“I’m on the train!” annoys two in three Japanese


Please do it at home poster with statisticMaybe I’ve just been in Japan too long, but I’ve recently noticed train phone manners going downhill, with talking on the phone being an obvious hate, but also people who leave their keypress beep on irritate me a lot. These feelings seemed to be shared by most people, according to this recent survey conducted by Point On Research and reported on by japan.internet.com into mobile use onboard trains.


On the 2nd of February 2009 exactly 1,000 mobile phone using members of the Point On monitor group completed a private online questionnaire. Exactly 50.0% of the sample were female, 20.0% in their teens, 20.0% in their twenties, 20.0% in their thirties, 20.0% in their forties, and 20.0% aged fifty or older.

When I go abroad this sort of behaviour doesn’t really bother me, perhaps because I am accepting that it is the social norm for the country I am visiting, or perhaps it is because I’m often trying to sleep on my daily commute.

The picture accompanying this post is a Tokyo manners poster, one of a series of posters they have produced, with today’s statistic added for a more accurate representation of the situation!

Research results

First, only 444 people answered the first question. Perhaps this was the number of people who regularly use trains and carry mobile phones with them when they do, but the exactly basis for this number was not described.

Q1: What setting do you put your mobile phone to on the train? (Sample size=444)

Ordinary mode13.8%
Manner mode83.7%
Switch off2.5%

Next they asked the following to the 378 people who said they used email while on the train. This implies that 85% of mobile phone-using train riders write email on the train.

Q2: Have you peeked at other people’s email or had other people peek at yours? (Sample size=378)


Q3: Do you feel annoyed, etc by people talking on the phone in trains? (Sample size=378)

Often feel so16.3%
Sometimes feel so49.2%
Don’t really feel so30.7%
Don’t feel so at all3.8%
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  1. Zentaro said,
    February 10, 2009 @ 23:53

    Ditto on the keypress beep. I find that more irritating than someone actually talking on their phone.

  2. gia said,
    February 11, 2009 @ 01:46

    I agree on the keypress beep too. Actually, just last night while I was waiting at the airport– first to board and later to pick up my bag –I noticed this one woman who was texting, I presume, and she had the keypress beep on. It had been so long since I’d had a phone that had a default keypress beep, at first I wasn’t sure what it was. But damn, it was annoying.

    That said, living in a part of the US that sees heavy use of public transit (Portland, OR’s Max light rail), we discuss cell phone use on the Max a lot. I don’t really understand why people find the act of talking on the phone on the max annoying in and of itself– why is it any different from people talking to another person on the Max, except that you can’t hear both ends of the conversation?

    I’m not saying people can’t talk on the phone really obnoxiously– being really loud, for example, or swearing like a sailor standing next to a three-year-old, or whatever. But you COULD do almost ANYthing on a train really obnoxiously, just like you COULD do them politely.

  3. February 11, 2009 @ 09:53

    I hate the keypress beeps. I hate people playing with their ringtones or playing their music out loud.

    But I don’t get the talking on the phone thing. As Gia said, how is it different from people talking to each other? There was a segment on a popular comedy show here called “Name (I forget!), the slightly too loud commuter” who would talk really loudly into his phone about personal stuff such talking to the doctor about herpes or something like that… But people can talk loudly to their friend beside them.

  4. February 11, 2009 @ 09:56

    Just letting you know I got a php error on the captcha page, I copied and pasted:

    Warning: Cannot modify header information – headers already sent by (output started at /home/whatjapa/public_html/wp-content/plugins/SK2/sk2_second_chance.php:2) in /home/whatjapa/public_html/wp-content/plugins/recommend_google_pack.php on line 107

  5. Jordan said,
    February 11, 2009 @ 11:48

    Absolutely HATE listening to people talk on the phone on the trains. Japanese people know the unwritten rules, so I can’t understand why almost every train ride I take I have to hear someone flapping their gums next to me.

    For your next survey, you should get some numbers on how many people are annoyed by these idiots listening to music so loud it gives the people next to them tinnitus. Just thinking about it drives me nuts.

  6. Darg said,
    February 11, 2009 @ 23:06

    I was actually having a conversation about this recently with a Japanese friend who was back visiting from Brazil – her take on it was basically the same as Gia’s, and I had to admit that the argument makes a lot of sense.

    I mean, you’re not going to ban talking in the train are you? Would that even be feasible? And if that seems impossible to you then why does it automatically make sense to ban talking when it’s on a phone? What’s the difference really?

  7. Yalun said,
    February 12, 2009 @ 11:38

    I feel annoyed too when someone speaks on the phone while in public transport… I’m not Japanese. I just feel the same.

    Personally, I feel that this person has certain terrorism-related plans when they speak so quietly… I feel afraid.

