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How to Work an Elevator in Japan

While the functionality of an エレベーター (erebētā), or elevator is pretty standard worldwide, there are some things to know about taking one in Japan. It is important to understand some of the country’s basic elevator etiquette, for instance. Also, knowing what the voice is saying to you over the speaker in between floors is something you may find useful.



You will likely hear an automated voice in the elevator informing you of various things as you go up or down. Here are some of the phrases you will hear:

  • (うえ)へ/(した)(まい)ります (ue e/ shita mairimasu) – going up/down


When you arrive at a floor you will hear the Japanese counter for floors, “-kai” used in conjunction with the floor number. As an example, you will hear “4th floor” as “(よん)(かい)です” (yon-kai desu).

If you are looking for a restaurant in a building but don’t know what floor it is on, you could ask:

  • “これは(なん)(かい)ですか” (kore wa nan-kai desuka) – “What floor is this on?”.


Elevator Operators

Some elevators have attendants, usually women whose job it is to work the elevator for you or usher you on. These elevators are not as common now as they once were, but there are still many older buildings in Japan with traditional lifts that require manual operation. It is here that you can find such attendants. Many of these staffed elevators run between only two floors in larger buildings: the top and the bottom. However, knowing how to request the floor you want to go to is still sometimes useful.

They may ask you “(なん)(かい)()かれますか (nan-kai ni ikaremasuka) or “What floor are you going to?” You can respond using the same counter system as was previously mentioned, followed by saying “お(ねが)いします” (onegaishimasu).

As an example:

()(かい)(ねが)いします (go-kai, onegaishimasu)- Fifth floor, please.


For elevator etiquette, there are two things to know.

  1. Get off of the elevator in the reverse order you got on the elevator. This is usually easy to do, since if you are among the first on-board you will be in the back of the elevator and be the last one off. Still, remember who came in just after you did and exit right after them, if possible.
  2. If you are first on the elevator, hold the door open until it is full. The elevator doors in Japan often will not stay open long, closing automatically after just a few seconds. If you are first inside, hold the “Open” button. This will usually be marked by arrow symbols, but you may find one with the kanji ” (ひらく)” (hiraku).

Learn how elevators are used in a variety of situations and you’ve mastered a large part of navigating buildings in Japan.


If you would like to know more about life in Japan, make sure you check out our blog.