Japanese Phrases and Etiquette for Taxis, Trains, and Buses in Japan:Public transportation is really awesome in Japan. When you go there, you’ll probably be using it pretty regularly.
But traveling using public transportation means you’re going to hear a lot of really formal Japanese that you might not be familiar with. So in this article, I’ll go over some of the more common things you’ll hear, and other Japanese phrases you’ll want to be able to say to easily navigate Japan.
Japanese Phrases for Trains
Trains are probably going to be your most common method of travel in Japan. They go everywhere in Japan, especially if you count the shinkansen (bullet train) and chikatetsu (subway).
To start off, here’s a list of words you might find useful for traveling on a train.
|English (and Explanation)||Romaji||日本語|
|Ticket office||Kippu uriba||きっぷ売り場|
|Platform Number ___||___ bansen||___番線|
|Local train |
(stops at every station)
|Rapid train |
(stops at less than local but
more than express)
(stops at fewer stations)
|Limited express train|
(generally only stops at
(travels much faster and only
stops at large stations)
|To get off||Oriru||降りる|
You’re going to hear a lot of very polite Japanese over the speakers, so it’s good to be familiar with words like this so you can figure out what the announcements are saying. Besides things using these words, you may also hear other Japanese phrases pretty often.
When the train is arriving at the platform, there will often be an announcement that says “Densha ga mairimasu” (電車が参ります) or “The train is coming.” You might also hear the phrase “Go-chuui kudasai” (ご注意下さい) which just means “Be careful.” You’ll probably see that written around as well.
Trains will be marked by their last stop, and it will usually be displayed as “___ yuki” (___ 行き) on the side of the train (with ___ being the final stop). On the train, the next stop is announced over the intercom with the phrase “Tsugi wa ___” (次は ___), which you will also see displayed.
If you’re traveling in the city, a lot of this will be written in English as well, but not so much in more rural places. It’s always a good idea to know the kanji for the place you plan on going in case you need to ask for help.
How Train Stations Work
If you’ve ever been to a train station in the U.S. (or any other country, probably), they all work about the same.
Japanese train stations have electronic ticket kiosks where you can buy a one time ticket or add money to your IC card. If you’re going to be in Japan for an extended period of time, I highly recommend getting and IC card. Mine cost like 500 yen to get, and it was way easier to put all my train money on it and not worry about buying tickets all the time. Plus, they work on buses too. Sometimes, you can even get deals with them at other places too, so definitely look into getting an IC card for whatever region you’re in.
If you’re just getting a ticket, you can look up on the map above the kiosks. It will have all the stations mapped out, with a price next to each one. The amount you need for your ticket will be the amount next to the station you want to go to.
With your ticket, you can pass through the gate onto the platform. Platforms are labeled by which direction the train is going and which line. So make sure you pay attention to that.
If you ever are confused or lost, it’s pretty easy to find people who work at the station because they tend to be in uniform. At big stations, they might have someone who speaks English. But even if they don’t, I’ve always found station workers super nice and helpful. I even had one go and print an entire itinerary out for me when I missed a transfer.
Etiquette in Japan
Riding a train in Japan might be a very new experience for you, especially if you aren’t familiar with standard public transportation etiquette in Japan.
When you’re on the platform, you’ll probably notice that everyone lines up where the doors will be. This is more true in large, busy stations. When the trains arrive, people will move to the side to let off other passengers before trying to get on. It’s pretty easy to just follow what other people do with things like this.
Another interesting thing that you might not be used to is escalator etiquette. In most places in Japan, people will stand on the left side of the escalator so others can walk up the right. In Osaka, because Osaka will always be different, people stand on the right and walk up the left. Don’t be the person that stands on the wrong side. No one will say anything, but they’ll be really annoyed.
When you are on the train, you might notice that it is surprisingly quiet. It’s common courtesy on Japanese public transportation to stay quiet. If you want to talk, that’s fine, as long as you keep your conversation from disturbing other people. This is one of those things you get used to pretty quickly.
Foreigners traveling to Japan should also be aware of Women Only cars on trains. I’ve been on some trains where they are only marked in Japanese (女性専用車), and I’ve seen foreign men get on them not realizing what they are. Trust me, it’s awkward for everyone. As a woman, I liked these separated cars a lot, and I almost always took one when I had the chance.
Read the Air(Kuuki wo yomu)
Most train behavior can be picked up pretty easily just by being aware. There’s a lot of unspoken rules when it comes to taking public transportation. If you look foreign, you’ll get a pass on a lot of things, just because no one expects you to understand all the different expectations public transportation has.
However, part of learning a language is learning a culture, and being able to function in a way that helps the people around you feel comfortable.
Trains were, and still are, one of my favorite modes of transportation, and one of the great things about Japan is how easily you can get around. So take some trains, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the journey just as much as the destination while you’re in Japan.
Japanese Phrases for Buses
Buses and trains tend to be really similar in Japan. With a bus you can either get a pass or just pay when you get off. But a lot of the words and Japanese phrases will probably be pretty similar.
The one thing I noticed that was different is just that the bus driver will always say “Kansha shimasu” (感謝します) when you get off, which is a really formal way to say “thank you.” It translates more as “I’m grateful.”
With buses, you’ll usually find the route map at the bus stop, as well as the schedule. But you can always ask someone at the station for help if you aren’t sure where to go. People who work at stations wear pretty distinct uniforms, so they aren’t hard to find.
Japanese Phrases for Taxis
I’m not going to say too much about taxis, because you can find a really good list of helpful taxi Japanese phrases here. I didn’t really use taxis much while traveling in Japan, just because buses and trains can get you pretty much anywhere in decent time.
The biggest thing with telling your taxi driver where to go is knowing how to give directions. Once you’ve got that down, you’re pretty much golden.
Taxi drivers will also speak really politely, so just be prepared for that if they ask you for clarification on something.
As far as etiquette goes, riding in a Japanese taxi is pretty much the same as riding in a taxi anywhere else. You can chat with the driver if you want, but you don’t have to. They have nice white cloth on the back seat so you always know it’s clean, and a lot of them have automatic doors that will open for you. Fancy taxis.
Buses and taxis can almost always be found at train stations, especially big ones.
Travel in Japan is Fun!
In Japan, traveling can be so easy thanks to public transportation. It might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly. And remember, there are people who work at the stations who are always happy to help you get where you’re going.