The Mask You Show Others

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We visited the mountain Hiei where there are many Buddhist temples that have been around for hundreds of years, or at least are remakes of some that have burned down over the ages in some cases. Having spent a good amount of time in Kyoto and in the mindset of culture after that trip, I want to talk a bit about the people.

There are many perceptions about Japan that have borne out in my stay here, such as the politeness, the orderliness and the timeliness. Store workers are always quick to call out to you when you enter a store and always use polite speech when talking to you, I rarely hear people honking on the streets or making a scene on the sidewalk and the trains buses are always very punctual. That last point is so true, and Japan is integrated so well with Google Maps, that you can literally see the train times and it’ll tell you when you need to leave where you are to make the train rather than telling you to leave now and catch the next train.

These things are all true, however there are nuances that don’t always come across. Store workers are always polite and use the polite form of speech, but this is an expectation to the point that even if a customer is rude or causing problems, they could get in trouble for being impolite even with valid reason to not be. The streets and foot traffic go smoothly and the trains are always on time, but it’s basically expected that you don’t talk or be loud while out and about to not disturb those around you. While this is a great sentiment, which makes plenty of sense on the train since it’s a cramped space, this also means you’ll get stares of disapproval from those around you even if you’re holding a reasonable voice level conversation. This can feel particularly lonely and frequently makes me wonder where exactly is okay to socialize besides bars or over food.

In the end, these are minor gripes and make sense. I think my issue is more with the expectation of isolation that these social norms encourage, since it makes it really hard to just go out and make friends. That being said, I’m just a visitor here, and there are plenty of good points as well, such as being able to ask and expect some level of help if you’re lost, and the accommodating nature of Japan means many places have English menus or maybe a staff member that knows some that can help when issues arise.

The moral here is this: Be respectful and don’t take advantage. Especially in stores, people are just doing there jobs like anywhere else in the world. Being the a boisterous American may not get you into trouble, but it’s a major inconvenience if you’re unaware of how you’re affecting those around you. I haven’t seen this be an issue too often, but it happens.