Common Courtesy and Politeness in Japan

P1210155
Hondori Shopping Area in Hiroshima.

I recently went to Miyajima to get out of my apartment and take advantage of the gorgeous weather. Going there alone and being a foreigner, I continuously became the photographer for many travelling families, couples and individuals. I’ve no problem with being asked to take pictures. But what I do have a problem with is a lack of respect and politeness. About sixty percent of those that asked said “Thank you” or something similar. Yet the remaining forty percent merely took their camera back and fucked off. Did they forget? Was it something I said? Or were they “just a bunch of fucking bastards”? My conclusion was the latter.

I’m a stickler for politeness and common courtesy. And while I’ve certainly slipped up my fair share of times, I’ve still made sure to say “thank you”, “sorry” and “please”. My parents are to blame for my strict compliance to the norms of social etiquette. My mother in particular, instituted a stringent regime all the way until my fifteenth birthday, and I think I’m a better person for it. I still curse like a Yorkshireman, but only when understanding the atmosphere, for instance; a football match or with friends. Yet my friends, Japanese teachers, and previous bosses have often commented on my civility, stating that I’m almost too nice. But the fact of the matter is that deep down, I’m a bit of grump and an unfair judge of character, another nod to me being British. But don’t tell anyone.

Living in Japan, arguably one of the most polite countries in the world, manners and courtesy are an integral part to its history, culture, politics, and social framework. When it comes down to it, Japanese society is very different from that of America and Britain. While America and Britain have increasingly become infatuated by the strength of the “individual” and the social freedoms that come with that, Japan chooses not to flaunt those freedoms to a similar degree. Instead it’s a society that takes pride in acting appropriately and fitting into its surroundings, unless alcohol is involved. I’ve witnessed my fair share of hushed muttering and unnerving glares from morning commuters towards obnoxious or immature individuals. It’s clear that respect and integrity are key principles to life in Japan, and they should for other countries too.

The notion was brought up in a recent conversation with a Japanese teacher. She was complaining about a group of noisy Americans on the train from Iwakuni, where the Marine Corps Air Station Base is located. I’ve had my fair share of frustrations and tension with a number of Marines at various restaurants and clubs, probably not a smart move. Consequently, my teacher asked me about Britain and whether this sort of ignorance was the same over there. I responded that “it depends on the situation, and where.” Coming back on the train after a football match is it’s own unpredictable experience, but in the quiet hamlets of Yorkshire there’s a genuine sense of geniality. But after the recent pursuit of Brexit, the social climate of Britain seems to be a tenuous one, so I’m not a hundred percent sure at this time.

Funnily enough when talking with Japanese people, I get the impression they believe us Brits to be much more considerate and well-behaved than other nationalities, especially the Chinese. I went to Koya-san last year in October, and had a friendly, short conversation with an English-speaking, volunteer guide. She asked if I needed her services which I politely said “Thank you for the offer, but I think I can manage. Have a nice day.” An instant smile came over her face, and she immediately responded with “You must be British. British people are always so nice”. I laughed and said “I’m sure that’s not the case”.

In our temperamental society where we’d rather stare at screens than have real conversations, it’s refreshing to be regarded with decency. When I offer my seat for a mother with kids or when I go to a doctor’s clinic, there’s a level of respect and gratitude that isn’t commonly present in western hospitality, especially back home. While it may be superficial at times (my experience in the retail industry), it’s still pleasant to be treated like an individual rather than a nuisance. Japan clearly deems politeness and consideration with incredibly high-regard and that’s why it’s garnered its reputation as being one of the most polite countries. I wish some of us Brits and other nationalities would take some of this onboard. However while I may create an image of Japan being a nation of benevolence and purity, it’s very conformity to it’s ideals of social behaviour is one that has proven to be a frustration to both foreigners and Japanese citizens. But I’ll discuss that another day.

Advertisements

The Summer Holiday Blues

P1210586

With the Summer Holiday’s in full swing, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated and restless. I’m only managing to sleep about 4/5 hours on a “good day”, but I don’t necessarily feel tired. I just feel unmotivated and rather glum. A month ago, you would have heard me saying “Why can’t the summer holidays start sooner?”. But now, dare I say it, I want to go back to work.

