Japanese Language Blog

LINE – An Iconic Scene in Japan Posted by on May 7, 2021 in Culture, News, Vocabulary

What’s an iconic (象徴的  shochoteki) scene in Japan?  I would definitely say “a LINE” (行列  gyoretu). People line up without any hesitation to get a popular pastry, to eat at a popular restaurant, and so on.  There was even a Japanese TV episode, like Twilight Zone, in Japan about this “line” up trait (特性 tokusei). In the story, people just have to line up when they see a line of people without knowing why.  The protagonists are police detectives in pursuit of  (追跡する tsuisekisuru) a criminal.  The detectives cannot help but get in a line when they see a line of people.

A line is proof that a business is doing well as in “行列のできる店”(store that people line up for, gyoretsunodekiru mise)

Do you see a line for popular food in your country?   I have seen a line for Voodoo Donuts in Portland, Oregon.  I have seen a line for famous ramen shops in NYC.  So it is not uncommon in the US.

When my son was in primary school (小学校 shogakko), he participated in the Memorial Day parade with his cub scout troop.  But the kids could not walk lining up.  A father was trying very hard to make the kids walk in line, vertically and horizontally.  It was very interesting for me and thus I still remember this well.

In Japan, we learn to line up neatly and at a command “前へならえ”(Stand at arm’s length  maee narae) in a primary school.  I went to one of the most liberal schools, but we did learn  “Stand at arm’s length.” I believe it was easier for teachers to manage the kids as we did go out of campus a lot for nature and social observation trips.  So lining up neatly is still in me, and I get anxious when a line is not orderly, thinking somebody may cut in line (割り込む warikomu).

Another thing that is unique in Japan is that a line is formed in front of each toilet stall.  So if you need to go but you chose a slow line, it is not good. But not all restrooms are like that.  So it is very confusing whether to wait in front of a stall, or at the entrance, even for those who live in Japan.  When I went into a restroom in the US for the first time and saw people were making just one line, I was impressed.  So fair (公平 kohei) and efficient!   Just a piece of information – you must choose a cashier (レジ reji) at almost all stores unless instructed otherwise.

Image by cromaconceptovisual from Pixabay

My perception has widely changed during the pandemic world. Americans line up so neatly – 6-foot apart – waiting to get in a supermarket, waiting at a cashier, everywhere it is required without detailed instructions.  When I went to get vaccinated, people lined up quietly with 6-foot of distance without any distance marks on the hallway.  Much better than Japanese in the Pandemic world!


See the news from the third State of Emergency (right now.) Check the timelines 1.26 and 2.46. No social distancing.  Ironically, at 1.26, people were waiting at a private PCR testing site.  The wait was over 3 hours even if you had an appointment.


Japan is an old country and has been going through many changes.  The country is going through another change, for better or worse.

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  1. Claudia:

    I never knew this about Japan. When you’ve been trained from childhood to line up, it must be a challenge to visit a place like Italy, where people just “bunch up.” No lines at all!

    • eriko1:

      @Claudia Thank you for your comments! It was commonly said that people in Osaka did not make a line when they waited for a train. But now multiple lines are painted on the platform for people to line up. It makes me nervous when there is no clear line – sometimes a person lines up slightly offset and other people start to make another line behind that person. But I believe many people feel stressed in such a situation? So how do you get what you want in say, Italy, without lining up??