Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Japanese Manner Posters

A lot has been said about the politeness of the Japanese people. Not a reputation arbitrarily bestowed, it is still one that should be taken with a grain of salt. In a city the size of Tokyo, the hurly-burly of daily life, of getting from point A to point B and of moving in and out of unrelenting crowds all in a hurry, there are occasions aplenty when the last word that comes to mind is ‘polite.’ To be sure, the case is pretty much the same in any bustling metropolis where thousands of virtual strangers brush up against each other in the ever-cycling course of big city life. Certainly no one is going to pull a gun in the Tokyo trains and no one is going take the train hostage, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get your toes trampled, your seat taken and your nerves frayed by selfish behavior. It happens everywhere.

Since 1974 Tokyo Metro has tried to leaven the cooperation and behavior of city commuters by means of posters asking riders to observe certain guidelines toward making everyone’s experience on the train comfortable and stress-free. The practice now is to release a new poster each month emphasizing common behavioral problems, but just how long the once-a-month schedule has been in place is uncertain. The posters are much more prevalent today, posted in greater numbers in more locations, and very likely easier to grasp than some of the older traditional posters.

For the past couple of years Tokyo Metro has adopted a three-color scheme of yellow, black and white showing cartoon-like depictions of antisocial behavior subway riders should avoid doing. Examples include talking on cell phones, taking up extra room on crowded trains, putting on make-up, blocking the doorways and failing to give seats to the elderly and infirm. 

The older style posters while employing more sophisticated graphic techniques and offering a kind of enjoyable puzzle in making the ‘behavior’ connection, are designs less likely to work on Japan’s young population in the twenty-first century. Today everything must be clear in the 140 character mode of modern social networking. These days no one has time to look, read, ponder and slowly arrive at the point with an appreciation for how the idea was presented. 

The first three images below are examples of the newer Tokyo Metro Manner Posters, while the remaining five are from an earlier period, a time when commuters were more likely to take a moment to consider an eye-catching poster before getting the point.

Please refrain from drunken behavior.

Please refrain from putting on make-up in the train.

Please share the seat with others.

Please wait behind the white line.
This poster from May 1979 shows an image of sumo wrestlers teetering on a white line. The large black characters at the right are isami-ashi, literally ‘loss by stepping over the boundary.’ It serves as a reminder for passengers to stand safely behind the white line when waiting for the train. The small characters on the left read, ‘Please wait behind the white line.’

Please give your seat to the elderly and infirm.
I’ll Stand Up is from July 1979 and uses the comic character Uesugi Teppei from the popular manga Ore wa Teppei. With a shout of “Boku, tachimasu.” (I’ll stand up) he quickly stands, offering to give up his seat to the elderly and infirm.

Please do not smoke on the platform during designated non-smoking times.
A poster from January 1979 titled Coughing on the Platform is modeled after the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. Titled Hômu de Concon (coughing on the platform), the poster makes a play on the words concon (coughing sound) and cancan (French chorus line dance) and urges people not to smoke on the train platforms during the designated non-smoking hours. Today smoking is not allowed at any time inside train stations.

Please do not throw gum onto the platform or the floor of trains.
I Stepped in Gum is a poster from March 1980. The image of a cat stepping in gum is a playful twist on the popular children’s song Neko Funjatta (“I Stepped on a Cat”).

Please do not forget your umbrella when leaving the train.
Don’t Forget Your Umbrella from October 1981 is a reminder to riders not to forget their umbrella when leaving the train. The text at the top of this poster showing Jesus overwhelmed with umbrellas at the Last Supper reads Kasane-gasane no kami-danomi (literally “wishing to God again and again”). The artist is making a play on the words kasa (umbrella) and kasane-gasane (again and again).


  1. A fun graphic post and very entertaining on the proper behavior among the hoards. It reminded of a poster in the NYC subway years ago. It said simply, "I quit school when I were 16." And, of course, some wrote across the bottom, "And now I are a millionaire."

  2. I love that top series of posters!
    And one you don't have of a guy spitting on a conductor!!

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America