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I have experienced traveling in the metro system in Australia, US, Taiwan and Japan, and it seems to be that the amount/level of detail is ranked as follows:

US - PA system announces or displays the next stop

Australia - In addition the PA system announces which door (left or right in the direction of travel) opens

Taiwan - In addition there is a display above the door that indicates that it will open at the stop

Japan - In addition there is a display above the opposite door indicating that the other door opens at the stop.

Is this just a cultural thing in Japan and is this really for the benefit of the locals or the travellers?

Extra note: In Taiwan there is even a timer that counts down pretty much to the second when the train will pull up at the stop. Seems almost magical, but doesn't stop people from rushing in and out of the trains in a mad dash that is typical of the metro chaos.

Another note: There were some comments about the number of languages used in the announcement. The most I have heard is three in Japan, and also for signs at airport I have seen four in Japan (Chinese, English, Korean, Arabic).

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I think it's more to do with just the technology available. If you have two screens on top of each door, might as well use them. Not all trains in Japan are that fancy. I regularly travel on trains in Tokyo without any displays. There they just announce which side the doors opens. The same story is there in India as well. –  Aditya Somani Jul 30 at 0:55
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Australia is very far from having "a metro system". Almost every bus, light rail, train, tram system is independent and even varies vehicle to vehicle. This is true also in Japan but in Japan the standards are very much higher. Newer vehicles and newer systems tend to have better, more detailed, clearer info. –  hippietrail Jul 30 at 3:44
    
@hippietrail The main cities (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) all have an integrated transport card now, so I feel like it is a 'system', regardless of just how effective or efficient it actually is. The problem is that every state seems to want to operate with its rules that makes travel between states a pain for locals, and a nightmare for foreigners. It felt a little bit like that in the US for me as well. –  Michael Lai Jul 30 at 4:00
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In Sydney where I live now the Opal Card is new and not available everywhere. Other kinds of daily or weekly card are ridiculously expensive for travellers but may make sense for local students or workers doing the same trip ten times per week. For the differences between states that's what you get in any Federation or Union. Locals don't want to give up their regional identities to some far-away government perceived not to care about them. –  hippietrail Jul 30 at 4:05
    
Honestly the information provided in Japan is rather poor. If you are inside, it doesn't show the next station until you move off from the station. Given the varying stopping patterns including sub-lines, it can really troublesome. Stations with multiple lines don't have integrated displays of all lines leaving soon- I know some line that I want is scheduled to leave soon but impossible to find in time. In addition they don't show the time to compare the scheduled time so you can't check the difference in time at a glance. –  user2617804 Jul 30 at 13:19

4 Answers 4

It's typical, but it's not a country-wide standard or anything: the reason is that Japanese put a lot of money and effort into train research, and the latest model trains on major lines are pretty snazzy.

For example, the current JR Yamanote Line trains (E231-500) have displays that show the next station, its transfers, stairs and escalators in relation to carriages, current position relative to entire loop and estimated time to all stations, all this in both Japanese and English, interleaved with public service announcements, weather, news and ads. Check out this video on YouTube for a sample. And apparently these are getting retired from 2015 onwards as they roll out the next generation (E235)!

Then again, the Yamanote is the world's busiest train line by most measures, so it makes sense to invest in this kind of thing. By contrast, if you find yourself on some rural line in remote Tohoku where a one-car train rattles along once every four hours, or even the Kominato Line in Chiba just outside Tokyo, they'll still be using 1960s-vintage diesel railcars with announcements from tinny speakers.

