Safety campaigns look to change escalator etiquette in Japan ahead of 2020 Olympics
By THE WASHINGTON POST Published: August 25, 2019
Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, campaigns are underway to encourage people to stand on both sides of an escalator, instead of the current custom of standing to one side in order to leave the other side clear for people to walk up or down.
The campaigns recommend this approach by emphasizing that standing side by side is safer.
However, the current custom of leaving one side free for people who want to walk up or down the steps if they are in a hurry has become deep-rooted across the globe.
It is likely that a long time will be needed for the new approach to gain widespread acceptance.
In the Roppongi Hills complex of Minato Ward, Tokyo, a campaign kicked off on July 22, soon after the start of the school summer break, encouraging people to adapt to the new safer way of using escalators.
On the first day of the campaign, which was aimed at groups of parents and children, an 11-year-old girl from Nakano Ward, Tokyo, said, "Whenever people carrying big bags pass me on an escalator, I worry that they might bump into me. I think etiquette is important."
Leaving space on one side of the escalator is a common custom across Japan. But which side is left free varies among regions. For example, in Tokyo, people vacate the right side of the steps, but in Osaka, people vacate the left side.
However, some people with physical disabilities in their arms or legs and some elderly people say that they are unable to hold the handrail on only one side of an escalator.
For such people, the custom of standing on a specific side of an escalator is risky.
In 2018, the Tokyo Physical Therapy Association produced keyrings to help gain the understanding of other people about standing on the opposite side.
The keyrings bear a message saying, "I have a good reason for standing on this side." The association distributes the keyrings to people who want them.
The custom of vacating one side of the escalator steps for people in a hurry is seen across many countries and regions, including Europe, the United States and China.
Masakazu Toki, professor emeritus of Edogawa University, said that the custom of leaving space on one side began in Britain during World War II.
According to Toki, the custom began when the operators of London subways displayed posters encouraging people to vacate one side of the escalator in 1944.
It began to spread in Japan in 1967, when Hankyu Railway's Umeda Station in Osaka made announcements encouraging people to leave space on one side for those in a hurry.
As escalators began to be installed elsewhere, the custom of standing on one side of the escalator spread nationwide.
According to the Japan Elevator Association, the number of escalator accidents caused by the manner in which people ride them in the two-year period of 2008-09 was 674. The total number in 2013 and 2014 rose to 882.
The association asks people to hold onto handrails and stand still when they ride escalators.
The reason the custom of leaving space on one side needs to be reexamined is not only for safety.
The current system of people only using the space on one side of an escalator, even though they could stand side by side, results in the deterioration of transportation efficiency.
During rush hour in big cities, it is usual to see people forming long lines as they wait to ride an escalator standing on one side. As a result, the flow of people is obstructed.
Train service operators across the nation are reexamining the custom of vacating space on one side of the escalator from the aspects of both safety and transportation efficiency, and have made efforts to encourage people to stand side by side on escalators.
Officials of the Nagoya city government's Transportation Bureau have come up with a campaign to promote standing side by side on the 10th day of every month in its 13 major train stations.
The Fukuoka city government's Transportation Bureau installed huge pictogram boards in 19 stations on the city's municipal subway lines, encouraging people to stand still rather than walk on escalators.
East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) also asked people to stand side by side in a campaign from December last year to February this year.
Toki said: "The custom of vacating space on one side is a relic of the years when people believed the faster, the better and placed great importance on efficiency. During the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, many people will come to Japan from all over the world. The Games will provide a great opportunity for Tokyo to show the rest of the world this new approach, which makes anyone feel they can ride escalators safely."