Back when I was a kid, the summer holidays were the best. Meeting up with friends, going on family vacations and not having a care about the encroaching school term. But now that I live on the opposite side of the world and have entered “adulthood”, the notion of “wasted time” is becoming more of an anxiety of mine. It may seem shallow for my young self to complain about the luxury of having a month holiday, but I’d guarantee that if you were in the same situation; in 35°C heat, without a car and with all you friends still working, you’d probably feel the same. Mind you, this Summer hasn’t entirely been boring. Back in mid-July, I successfully climbed Mt. Fuji with a couple of friends, and two weeks ago my girlfriend and I drove to Tsunoshima for a day trip. In the eyes of many people, that would seem like a pretty eventful holiday. But with this amount of time off, I feel that I should be doing more.

Currently, there’s a lot going on in my head. From the important; my finances and my future, to the laughably trivial; what to cook for dinner, these have become my “daily worries”. But understand this, I’m a guy that tends to fret and contemplate over everything. I rarely back my choices a hundred percent, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Well there’s no use just sitting there doing nothing”, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m also not an individual who would comfortably spend an entire week stuck in his apartment. Back at university it was so simple; either go to the pub with my friends, go watch a film at the cinema or play video games. Yet here in Japan, it’s a bit more difficult to deal with. It’s not culture shock, it’s not that I miss a can of Heinz Baked Beans (which I do) and it’s certainly not that I miss what’s going on it Britain, except for my family.

I like to travel, see and do things either alone or with friends. Whether that be hiking in the mountains or visiting historical buildings, I like to do stuff. My mother suggested I get a part-time job, or maybe do some tutoring (which I did last year) but I’m hesitant to do so. I’ve recently tried to follow an indoor exercise regime to lose some weight and build some muscle. While it hasn’t proved to be successful in reducing the kilos, I certainly feel more fitter. I used to jog when I got frustrated, but with temperatures reaching the mid 30s in Japan, I’m afraid my brain would melt and pour from my ears. I’m currently sat in my apartment at a temperature of 26°C, while outside its about 34°C. As a Brit, anything above 20°C is deemed too hot, and necessitates t-shirts to be removed in public, not the case in Japan though.

Photography has provided an outlet, and so too has this blog. Like I said in my previous blog post, taking pictures has been genuinely satisfying, and writing about my thoughts and getting them out there has provided something of a mental workout. My girlfriend has been a saving grace, but with her own turmoils and pressures to deal with, I feel guilty when complaining about my insignificant issues. It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’m going on holiday with her in late August, which seems miles away. We’re off to Ishigaki, Okinawa which will be pretty awesome. Let’s just hope that the weather will stay like it has been.

So is this just seasonal depression? Or the heat? Or is it just a symptom of being a miserable Brit? Well who knows, but I hope the rest of my summer vacation, and yours, will be relaxing and eventful.

How do you guys deal with this sort of lull?

This Blog

I’m a Yorkshireman who recently turned twenty-five. I love to swear and I love to criticise everything. One of my Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs), astonished me by using the term “cynical” when jokingly referring to my constant use of the word “but”. I laughed and said “You’ve hit the nail on the head!”, she laughed too but didn’t get the idiom.

Yes, I live in Japan. I’ve been here for two and a half years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). It might not be as exotic as Cambodia or Venezuela, but I enjoy it. While I never expected to see myself standing in front of 35 students drilling pointless English grammar or explaining the “politics” of Brexit, it’s been a challenging yet entertaining experience.

Anyway, I’ve started this blog to collect my thoughts, critiques and photographs of both my life in Japan and life in general.  It’s also something to do during my lengthy “夏休み” (summer vacation). To any normal office-worker, salary-man or service employee, the thought of having a month long holiday is a dream come true. Yet over my years of working and living in Japan, it’s become an increasingly frustrating time in which boredom quickly sinks in. So why not?