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+1 Good one! The Japanese keep their Shinkansen carriages for an average of 7 years or so! –  Aditya Somani Jul 30 at 1:48
    
Accurate answer, but I don't think it addresses the core of the issue, which is partly cultural. WHY do they put a lot of money into providing a lot of information all the time. This isn't just on transit, but on elevators, ESCALATORS and website FAQs. –  Armstrongest Aug 5 at 17:12
    
I think the trend is towards more info in transport systems all around the world. Japan is simply ahead the curve, and that's mostly just because trains are so central to living in its big cities. –  jpatokal Aug 5 at 22:42

Japan (lived here 12 years) has a corporate-cultural belief that you must do as much as possible, all the time. So the screen (or light) above the door says it will open, the screen above the opposite door says it will not, and the prerecorded announcement says, in very clear Japanese, wether the left or right side door will open. This will often be followed by the conductor saying the same thing over the intercom in much less clear Japanese.

In complete contrast to the above there is also a huge amount of intertia - "This sign has worked fine for 22 years..."

Regarding the stopping pattern of express trains, the "next stop after..." is always announced. It appears on the newer screens long before the current station - you can usually see the next 5-6 stations. On the platform, the schedule boards say where the express stops, and will tell you if and where a local train is passed by an express so you know if waiting 5 minutes gets you there 10 minutes earlier. Only in Japanese though. This information is repeated by a recorded announcement and again by the staff working the platform.

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+1. Love this answer. It answers the core of the question very succintly. Yes, the announcements are very cultural. –  Armstrongest Aug 5 at 17:09

As Paul mentioned, there is a corporate culture of providing as much as possible. There is also a deeper cultural reason lots of messaging is provided as well.

From a very young age, Japanese are used to getting directions and information. When you park in a mall, you'll usually have someone guiding you. There are more doormen, elevator attendants, parking helpers, support staff than you'll see in North America. Part of that is the service-oriented nature of the country. Things are procedural and orderly as these are considered positive qualities that help maintain 和(wa) or harmony/peace. If all know their station and responsibilities, then things go smoothly and "wa" is maintained.

You could stretch that and say that this is also a result of being a 縦社会 or "Vertical Society" for so long, where everyone has their position or rank, from Emperor down. However, that is far less pronounced today than it was in the past.

One way to maintain harmony is not to be confrontational. One of the best ways to not be confrontational is to set expectations clearly and well in advance to ensure all parties are on the same page. You can probably see where this is going.

Announcing things like the current station, the next station and even things like how long to all the stations means that people riding the trains have almost all the information that they would need and don't need to interact with the attendant. This is also more efficient and frees up the attendant to do other tasks.

Whereas a North American or European may get annoyed at all the announcements, the Japanese achieve a measure of comfort in knowing where they are and where they are going.

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+1 While I absolutely agree with your answer in the general sense, additional screens seems hardly necessary because they announcement can be made just as easily and is usually made in most trains as well. –  Aditya Somani Aug 5 at 17:48
    
@AdityaSomani true. However, having both visual and audio cues helps those impaired in one or the other faculty. You'll also notice that floor tiles have raised bumps throughout Tokyo stations (and some sidewalks) adding a third, physical, dimension... WALKING BRAILLE! While I think there are many ways to improve Japan's accessibility on public transit (especially for wheelchairs and similar), I think they do a good job in allowing people to have a measure of independence, whether they are seeing-impaired or hearing-impaired. –  Armstrongest Aug 5 at 18:30

I think it is semi-random, but mostly a function of the year the system was engineered or retrofitted. Newer systems have more of an I.T. backbone to feed the components. Old systems (NYC?) could not have had it in 1880, and monopoly operation of these systems don't generate much incentive for user friendliness.

Portland's (Oregon) Max light rail trains announce the station and which side (left or right) the doors will be opening, in English and Spanish.

Readerboards at the larger stations indicate how many minutes it is before the next train arrives and which route they are on.

In SEA (Seattle/Tacoma airport), the automated underground shuttles between terminals have only one door per carriage, but they announce and display the station by terminal number and airlines served.

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The Seattle Light rail that goes from SeaTac to downtown Seattle also announces next stop, as well as which door (In a first person too! "Doors to my right" or "Doors to my left") –  CBredlow Nov 6 at 2:10

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