This is a sweeping generalization I know, but as a race the Japanese are usually very reserved. They don’t like to speak out in public, or in any way draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Coming from Britain I can easily understand this mindset, and don’t really have any problems with it.
But what I can’t understand is behaviour that contradicts this, yet at the same time is accepted (or at least ignored). I’ve lost count of the number of things I’ve seen people doing on the train, which I (as an equally reserved Englishman) would never dream of doing in public. Simply for the fear of being openly ridiculed. Or at the very least stared at.
Here are a few of the things I’ve witnessed on the train.
1. Commuters cutting their nails.
2. Bizarre and elaborate stretching exercises.
3. A man cleaning out his ears with a cotton bud.
4. Women (and occasionally men) putting make-up on.
5. Salary men openly reading pornography.
And my personal favourite (which unfortunately I didn’t see, but was informed about through a frantically typed text message), was a woman shaving another woman’s forehead and eyebrows on the station platform. I kid you not.
The thing is, how can these people not be even slightly embarrassed performing such activities on a busy train (or platform)? Especially in overly self conscious Japan. And how come nobody stares, or looks on in disbelief? Yet when I get on the train, countless people stare just because I’ve got brown hair, a tall nose, and blue eyes.
That can’t be right. Can it?
I always thought it was two factors intersecting: First, Japanese have only had Christianity and its requirement of personal modesty for a short while, historically. Second, it’s a densely populated country. Real privacy is rare, so you develop mental privacy, where you see what others are doing and ignore them.
As for you, everyone knows gaijin are ugly and smell funny. I’m kidding! You smell fine.
That’s a really good point, about Christianity and privacy that is, and not my personal hygiene!
The Japanese attitude to religion is fascinating. For most people, “relaxed” would be a fitting description. It’s common for people to be taken to a shinto shrine after birth, have a christian wedding when they get hitched, and have a buddhist funeral to finsish things off.
ah, the anonymity of the crowd. I don’t know much about the Japanese – but I think behaviours alter according to the situation.
There was a great trick performed by magician Derren Brown last year where he used subliminal messages to make the shoppers in a mall all raise one arm. Maybe you can practice with something like “give me money”!?
Go to: http://www.derrenbrown.co.uk/biography.asp
That would be very nice. But perhaps I should start of with a more simple “please don’t stare” kind of stunt. If that worked, I could then move swiftly on to acquiring money!