokyo, some trains have a carriage that is designated only for female passengers. You may find such "ladies-only" train carriages mostly during the rush hours in the morning and/or evening on weekdays. The car is clearly marked for easy recognition. Also listen carefully to the announcements. Ladies-only train carriages are also available for boys in elementary school or below, handicapped persons, and male caregivers of handicapped persons.

(3) Escalator manners

It is an unspoken rule to leave one side of the escalator open so that those in a hurry can pass. In Tokyo, people stand on the left side, and leave the right side open, whereas in the Kansai region, people stand on the right side, and leave the left side open.
However, escalators were not designed with walking in mind, causing persons to lose their balance when walking up or down, and accidents have occurred between users. In recent years, there has been an initiative to revise this practice of leaving one side of the escalator open, and to hold on to the rail while in use.

(4) Waiting for your turn in line

When you wish to use or receive almost any type of service in Japan, it is a common rule that you wait for your turn in line. It is rather rare to see someone not following this rule. For bank ATMs, public restrooms, or many other facilities that are available with more than one unit at one location, people will still make a line and the person in the very front of the line gets to use the next available unit. It is considered rude to go before a person who has been waiting longer and use the unit even when you are the nearest person to it. Although there is neither legal regulation nor punishment, it is a social rule you should follow to avoid getting involved in unnecessary trouble.

(5) Parking regulations

Illegal parking is one of the major social issues in Tokyo, where land space is limited while the number of cars owned as well as the population is large. Recent changes in the Road Traffic Law have tightened up the regulations against illegal parking, which, however, doesn't seem to ever stop increasing. Not only the police but also licensed private officers can exercise parking control in some parts of Tokyo today. The new law also defines that the owner of the car is responsible for any fines unpaid by the driver of the car, even if the driver isn't the actual owner. For more information about these regulations, visit the website of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

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