The elevator door opened, enters a Japanese schoolboy.
It was around 8 am. Weekday morning.
After about 5 seconds, we reached the ground floor.
When the door opened, I thought I would just step out after he gets out first. He was standing in front of me. Near the door.
He is a kid. He probably will just dash out I thought.
Instead, he was holding the “OPEN” button on the control panel and waited for me to leave first.
I was so surprised by his good mannerism, too good to be expected from someone his age. The word gentleman came to mind.
Even though he looked only about 8 years old. I wondered if he was from a noble Japanese family with extremely good education.
Now I know it is part of Japanese unspoken courtesy. It is quite normal to hold the “open” button let others go out first and one is supposed to press the “close” button after one leaves. The boy was probably just doing what he was taught at school or by his parents.
This elevator encounter still remains vivid in my memory. Because this happened to me only two weeks after I first moved to Japan in 2012. At that time, I had no idea that Japan has such special elevator etiquette.
Here are 3 things I learned from riding the elevator in Japan:
Captain of the ship
If you happen to be standing near the elevator’s control panel, you will assume the captain role – meaning you will hold the open button until everyone gets in safely, and you wait until everyone leaves before leaving yourself.
If you are the youngest or rank the lowest among your group, it is a good idea to make yourself the captain. It shows your respect and politeness toward older persons in the group, such as your boss or colleagues.
Close the door
It is pretty common to press the close button once everyone is on board. But you will be surprised to see most Japanese people also make an effort to press the close button inside the elevator after themselves have left (are out of the door). This is quite difficult without practice because you need to remember which button is the “close” button as you cannot see the control panel inside when you’ve already stepped out. But amazingly most Japanese people can do this with 100% precision without looking. It’s like watching a skilled acrobat performing an elevator trick every time I see someone does this.
This one is quite well-known. Japanese people do not chitchat or speak in the elevator. Nor do they talk on the phone. However, I’ve seen that when this rule is broken by foreigners, Japanese people are usually forgiving, or they simply do not care. Japanese people care about what the people in the group to which they belong to think about them, not random foreigners or tourists they do not know.
When everyone does this nice gesture to others in the elevator, it creates something like calm and order.
Because people trust that the door will be held for them so there is no need to rush or push.
This is what makes Japan organized and orderly.
Do you agree?