Friday, April 14, 2006

Of all the myths about Japan, the one which is so absurdly false is the idea that the Japanese are so wonderfully polite. This is not true. In general, people are polite to those they know, or are interacting with personally. To people they don't know, or to the stranger passing on the street, they are at best indifferent and at worst extraordinarily rude. The Japanese are no more or less polite than others.

I suppose I am viewing that by western standards, but even many Japanese say this. Foreign apologists don't. The worst of the lot are those who have paid a short visit, or those who worked for a year in some school, or lived some pampered expat existence in Hiroo or some other "gaikokujin ghetto" and were treated like visiting royalty. What they don't know is, that people who are not guests aren't treated so well. If you stay any length of time, you learn this, unless you are wearing blinders.

One reason people believe this, is because the Japanese government promotes it. People also become deluded into believing that since nobody openly argues or disagrees with you, that it is politeness. Well, you could look at it that way. Or, you could say that someone lying to your face in order to avoid debate and allowing you to believe that the person agrees with you or is your "buddy," is a pure form of dishonesty and rudeness. Yes, I know about the wonderful Japanese tradition of (forced) harmony, and am very familiar with the "nail that sticks up" proverb. So what? That is Japanese, and these are Japanese good manners. It is not considered good manners in other places, so if they are polite by mainly Japanese standards and not others, how can they be considered so polite?

I have written about the very common open, uncovered sneezing and coughing that goes on here. I have seen people on trains cough or sneeze right on others without apologizing. Most likely, the sneezer would not do that to a colleague, and if she did, she would apologize. Now how is that in any way good manners? How about the pushing and shoving on trains? This occurs not only on crowded trains, but even uncrowded ones. It seems that on a train in Japan, anything short of murder is OK. Well, I guess sexually molesting women is now a little more restricted on trains. You will get arrested for that. But gee, how could a man, who is a member of the most polite ethnic group in the world be so rude as to molest a female? Evil, filthy foreign influence perhaps?

Just walking down the street requires extreme patience here. People will walk right into you. This is in part because nobody watches where they are going. I am not in any way exaggerating. Most people look no further in front than the toe of their shoe or the screen of their cell phone. They will run into you and to expect an apology is usually a dream.

At other times it is simply rude carelessness. I was in Tullys this afternoon and was walking out the door. A young woman was coming in. There was nobody else in the vicinity. She walked right down the middle of the floor headed directly at me. She was not on her cell. She was looking straight ahead and should have seen me unless she were blind or stupid, or both. I thought she would move an give me some room to get by, but she kept coming right at me. I had to actually jump to the side to keep Ms. Manners-san from smashing into me. Now a stupid rude evil foreigner in a dirty foreign country would have told her to "Watch WTF you are going," or "Pull your head out of your ass." But since this is Japan, there are no immediate penalties for being an asshole.

I remember when I came to Japan with my wife to meet her parents after we were married (yes, after). We were getting off a bus and I was behind some short, fat, bald guy. For no reason that I could think of, he suddenly elbowed me in the stomach. Luckily, it didn't hurt. If it had, I might have returned the favor, but I was more shocked than angry.

Every so often, you will be banged into very hard when there is absolutely no reason. Usually, this is by short middle-aged men, whom would be pounded into a pulp for such a thing elsewhere. But as I said, this is Japan and there is no immediate penalty for boorish behavior. Unless it is by a rude, evil, nasty, impure foreign creature such as myself. A few years ago, my wife and I were at a kiosk at Kajigaya station near my home. I was looking at magazines or something on a stand near the counter, when some short gummer came by and slammed into me. There had been plenty of room and no other people around. It was either carelessness and negligence, or he was trying to be a rude prick. He achieved that. But I got some satisfaction, because as he was at the counter paying for his Viagra or whatever, I went to pay for my purchase. I don't know what happened, but I suddenly lost all control of my body---very Japanese-like---an slammed right back into grampa. He said not a word as he bounced back from his impact with the counter. Shoganai! Can't be helped. Anyway, he probably expected such inconsiderate, rude, impolite behavior from an evil foreigner.

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