Standing Escalator Etiquette in Japan

I always liked how people in Japan stood on one side of the escalators and let those in a hurry clomp on up or down the other side. It seemed courteous and efficient. At some point, years ago (maybe around 2010?), Shanghai also implemented such a system. Signs went up. I was told that Shanghai was adopting Hong Kong’s escalator etiquette. In any case, I saw it as progress.

Sadly, it didn’t last long. The system was abandoned after less than a year, as I recall. I never knew why.

On my last trip to Japan (March 2024), I discovered that Kyoto and Osaka are now discouraging the “stand on one side, walk on the other” escalator system. I was quite surprised by this.

No walking on the escalators (Osaka)

I did a little research and discovered two things:

  1. There are a lot of old people in Japan taking the subway system. Having a “fast lane” on the escalators is seen as a safety risk. (Fair enough.)
  2. A study has been done which showed that the “fast lane” escalator system actually results in a lower throughput over the same amount of time. (The key is that only about 25% of escalator commuters use the “fast lane,” but it takes up half the escalator.)

So I guess this is a triumph of reason and science?

I still kind of miss the fast lane, though. In Japan and in Shanghai.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

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