Commitment to being considerate leaves a literal mark in Tokyo station.

There are all sorts of scholarly texts that examine the specific set of cultural beliefs that have come together to create Japanese society. In many of those treatises you’ll find lengthy discourses on how much importance Japan places on being considerate to others through earnest, orderly conduct, along with wordy examinations of how those things influence people’s behavior, especially in public spaces.

But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and though this single photograph from Japanese Titter user @TZH331029_Evae might not look like much at first, it actually tells quite a lot about Japanese etiquette and values.

The photo shows a set of stairs inside a station, with one side labeled “Up” and the other “Down.” The “Down” side is wet, while the “Up” side is almost completely dry.

At first, this might seem like a gag photo, as though it’s saying “Haha in Japan even liquid follows the rules and only drips down the correct side of the stairway!” The real reason for this left/right difference, though, is entirely human-based. To fully grasp what’s going on, we need to know two more things. First, @TZH331029_Evae took this photo at Tokyo’s Yushima Station, which is a stop on the Chiyoda subway line. Second, on the day he took the picture, it was raining.

So the reason why only the “Down” side is wet is because just about everyone has been following the guidelines and sticking to the indicated side of the stairway (there’s a sign at the top that can be seen when facing down, too). On a rainy day, the people coming down into the subway from the surface will have wet shoes, which is why the “Down” side of the stairs is damp. On the other hand, people going up the stairs on their way to the station exits were on the train long enough for the soles of their shoes to more or less dry, so they don’t leave any watery footsteps on the “Up” side of the steps.

But why bother with designated directions on a stairway in the first place? Because at rush hour, Yushima, like a lot of stations in Japan, can get very crowded. Designated directions help keep passenger traffic flowing smoothly, helping people get where they need to be while limiting jostling and person-to-person collisions.

What’s more, you’ll notice that the stairway in @TZH331029_Evae’s photo is asking people to walk on what is, to them, the right side. Japan drives on the left, though, and that custom usually carries over into pedestrian situations too; if two Japanese people are walking towards each other, they’ll both usually veer to the left in order to pass by each other. This particular stairway, though, seems to be located in a part of Yushima Station where walking on the right makes for the smoothest foot traffic flow, so even though it might feel counterintuitive, the vast majority of people are happy to oblige (Japan is, after all, a very punctual society).

Source: Twitter/@TZH331029_Evae via Jin
Images: Twitter/@TZH331029_Evae
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