During tours, I get interesting questions from tourists visiting Japan. Here are the answers to the questions that I got stumped by!
Q: Why do people in Osaka and Tokyo stand on different sides of the escalator? (In Osaka, people stand on the right and in Tokyo on the left.)
When escalators started to be installed after the Expo in 1914, nobody in Osaka or Tokyo stood on a single side of the escalator to let people walk past. It began in Osaka in the 60s. The private railway company Hankyu started to make announcements to encourage people to stand on the right side so that people in a hurry could walk up and down the escalator.
Why in Osaka? Because Osakans are generally impatient. There were many who threaded through people standing either side of the escalator. However, Hankyu says they don’t know why they asked people to stand on the right side.
So ,why do people in Tokyo stand on the left side? The practice began in Tokyo 20 years after Osaka. Osakans are very proud that they were ahead of Tokyo, by the way. They say that it stems from the left hand traffic rule. Personally, I don’t understand why it had to be left. If it was due to the traffic rule, wouldn’t it be natural to let people walk on the left side of the escalator?
To be honest, because Osaka Tokyo have a rivalry, I think the difference is probably because they want to be contrarian more than anything else.
Now, railway companies and department stores try hard to encourage people to kick the old habit but it seems to be very difficult.