March 28, 2010
BioE recently posted some cool public service announcement posters from the Tokyo subway system, and it got me reminiscing about some interesting experiences I have had in Japan.
I find some of the idiosyncrasies of this culture that places such overt emphasis on honor, courtesy, respect, and manners fascinating. For example, the big-city large department stores have elevator attendants–all conventionally attractive young women dressed in business suit-like uniforms with pillbox hats–who literally shove waiting passengers into the elevator, packing them in as tightly as possible.
I was once on an elevator in an Odakyu store in Tokyo, and there was an elderly woman using a cane to stay upright next to me. As more and more people were shoving harder and harder into the elevator, this poor woman was being crushed. I saw the misery on her face, so I loudly said, “Stop! Stop!” and pointed at the woman being crushed.
Everyone involved, including the woman being crushed, paused, looked at me like I was a complete lunatic for a moment, and then resumed slamming into the elevator.
But in a large variety of other ways, Japanese people are paragons of politeness and hospitality.
Every place has its courtesy quirks. For example, in New York City, if you are a tourist and you get in people’s way on the sidewalk or in the subways, they’ll bowl you over and glare at you. But if you ask directions to somewhere–either on foot or via subway–you’ll collect an entire panel of local experts who will discuss the ins-and-outs of various routes in detail, and then deliver a consensus verdict.