Respect, manners and etiquette in Japan
What is often said about our friends, the Japanese, is the incredible sens of respect they hold toward rules, manners and etiquette. They are polite, courteous, respect rules and laws, neighbors, flowers and unicorns. Indeed, Japanese society is bound by numerous rules of life, much of which are customary, and a strong community coercive power. To the traditional social coercion, gradually got added a strong institutional coercion. Family, work, emperor. The very important value in modern Japan.
First all, the Japanese language itself shows the structure of Japan’s society, along with highly codified gestures. Language levels are of crucial importance in interpersonal relationships. From childhood to work society, Japanese have to learn various degrees of politeness.
This famous code of interactions stems from the social hierarchy based on various factors, the most important obviously being socio-economic background and age, followed by geographic origin. On this last point, the victories and defeats of the historical clans that formed Japan still carry heavy consequences on relationship between Japanese. This goes far beyond the opposition between Loire and Vendée, for example. The geographical origin may result in employment discrimination.
In my opinion, I see in the Japanese respect more a respect to the system than to the individual. Japanese respect the order more than the person being addressed. A visible and striking example is the interaction between a client and a clerk, the first being treated as a king almighty, the second being invisible. Thus, it is frequent that clerk is neither greeted nor thanked.
In this highly structured society, rules impose a violent coercion holding each and every Japanese in a lower / upper interaction. What sense can we give to this respect ? What value to assign to rules that remind each individual’s social position in a hard hierarchy ?
Well beyond interpersonal relationships, daily life also fall under many principles, you will find a fairly comprehensive summary following this link, and regularly, posters and signboards remind you of them. Are Japanese always respecting them ? In reality, they are (ô surprise) human beings, and escape them if they may.
Thus, despite the bans on smoking on the street, the Japanese smoke on the street. Despite the prohibitions to park their bicycles in many places, bicycles are piling up shamelessly. Cars as well as people do not respect the red lights. Of course, at the well known huge crossovers in Shibuya or Shinjuku, pedestrians are forced to comply, unless they show suicidal tendencies. But at « human » size traffic light, Japanese will cross even if it is red. Of course, still less than French people.
Another myth to my eye, or should I say to my ear, Japanese people do not make noise in public places. This is a great news to me, as I am sitting in a noisy wagon, where voices, laughters, and music are flowing to my ears. And the streets! It’s a chaotic symphony that surprises us when we leave the residential areas. I am glad it is a myth, it would be so boring if we were deprived from the echoes of passionate Japanese conversation.
It strikes me that the waiting line is emblematic of respect for Japanese. First of all, it is a survival rules, considering how crowded is Tokyo (1000 people per kilometers). Without this rule, chaos would rule and gang of cats would dominate Kabukicho. But as a foreigner, you will see, quite quickly, that although you are waiting in line for the next subway, you might get pushed with no consideration whatsoever. Oh so shocking, but more than once it happened to me.
I continue with an issue dear to me, the garbage in the streets. Undoubtedly, Japan is the cleanest country of all, due to a strong sanitation system. But is it spotless ? Naaaah. Far from perfect (ô surprise, they are human beings !), despite the fact they are leader in recycling, Japanese industries produces a lot of packaging. It is not uncommon that they throw some in a corner … The main victims of this infamous conduct, are bikes’ baskets. Live your bicycle at night, the can Fairy will pass (plastic bag Fairy and leftover bento Fairy may also come …).
In reality, rather than list and give examples-cons, it would be easier to say this: yes, Japan lives under the influence of invasive rules in daily life, but younger generations are more and more in demand of freedom. But we must recognize to the innocent traveler, after several hours or even several dozens of hours of flight, arriving at Narita, the right to wonder over the ruling order, the cleanness and respectful greetingss . The spell is cast, Japan appears as a paradise where life seems nice, and where you are constantly smiling.