Japanese Elevators vs American Elevators

In my Japanese class my teacher has me using a textbook in which each chapter is an article for a magazine or newspaper. Most of them are between 5 and 10 years old but they are generally still relevant.

The latest one is about Japanese Elevators. Somethings I’ve noticed early on while when I first got here:

  • Most Japanese elevators come fast
  • I’ve never seen a Japanese elevator with light censors that stop the door from closing if there is something in the doorway. Most American elevators have those. The Japanese ones still have the floor to ceiling rubber pressure switch to prevent the door from closing on someone though.
  • The “close door” buttons in all Japanese elevators work and work IMMEDIATELY. American “close door” buttons seem to be placebos and have no effect

Well, this article I was reading in Japanese class talked about this.

According to the article Japan has the most aggressive elevator competition in the world. The main competitors are Mitsubishi, Hitachi and Toshiba. Where as in America it’s not uncommon to wait over a minute for an elevator, at the time the article was written, 1996, the average wait in Japan was 30 seconds and the competition at the time was to get it under 25.

The article goes on to explain they accomplished the new speeds through the use of computers which had become cheap enough and small enough to install in the elevator control rooms. The computers monitor elevator usage and can use the info from previous days or weeks to adjust where the elevators will tend to wait or go first throughout the day. For example mornings tend to be picking lots of people up on the bottom floors, lunch times see a different usage pattern, etc. They can also be set to favor “more important” floors.

One part I found particularly interesting though is the article claimed that Japanese people are impatient, that if a Japanese business man is made to wait more than 30 seconds he’ll get angry where as an Western person will put up with over 1 minute waits. I don’t accept that explanation. Everyone I know of hates being made to wait so long for an elevator. There are tons of comedy skits about it as well as references to people pressing the button over and over and over hoping that will make it come faster. I think the truth lies somewhere else.

My guess as that as much as we hate the wait there is little to no competition in America. Maybe there are less elevator manufactures or maybe buildings get created far less often than in Japan where they tear down any building more than 30yrs old regularly. I know that I always hated the wait but I think my attitude was “there’s nothing I can do about it” where as in Japan there is, don’t buy a crappy elevator for your building.

  • > I’ve never seen a Japanese elevator with light censors that stop the door from closing if there is something in the doorway. Most American elevators have those.

    So true!! And it’s not only elevators, but also a lot of automated doors that will only react to their “open” button, and then close after X seconds no matter what.

    For a country with such evolved technology, it sure has very rude doors.

  • Hasegawa

    A story which I heard from my friend who went to MIT in 80’s.  Their dorm elevator was so uneffective, computer science students hacked the circuitboard and overridden the elevator control algorithm, plus added clock for extra control (such as more downstream in the morning, upstream in the evening).  The program was so darn well the elevator company actually paid the students to buy it out…

  • John

    The elevators run very fast, the rubber stoppers in the doors do not work very well and if you are slow in entering or exiting they ram close. You quickly learn not to hang arround. Result nobody hold the door open for his buddy, system works well !

    Putting a mirror on the wall in front of the elevator kills the seconds fast for the ladies !


  • John

    Ooooops forgot to say this was in Wellington, New Zealand

  • I don’t consider Japanese automated doors rude, I consider them necessary. At least in Tokyo with hundreds of people walking within inches of all the store fronts if the doors opened easily they would never close. On top of that, Tokyo weather is too hot in the summer and relatively cold in the winter so closing the doors quickly means the buildings keep their temperature a little better.

    Most people seem to hold elevators open if there are people waiting closely but I have been slammed by they doors as the close as has nearly everyone else. I think it just becomes something you are more aware of.

  • Of course I agree that not all doors should open automatically without having to push a button, as you said, with all the passer-bys, they could be open all day long.

    My point is that it should be easy to put an emergency sensor that checks if there’s something between the doors before/while closing, to avoid slamming shut on someone. I think it’s a feature essential to elevators and any automated door, otherwise they can certainly hurt young children.

    There are some exceptions such as crowded trains, of which the doors must close even when bags are still sticking out.

  • Neko
    faster and faster

    Hitachi just announced that they created a totally new idea! Two sets of elevators are connected top and base so up to 8 box(? carriage?) could go around to SPEED UP!! Can I put a link?



