The Art of Standing in Lines in Japan | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

The Art of Standing in Lines in Japan

By Yae May 18, 2019

If you’re living in Japan or came to Japan for a short visit, many of you may have at least once seen the long lines formed in front of restaurants or shops on the streets. For those who wouldn’t normally get in a long line in your daily lives, you may be wondering “what those Japanese people are doing standing in such a long line?”

Also, if you look at the lines carefully or long enough, you can see each Japanese people are standing straight and lined up properly and it just looks like a beautiful organized line, something like art. Of course, not this is not always going to be the case.

This article will tell you about why Japanese people stand in long lines properly almost everywhere and what makes the people of Japan to keep that unspoken agreement to line up properly. You will also know how Japanese people are well-manners in public. Let’s learn about the enigma of long lines in Japan in this article!

1. Why do Japanese People Stand in Long Lines?

So, why do a lot of Japanese people stand in long lines everywhere? It’s mostly due to the fact that they were trained to line up properly since they were kids, but it’s also because many Japanese people already know that they need to learn to “WAIT” when they need to get something they want in this densely populated Japan. If you look around in Japan especially in Tokyo, there are people everywhere, on the streets, in the park, basically almost everywhere. During the commuting time, many Japanese people would wait patiently to get to their office for work every day. Unfortunately, the rush hour train has never really improved and does not look like it will anytime soon; as a result, some Japanese people reluctantly leave their home earlier than their usual time or the time they need to leave to get to the trains as early as possible to avoid the rush hour train. This works only if you can get up as early as possible and are willing to do it almost every day.

“Wait calmly and patiently to get what you want with the spirit of having a respectful attitude to the others.”

This is the spirit in which many Japanese people have and they live their lives along this way of thinking. Important thing is, many Japanese people are aware of they’re not only one who need to be patient but everybody else does as well.

So what kind of situation do Japanese people tend to stand in long lines for? I also have several experiences with standing in a long line in Japan but here is my latest example. When I traveled to Kumamoto prefecture during the summer season, I really had a wish to have lunch at the restaurant called “Imakin shokudo” which people can eat a spectacular red cattle bowl. I already knew that there are always long lines people normally wait about 2-3 hours to enter the restaurant (this restaurant is a first come, first served system) and so I did wait about 2 hours. Why I didn’t change my mind and go to some other place? Here are the main reasons:

1. It took about 3 hours by car to get to this place. I may not have another chance to come all the way up there again, so I decided to wait and waste the opportunity.

2. I wanted to eat the delicious red cattle which is a local specialty in Kumamoto prefecture.

The result of waiting for about 2 hours to eat at this restaurant WAS A RIGHT ONE. It was worth the wait. You’ll understand if you try this delicacy once. I’m sure you’ll be addicted to the taste.

2. What Happens When People Skip Lines in Japan?

People are watching other people more than you think. This too true in Japan. For example, when someone is cutting in line either on purpose or without any intention (didn’t know people are standing in the line), some other people who are also standing in the long line might point out that you’re skipping lines and tell you to stand at the end of the lines properly. You have to be aware that some people can suddenly shout very loud pointing out your skipping of the lines with irritated feelings and expression full of anger.

Most people who point out the person who skips the lines are usually:

1. Middle-aged men around 50-60 years old

2. Senior aged men around 60-70 years old

3. Middle-aged women around 50-60 years old

4. Senior aged women around 60-70 years old

These people may be brave enough to point out other people in public in Japan. However, you also need to remember one more thing. Not only pointed out of skipping lines in public but they might take pictures of the individual standing in lines (mostly young people do this) and they would say nothing. Eventually, they would post the photos on SNS, such as Facebook, Instagram or even tweeting on Twitter complaining how rude you were for skipping lines instead of sharing the burden with other people. If you’re also using SNS in your daily life, you may understand bad rumors spread quickly, right?

Even if skipping lines was not your intention, you all have to look carefully if you see the long lines in front of the restaurants or shops in Japan. Please don’t even think about skipping lines even you’re running late for your next appointment. It is better to just wait for the next time.

3. Why or How Can Japanese People Wait for so Long?

It depends on the rotation of customers, but normally Japanese people need to wait for about 30 minutes or more to get into a restaurant or shop. Why are Japanese people be so patient? Here are some main reasons with a bit of psychologically views added in as:

1. Bandwagon Effect (Everyone else is waiting as well, and they rather follow the crowd)

2. It’s a popular place and they have to be up to date.

3. Do it for the gram! The SNS posters!

1. Population. Japan (especially Tokyo) is a very populated area and standing in a line cannot be helped.

2. They have been waiting to go to this place for a while.

3. Traveling and there is no other choice but to wait.

It’s a funny thing to say but after a while of standing in long lines and many Japanese people feel they have accomplished their goals to get into that restaurants/shops, this gives them a sense of satisfaction.

4. Why Do Japanese People Stand So Well in a Line?

Is there any motivating factor that makes Japanese people so PATIENT? Actually yes. Most Japanese people are well-educated to stand in lines from when they were kids. Since most Japanese people were kinds, their Parents have been training them to stand in a line and this is then reinforced by their teachers at school as well.

“Line up properly!” is a phrase that a lot of Japanese people grew up hearing almost every second of their childhood. In addition, the stigma of being different or standing out in Japan adds fuel to the flame.

However, some people say that there are certain areas in Japan where Japanese people cannot stand to wait that long in a line. These places are:

1. Osaka Prefecture

2. Kouchi prefecture

3. Yamagata Prefecture

This is of course not an official listing, so do not take offense if your prefecture happens to be there????.

5. How The world is Surprised by This Japanese Culture

Japanese people can be seen standing in lines not only in front of restaurants or shops but also at the time of natural disaster such as earthquakes. If you already know a bit on Japan, you may already know that Japan is an earthquake kingdom so the calmness of standing in a line during an earthquake can be quite miraculous.

Did you know that Japanese people who got devastated and lost their houses or can’t get any supplies (food, drinks, etc.) stand in lines properly to get relief supplies at shelters? Many Japanese people care a lot about others especially for senior aged people or small kids who feel helpless.

Many foreign media have praised the Japanese people’s calm and moderate attitude during the earthquake disasters such as Hokkaido earthquake (September 6th, 2018), Kumamoto earthquake (April 14th, 2016), etc. It’s very amazing things to see people who do not just panic.

What Do You Think of the Japanese Culture of Standing so Well in a Line?

Hopefully, now you see why many Japanese people can stand in such long lines in Japan. Not only because of patience to get something, but they were also educated to stand in lines properly since they were kids.

While Japanese people are standing in a line, most people are chatting with their friends, texting someone, listening to music, reading books or checking the latest SNS updates. Of course, some people look very tired for waiting so long time but Japanese people have their strong will to achieve their goals and wouldn’t give up easily.

Of course, not all the Japanese people stand in long lines everywhere some people say it’s wasting their time or that it is better to just wait for some other times.

Some stores also help people by kindly announcing other customers who want to get in lines to let them know where the end of the line is by holding a “HERE IS THE END OF THE LINES” board so you can find where to line up easily.

Do you wish to go to a famous and popular place in Japan? Check first if there might be a long line in advance on the internet or by asking your friends. If you can be patient and don’t want to lose that opportunity, ready to line up in Japan!

Bring some time killing supplies with you before you line up. Also, go to the bathroom in advance and don’t hydrate yourself too much while you’re standing in the line.