Trains in Japan: why are they always on time?

A Japanese girl waiting for her train on the trains station.

How punctual are trains (電車 | Densha) in Japan? The adequate response is: immensely! Considering the promptness attribute of the Japanese population, it is crucial for you to be an early bird as well.
But it still does not eliminate the possibility of trains in Japan running late once in a while.

What happens if this situation occurs? Is the Red Alarm button hit and heard all over Japan? How should you proceed, if you are a part of this circumstance? Continue reading to get all your questions answered.

If trains are delayed, are you running late as well?

A professional man being late for work!

People over the world are aware that Japanese trains arrive at their destinations on schedule.

If a train arrives at its destination over five to ten minutes later than scheduled due to accidents or weather conditions, many railroad companies distribute slips to passengers at the ticket gate certifying that the train has been delayed. Henceforth, you can use the word 遅延証明書  (Chien Syoumei Syo) meaning train delay certificate, to get one.

Many schools and companies do not count those who present these slips as being late. One day, this came up in conversation when I talked to two Asian students who work at a restaurant managed by an acquaintance of mine. The male student who had worked there for a long time said, “When I was delayed I handed the slip to the restaurant manager, but it was refused.”

On hearing this, the affable female student exclaimed, “Really?”
With an expression that showed he was unable to accept this, the male student said, “I was told part time (アルバイト  | Arubaito) staff were not covered.”
I knew that it didn’t apply to part timers since they are paid by the hour.

Why isn’t the delaying slip sometimes accepted in Japan?

Being late slip distributed to people in Japan
遅延証明書  (Chien Syoumei Syo) – Delay certificate

Why was the female student confused with the male student story?
However, the female student said, “I have only worked here for about a month, but when I submitted the slip the other day, they didn’t treat me as being late.”

Showing his displeasure, the male student said, “It’s discrimination. If they accept it, it’s strange that it shouldn’t apply to me who has worked here longer.”
After this, as I had an opportunity to speak with the manager, I asked him about it.

“Isn’t it unfair that the late slip only covers the hourly rate of this girl?” The manager had this to say: “These days because of the intense price wars between stores, it is difficult to raise the hourly rate, so no matter what we do to recruit, there just aren’t people who want to work for us.”
“Therefore, we decided to treat part-time staff who submitted slips as not being late.” When I said, “Have you informed the male student of this?” he had this to say:
“Unfortunately, he has already quit.”

The Words For You Today

電車 (でんしゃ| Densha) – Train
アルバイト ( あるばいと | Arubaito ) – Part – time job
時間厳守 ( じかんげんしゅ | Jikan Genshu ) – Punctuality
遅延証明書 (ちえんしょうめいしょ | Chien Syoumei Syo)- Proof of Delay

How important is punctuality in Japan?

The famous phrase “ I am not late, everyone is just simply early” doesn’t sit right in Japan. Japan is well known all across the world for utmost punctuality (時間厳守 | Jikan genshu).
In Japan it is essential for you to be ready and already at the location of the event, at the starting time. Trains in Japan are not the only example of punctuality in this country. Punctuality is integrated in everyday lives of Japanese people, this way also earning respect from others.

So what does it mean for you if you want to live or work in Japan?

Nowadays, there are times when Japanese people are more patient about delays and time
in general, but the “on-time” mindset is still a big part of Japanese culture.

Therefore, to fit into Japanese society entirely, might mean altering the lifestyle in order to always be on time. The importance of promptness in Japanese culture is surely undeniable. 

Are you a punctual person or a belated one? Altogether, would this unwritten rule of Japan be an issue
or a blessing for your lifestyle? Are you interested about having a Japanese language learning journey?

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Co-author: Hiragana Times Magazine

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