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Manners Matter

Along with the traditional culture, for quite a while already Japan has been advertised worldwide with its vibrant mega policies and super efficient transport system. If you are to prepare for a trip to Japan, most probably you have seen online videos of overcrowded morning trains and for many foreign visitors getting on a train during rush hour turned into some sort of must-do tourist activity . And if you are living in Tokyo, most probably you have already embraced most of the rules; and navigating in the subway network, comprised of 290 stations, is not a problem any longer.

Just to bring some more figures to the table: Tokyo’s daily train transfers near 40 million, one forth of which stands for the subway alone. To operate subway system that deals with such staggering statistics is definitely not an easy task but what does it actually take to susutain one of the most advanced transport system in the world?

A couple of decades ago the Tokyo metro introduced their posters project "have manners & be considerate". Ultimately the goal of the project is to make the commute as pleasant, quiet, clean and unostentatious experience as possible. Every month when they release a new poster you can find it placed at every station.


In a way the metro system turned into an educational powerhouse that generates many trends, ideas and rules. Getting comfortable with our daily routines however, we often tend to discard the social phenomenons that once became a reason for certain rules to exist today. Have you ever wondered how these rules appeared in the public space?

There are probably many scientific ways to look back in time and read tons of literature but we can also do that by simply looking into the visual legacy of the past.

Careful about throwing chewing gum on the platform (September 1976). Even Superman is no match for discarded chewing gum at the platform.


The Seat Monopolizer (July 1976). Inspired by Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," this poster is for those who tend to take up too much space for themselves. It was to make them aware not to do so.


Dream at home (December 1981). The poster features Doraemon dressed as Santa, is a word of caution for Christmas and end-of-year drunk passengers not to pass out on the train.


Tokyo metro can serve as a good example for that matter. These posters somehow work as a mirror to reflect the social trends of today. Usually sitting on the fine edge of being “cool” for youngsters and a little obnoxious for the elder people, combined with the effect of time , some of the current social trends transform into manners that do not exist in any other culture, just because they emerged from the “now”, here in Japan.

I'll stand up (July 1979). Uesugi Teppei, a character from the popular manga "Ore wa Teppei," offers his seat to the elderly and infirm out of courtesy.


Mary is tired (December 1977). The image of Mother Mary carrying baby Jesus aims at passengers to offer their seats to mothers with small children.


Back in the 70’s most of the posters were addressing issues that are unthinkable today such as the smoking hours at the train stations, disposal of chewing gums and the appropriate manner to read a newspapers on the train etc.

Space Invader (March 1979). This 1979 poster pays tribute to the extremely popular Space Invaders video arcade game and encourages passengers to read their newspapers without invading the space of other passengers.


Please open it (July 1977). This poster of a melting snowman aims at passengers seated near a window to let cool air in when it is hot inside.


Nowadays 30 years and more later, smoking is not an issue at the train stations, nor is the disposal of chewing gums. People fold the newspaper into quarters in order not to invade the other passengers’ personal space. In a ceratin sense the posters did contribute to this change and the habit of unfolding a bed sheet sized newspaper completely, for an example, is gone. Job well done. But what’s coming next?

There are many things commuters do on the train that sometimes can annoy anyone and posters of course do pin that down today.


How will the putting-make-up-on the-train culture evolve? Will the dexterous hands of those girls get tired at some point and how many posters it will take? One can never know the answers to these questions, but living in a city where trends are changing so fast, I cannot help but wonder what would the posters look in 10 years from now.

The author has used the following links as reference; (Official Website)

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