Observations on Japanese culture - Part 6 - Manners

In the US everyone has an opinion, and is willing to share with the first Joe they meet on the street. This openness carries along to other everyday acts. If you're on a bus and two people are talking loudly, others might jump into the conversation. When you're standing in line at the coffee shop talking about where you skied last weekend, the person behind you might ask if you had a good time and how you found the snow. My neighborhood in Portland is a group of strangers who are comfortably happy sharing their feelings at the drop of a hat.

In the Japan I felt it was different, not out of coldness but out of respect. I was with a group of 5 kids, and they were boisterous and chatty on the train. Then I realized that our kids and ourselves were the only people on the train speaking in loud voices. Or even speaking at all. In fact, later I learned that being loud on the train was considered bad manners.

A a poster asking people on the train to keep their music down.

Talking on the phone in public places was strongly discouraged. All over the trains were posters asking people to switch their phones to "manners mode."

Having manners is not the same as being friendly, and it's not necessarily polite. It's more of an awareness of other people's personal space. I wanted to compare my experience with other Gaijin. This guy has a different take on manners in Japan. He takes the negative view that there are hundreds of ways to be insulted in Japan without being obviously offensive. My visit was much more brief than his, but my experience was more positive. Still, I noticed society seemed to present a culture that emphasized manners. Maybe If you're crowded on the subway, or in a country where there's not a lot of "empty" land, you cope in other ways. Maybe people who live in Japan have learned to have a way to take their privacy with them.

Here's a poster that sums up public train etiquette

The daikons are all acting badly by snoring, listening to loud music and making noise with their phones. The other vegetables are seriously disturbed by this offensive behavior.

In a similar vein, walking while eating, drinking or smoking was discouraged. I saw several signs around Tokyo that asked people to smoke in one spot.

It's funny how some of the things that are polite are completely opposite between the US and Japan. For example, in the US if you meet someone you usually smile widely, showing your teeth, and shake hands. In Japan showing your teeth can be considered impolite, and the correct way to greet someone is to bow.

Perhaps the most confusing part of being polite in Japanese society is giving gifts.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments:

Post a Comment