Thursday 14 October 2010

Turning Japanese

I had always thought the Japanese were a quiet, reserved people; fanatically traditional and presumably easily offended by my crude western ways. It's not exactly true.

They drink like pufferfish. When the cherry trees blossom in spring, they throw hanami parties and get shamelessly shitfaced under their boughs. They drink and frolic wildly in public for days on end. In order to facilitate this endless boozing, they even have vending machines that sell beer and sake. On my last night, we went to a bar that sells Suntori whisky by the hour rather than the glass or bottle.

My stereotype wasn't exactly inaccurate, rather it mistook those qualities for another, and one that the Japanese have, and exhibit, in abundance. Politeness. Whenever you walk in a shop or restaurant, you are greeted by a hail of salutations from the staff. No one would dare use their mobile phone on public transport. They play this message on the airport bus;
Passengers are reminded that portable telephones should not be used on the bus as they annoy the neighbours
Beautifully put, but that's for the benefit of the gaijin, not the locals. They wouldn't dare.

They keep to the left when they walk, like when they drive. And they drive surprisingly considerately for a big city. Not a bit like like Seoul, where the drivers are rude, impatient and charmless. Coming into this culture of consideration and good manners from America was a greater shock than any sense of foreignness or alienation one is supposed to feel when arriving in Japan for the first time.

The Japanese seem acutely aware of the people around them, and take great care not to encroach upon their freedom and dignity. You can get by with just two expressions in their language: arigato gozaimas (thank you very much) and sumimasen (excuse me), supplemented with lots of smiling and bowing. So long as you can bow and stay on your feet after three hours of Suntori, that is.

I think it might catch on.

No comments:

Post a Comment