*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Mannered ≠ Polite: Fuck-off Japan redux

More posters!

I've told Japan to fuck-off before, complained about selfishness and passive-aggression on the trains, and pointed out my low opinion of keigo.  I'll try not to rehash that, but tell you a story, and draw my generalizations from it, and years of living here.

I'm one station from home and an older couple get on my car.  He's not less than eighty, bent over and looks in some pain, nothing holding him up but his walker and the arm of his seventy-odd year-old wife.  Guess how many Japanese get up.  Go ahead.  Guess how many Japanese look away.  You got it: none and all.  I get up, for which I deserve little credit: as I've run a half-marathon a few months ago, am half the age of that gentleman, and actually do it more for the sake of 'Gaijin bash'.  As usual the Gaijin upstaging gets a few people to do the right thing.  Someone gave the wife a seat.

It's not as if everyone in my Toronto gets up when they should, doesn't smash through smaller women in order to get on a train, and the like; however, you can depend on someone doing the right thing.  Sure, in both Tokyo and Toronto a lot of people are dicks.  On the other hand, if in Toronto just one in five people would have given that man a seat, and in Tokyo that is just one in twenty (and fewer if Gaijin are absent...), that is a difference of 400%.

The most important thing to know about Japanese culture is very simple: they are not more polite than Anglophones.  They may even be less so.  They are certainly more mannered, but that is no virtue.  Being mannered means following the rules that are in place in society.  It does not mean they are good rules, and it does not mean having any empathy.  Of course just as many Japanese people have empathy as Anglos, but the rigidity of their culture makes it harder, and less rewarding, for them to express it, especially to 'strangers'.  It's also worth noting that we might even get up ruefully, with little empathy, because our ethics do not allow us to indulge our selfishness.  Fine, but the person who needs it more still gets a seat, right?  If you are in even the most tangential of relationships with a random Japanese person, be assured that you will likely be better taken care of than at home; if you are not, you're on your own, chump.


  1. What is the point of not giving your seat to somebody who can actually use it? Where I live, if an old person gets on, the bus driver will stop the bus and not move until whichever knucklehead gets up and moves. If not, they prolly call the sheriffs. I would feel like shit for not moving, unless that person was a dick, i guess.

  2. Sounds like a 'red state'. Sorry if I am off-base, but places like that I am familiar with, say rural Ontario, may have people who don't vote the way I like, but they are often better at keeping the old civilities. Come to think of it, the same goes for the equivalent in Japan: rural places that vote LDP. I also pointed out to my J-wife that in Toronto the Caribbean men she looked askance at were the first to give up their seats to older women: including white ones. There's a post-worth of thoughts on the shit 'liberal' urbanites talk, but don't carry through. Be nice if people used their conscience in both their personal interactions, and the voting booth...

  3. This is a masterpiece of concision. Whenever I try to write about this stuff it ends up as a 2000 word rant. Very well done, sir.

  4. Yeah no matter how many times you see it, it never fails to piss you off. Salarymen are of course the worst. It may be a cultural thing or it might be that most of them are just assholes.

    Love the blog by the way.

  5. I'm happiest with my last paragraph. The rest is no better an anecdote than a few million Gaijin over the years could tell.

  6. Yup, I think people may be right when they say Japanese people are very polite, but there is an important fact lost in saying so. I wrote a long post a while back about why I think Japan is a polite country but not an overly courteous one.

  7. Replies
    1. http://www.jadij.com/2011/06/japan-etiquette-vs-courtesy.html

    2. Thanks for that. Our two posts do complement.

  8. It's funny... there are all these rules about how to interact with other people here once a connection is made, but very few about how to deal with absolute strangers.

  9. "As usual the Gaijin upstaging gets a few people to do the right thing." This is a very powerful tool IMHO. I have to say it has on a few occasions prodded me into doing the right thing when under normal circumstances I may not have back home.

    Thanks for the linkage too! Will return in kind if I haven't already.

  10. Japan rubbed me wrong right of the start and I rubbed my fist across a buncha faces. This place and it's image is beyond bizzare. CNN and it's "Japanese don't loot" stories blew me out of the water and made me realize the perception is helped by folks around the world.
    Child Porn.
    2 words.
    Evaluate the non law and why and.....well... there is Japan in a nutshell.

  11. Passivity in the face of egregious behaviour here, whether by the mob, the functionary-class they've bought, tools on a train, child-porn, rape-porn or the general status of women, pisses off all right-thinking people, foreign or not. I'm far past patience for cultural relativity. E.g.: When the J-wife or her friends say 'shoganai' about the status of women and the shaft they get in the workplace I simply tell them, "It's your fault." I ask them do they really think that 'Western' women have it better because their men are better, or because my father's generation took it on the chin? They never have the guts to say shit after that. I suggest the rest of you tell J-women the same. The only thing that will fix this country is if the women hold their men to the fire; god knows the men are kept too dim on sleep-deprivation and cheap booze to do so.

  12. The posters... didn't think they were real. But it looks like they are. And for a reason. I'm still convinced that Tokyo is full of country bumpkins putting on airs... sometimes just barely. The 'shouganai'-aholism can be pretty daunting at times. Fortunately, I manage to tune it out, but not always. Dammit.

    Once I got tired of listening to a JTE complaining about work so I finally said, "Look, I understand your frustration, but there comes a point when you have to do something. I am no longer willing to listen if you are not going to take action." Have had similar discussions with my wife. I can listen, but if I think I am hearing the same thing again and again... I simply don't have time for that. I would rather try do do something to change a situation and 'fail' rather than simply sit and recite the 'shouganai' mantra that seems to be all the rage.

    Anyway... enjoyed your rant.

  13. A couple weeks ago, I did this very thing for an elderly couple who got on the bus. Actually, my wife did it, as I was sitting in a priority seat holding my 5 month old daughter. I was certainly not going to stand up holding her. But we vacated a seat for the elderly man or woman, whoever would take it. However, there was a young man also standing. Guess who took the seat? The young man. My wife was pissed off. That was incredibly rude and selfish.

    I've also seen a salaryman slip behind a pregnant woman who was about to sit down. She didn't do anything about it, though. If I were her, I would've punched the guy in the face.

  14. So called 'men' in this country... I know enough about them know that when I give up a seat for someone who needs it, I stand by the seat until they come, as most 'men' in this country wouldn't take on a foreign man my size. I have met a few stupid or drunk enough. Last time it happened a tool tried to jump over someone sitting to take a seat I had my shins hard-against as I put a bag overhead. Before any thought entered my head I had sworn at him and shoved him across the carriage. He gave me a look as I sat down: I gave him a shrug and a 'like what are you going to do?' look. Answer: fuck all.