  • terrytavares

    There are 12 elevators in my bldg. it is 21 floors high and 5 floors of under ground parking. 4 elevators go between the 5 underground parking levels and floor 1 and 2. 4 elevators go from 1-2 up through 13 inclusive, 4 go from 1-2 express to 14 through 21 inclusive. You rarely have to wait 30 seconds at the most. Most time you wait less than 10 seconds and one of the 4 will open for you. Also, I get in the elevator many times alone and I walk in and immediatly push the “door close” button. The door starts to close within 1 second of pushing the button. I have just walked in and not pushed the close button and it takes about 6 seconds for the door to automatically close. If people are nearby walking toward the elevator I will hold the door for them and as soon as they’re in, push the door close button and the door begins to close almost immediately.

  • seneschal

    I think you can draw a parallel between this with another Japanese phenomenon:

    The computerized “cleaning” toilet bowl that sprays your butt after use.  There are simply too many engineers in Japan, things get designed to death.  Sometimes it’s good, like Toyota quality vs. GM, but other times…

  • Those toilets rock. That fact that people who don’t have one and are not used to them find them strange but it’s far stranger to wipe your ass with TP and think it’s clean. You should start washing in the morning with a dry towel instead of taking a shower. 😀

  • seneschal


    What’s that?


  • washlets are teh rawk

    Washlet toilets are freaking awesome, as anyone who has used them for more than a month will attest. I bought one for my parents, who were reluctant, then cautious, then willing, and now enthusiastic about its use. It’s definitely a smarter way to get clean than just TP.

    With regard to elevator doors, yeah, they are very different in Japan. The first two months at our apartment I was body-checked by the doors at least once a day as I tried to make it into the elevator car at the last moment. Ouch.

  • albertj

    Japanese office building elevators may be very fast, but I’ve yet to find a store elevator which has short wait times. Even with a bank of 4-6 elevators, it takes forever for one to stop at your floor.

  • hotstack
    elevators and washlets

    Elevators here where I work (in the boonies of Tokyo) are neither fast nor slow…  Sometimes they come quick, but sometimes you are there for a minute.  4 elevators for 7 floors.

    On that tip, what the hell is with the aversion to stairs here?  Maybe this is worldwide and I only noticed here.  I work on the 2nd floor.  The stairs are clearly marked.  25% or so of my floor takes the elevators.  (this excludes times when taking the elevator is necessary).   Same at my station.  I routinely see middle-age salarymen and oba-chans riding from the platform to the gate (1 floor) with nothing but their work-bag/prada bag in their hands, while women with baby carriages and old people walking with canes are made to wait… ok enough.

    Washlets.  I was warry at first, but I don’t think I could live without one now.  I seriously hate going home to the normal TP method (I love going home for other reasons though :))

  • one-side elevator bumper

    Has anyone else noticed that the old-fashioned “keep the door open” bumpers are only on one side? And it’s usually the side you don’t grab for as someone is coming to the elevator?

    Solution: go for the button. And if it’s in kanji, and you picked the wrong one, the guilt is great motivation to learn! “HIRA” 開

  • peter

    in the last few weeks  ive noticed that tokyo elevators are quite efficient. i forgot. nobody has time to wait.

    its unfortunately, the culture of uncertainness towards getting out/in that drives me nuts. and people who cant walk 1 flight of stairs.

    im just complaining because due to peoples silliness, i somehow managed to go a total of 6 directions up and down, instead of 2.

    supply and demand…..

    must be the rain, i just wanted a bento.

    maybe i need a cigarette. but i cant be bothered its 11 floors down.

    my favourite elevator ever was one with magnetted on carpet.

    it was extremely fun wrapping ourselves up in it like a harumaki at 2 in the morning.

    pretty proud of the way we put it on again.  i think all elevators should have magnet material changeable by the day.

  • peter

    my hotel in sweden last week. had one of the funny old service elevators where you watch the wall go past.

    and in china when you go to hold the door open by that safetydoor thingy that sits in the middle of the lift and floor level doors, you discover its generally not there.

    and that revolving door lobby thing thats so popular, yeesh. keep your head and limbs in the moving vehicle.  im so glad im not the lawyer

  • Jorgelee