    It’s why I put my phone in vibration mode when I ride busses and trains here in Canada. I feel that others feel like I do, so I should not make them feel like that.

  8. salyavin said,
    March 5, 2009 @ 01:13

    I also dislike talking on phones on the trains. It seems people have shorter or no conversations to people around them but their phone conversations seem endless and more animated and annoying. Part of it I think is that I am more or less trapped. If some day mobile phones are allowed on airplanes where I can be really trapped for long hours it will be most painful.

  9. Urusai Mobile Phone Guy VS Train Ojisan!! said,
    March 9, 2009 @ 15:04

    Last week, I took a long train ride to Tokyo from my Inaka with my friend. On the way we sat in our very own cubicle and talked the way gaijins talk in Japan, loud. There were about two other people in the same car. I needed to phone a friend about meeting up in Tokyo and decided to do so. About 1 min into my conversation, from behind, a voice shouts in my ear “YAMETE MORAIMASEN KAAaaa?!”. Baffled and surprised I turn around, still phone to my ear, I see this very well dressed ojisan that looks to be in his fifties. Again he shouts, this time in my face, his spit landing softly on my nose. “YAMETE MORAIMASEN KAAAaaa?!!!?!”. Which basically translates to: “Would you stooooooooop that?!?!”. He continues to shout this mantra to my face, so loud was he that there was no way I could continue with my phone conversation! So I irritably hung up.

    As he was getting ready to leave, a look of satisfaction on his sweaty face, I stopped him. The exchange that followed goes something like this (translated) I asked him:

    Urusai Gaijin: Did you have to shout in my face? You can ask me nicely you know. It’s not like the train is crowded, you have to walk all the way here to lecture me? Who the hell are YOU?!
    Train Ojisan: I am Train Ojisan!!! Wahahaaa! I deliver JUSTICE on the train!!!
    Urusai Gaijin: Uhhhh… okay… Train Ojisan… so is there a difference between me and my friend talking and me talking on the phone?? I mean, isn’t it really the same thing?
    Train Ojisan:*points to the manner sign* I don’t wanna hear any EXCUSES!!! *Striking a superhero pose*
    Urusai Gaijin: ……………
    okay….. whatever Train Ojisan, now get out of my face while I continue to talk loudly with my friend here. Scoot!

    As we got closer to Tokyo, our car started filling up, before we knew it there it was again: “YAMETE MORAIMASEN KAAAaaa?!” echoing throughout the car. Before we got to our destination, he did it to at least 3 other passengers and all 3 were Japanese!! No one put up a fight, they just shut, turned off the phone and buried their red faces in their chests. For some reason, a grin crept me and my friends face. GANBARE~! TRAIN OJISAAAN!!!! Next time you decided to use your phone on the train, watch out for the Train Ojisan!!!


  10. MK said,
    March 31, 2009 @ 03:06

    I think that having to listen to only one side of a conversation is mentally taxing as you have to constantly listen to one logical side while filling in the other. You can’t -not- hear the one side so your mind is forced to make sense of it yet not knowing the cause/effect of each heard response rides this line of “fill-in-the-blank-game” and “torture-of-uncertainty” and most especially when the heard-responses seem emotionally or charismatically loaded. It’s this constant vacillation of void and glut that one is held hostage to by mere proximity. Everyone wants to be in-the-know as a social entity, in action a human near enough to another to communicate, and when this artificial and imposed situation forces you to be a low-quality/resolution/information voyeur it can be highly irritating… like I said, a kind of torture that strips you of your social currency and power. I really don’t think it’s going too far to say this either because of the evolution of hardwired cognitive and perceptual avenues are being put in a situation without feedback; both neglect and ostracization being the most obvious precedents in social development that at any point in the sequence lead to dissatifaction and decay of some sort.

    Look at me, the dilletante polymath. ; .

    When it comes to the speaker conversing in a foreign language then it pares it down to an issue of noise. Keep it of an agreeable emotional tone and volume and there should be no real issues aside from the rare meddling martinet. Ah, forgot that fear of “are they talking about me?” I think that one is based in paranoia and enforces their inherent proclivity for stereotyping.

    I personally speak non-informative answers if using my cell in public places such that bystanders would be given nothing but colorless phatic phrases; the person I’m speaking to usually says enough as far as context to allow a myriad of responses on my end and it’s kind of a game in itself which has the benefit of generally ending the call sooner while retaining the value of that call. I’d rather save the juicy parts for in-person conversations anyways…which…I think is the ideal people should shoot for. Flapping the flag of your personal social life in the faces of a captive audience is…well I suppose it could be taken any number of ways. I suppose it comes down to how the speaker values their own privacy when amongst non-involved parties.

    I wonder how it would be if everyone just nixed the rules and talked at will. For some reason I think it wouldn’t be all that different. Unless Train Ojisan is there…:)

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