Queuing in Japan is an art form. Everyone says ‘the Japanese just love queuing,’ but it is more than that. There’s a beauty in the order. Picture the trains at rush hour: well-mannered travellers wait in perfectly formed lines for the train carriage to open. And when the doors part, the queuers wait for the last passenger to disembark before they file in, until they are pressed against the glass (still in order, of course). No matter what time it is, there are very few line jumpers, complainers or people breaking rank. If you want to line up like a pro, here are the essentials.
DO: LEARN HOW TO ENJOY IT
You’ve got to go zen. There’s no point fighting the time-suck of queuing in Tokyo, so see it as a form of delayed gratification. Time pressed against a random stranger in the rain builds anticipation of the meal, gadget, fukubukuro (‘lucky bag’), concert or commute that will follow. You’ve invested precious time in this, so you’d better enjoy it.
DON’T: FORGET YOUR NEIGHBOURS
A discreet chat with your friend is okay. Loudly Facetiming your grandmother on your phone is not. You’re going to be spending the next 30 minutes with your line-mates: they don’t need to know about nana’s bunions.
DO: LINE UP SOME ROMANCE
True love waits. Queuing can be a surprisingly fun date: it’s just you, them, 20 minutes to an hour of awkward small-talk and an assortment of eavesdropping strangers. Plus if things go badly, you can turn and run knowing they’ll be loath to give up their place in the queue.
DON’T: SAVE A SPOT
When you see that long line snaking around the block, it’s tempting to send one person to stand in line while everyone else waits somewhere with seats, air conditioning and alcohol. That is a no-go in Japan. Most establishments will not seat you unless the entire party is there and it is extremely frowned upon to let a friend or family member join you at the head of the line. You don’t want to provoke the Tokyo Tut.
DO: PLAY QUEUE ROULETTE
In Tokyo, long lines usual signify ‘there’s something exciting over here!’ so join in, no matter what it is. Dress comfortably (skip the heels, ladies), pack enough for a fortnight in all weathers and file in. It could be a gourmet dining experience, it may be a gig by your soon-to-be favourite band, it may be a revolutionary fungal treatment: if you don’t join you’ll never know.
DON’T: STAND STILL
You never know when a flash queue might occur. One minute you are standing outside a doorway trying to remember where you left your shopping list, the next you’ve caused queuemageddon with people lining up behind you presuming you are in the know.
– By Grace Buchele Mineta and Marcus Webb