Japanese People and Spatial Awareness
I’ll start by admitting that the name for this post technically should read “Japanese People and Their Complete and Absolute Lack of Spatial Awareness”.
And if Japan (especially Tokyo) were a place filled with wide open spaces and plenty of room to frolic, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. Yet alas, it is not.
And by this point, you probably already have a fairly good idea of what this post is about, so I’ll jump right into it…
Two Words: Excuse Me (or sumimasen in Japanese … technically.. one word in this case).
The words you will very rarely hear and soon give up on saying when walking the streets, train stations, hallways, or even bathrooms of Japan’s ever-so-crowded Tokyo.
I challenge you. Each and every one of you here in the city of Tokyo to go out for a day and take a count at the number of people who bump into you, or would bump into you if you didn’t make a point of getting out of their way.
Heck, if you want a real spatial awareness in Japan challenge, try running around the imperial palace in Tokyo!
Or at the very least, take some time to sit down almost anywhere in the core of the city and watch the number of people who bump into each other.
And while on one hand, Japanese people’s complete and utter lack of spatial awareness seems to fade into the background and become something that you may not even take not of, on the other hand it can really get on your nerves after a while. When I first came to Japan, I thought for sure that this was something that I was either imagining or something that I would get used to with time. Most Japanese people don’t even seem to notice.
I have seen cameras and cellphones broken, elderly people knocked down, and children hit in the face on more occasions that I can count. It’s downright dangerous.
In fact the other day I was talking to one of my Japanese friends, and while talking to me he backed right into some poor old woman and nearly knocked her over.
The problem is so tied into the Japanese lifestyle (at least in Tokyo), that major train lines such as Tokyo Metro, even put up posters reminding people to be a little more careful.
This particular poster (above), comes from a fairly common issue of people with rolling bags. If you have ever been to Tokyo station, you will be able to relate to this pretty easily.
One of my personal favorite examples of this lack of spatial awareness has always been the people who stand beside the seats on the train. Whether it be their arm, their jacket, their back, or simply their a$$, they are usually hitting the person sitting on the corner seat, in the head with something…
On account of all of this, trains can be a pretty unsafe place if you really think about it.
More often than not I stop to think about how difficult, not to mention outright dangerous it must be for pregnant women to simply go out or even get on a train…
I originally believed that living in a place surrounded with people at all times would heighten one’s spatial awareness and strengthen the use of their peripheral vision and the senses that they use to monitor their surroundings… But Nope.
Now, I’m not going to go into this big long post about cultural and psychological elements that factor into this (although I do possess both the necessary knowledge and linguistic capabilities to do so…), but rather open up the floor to you, the readers to give me your thoughts, opinions and experiences on this.
Or… I’ll go ahead and do an..
Ok, so I decided to do what I should have done in the first place, and actually looked online for peoples thoughts on this. And of course, with absolute minimal searching I manage to find several forums with people posting and ranting about just this issue~
You can find a few of them here:
In addition to this, I was able to find a video that got me laughing pretty good.
It’s worth watching clear through till the end (the last 2 are probably the best)
But the video really got me thinking…
A video like this shows a perfect and quite interesting point: There IS a lighter side to everything that bothers us. (^-^)
In this case, the lighter side is that people can be used to conduct a modern-day pavlov’s dog experiment with surprisingly definitive results!
But this video also brings up a point that I have thought to be true for quite some time. It’s not so much that Japanese people have a lack of spatial awareness as it is that Japanese people (primarily in Tokyo) just don’t care anymore.
Have you ever tried to apologize every time you bump into someone, step on someones foot, lightly knock someones bag, etc…? When I first came to Japan, I did! For about a week…
And by the end of that week, I started to think of how incredibly senseless it was to apologize for everything.
In anticipation of updating this post, I searched through my things this morning and pulled out my old journal…
In the last 3 days of my apologetic week, I had roughly kept track of how many times I apologized per day… and it was… well, a lot.
And this got me to thinking,
Let’s say on average, each person in Tokyo, bumps into people or makes accidental physical contact a minimum of 5-10 times a day.
And now, let’s imagine that each and every one of these people apologizes for this each and every time…
Can you imagine how noisy this would get?! Or how tired you would get of hearing and making apologies?!?
And so… we give up. We stop apologizing.
In fact, most of us gaijin gave up on this in the first month (if not the first week).
But I think that the difference lies in one point: Most of us… still care.
Most foreigners I know, will go out of their way to make sure that they don’t bump into people, or take up too much space on a train seat.
But you get people who have lived in Tokyo since birth, and bumping into people becomes a part of daily life. They become desensitized, and bumping becomes much more than just bumping…
In fact, a few of the other gaijin I have spoken to, say that they make a very clear effort not to bump into anyone, simply so they don’t end up in a koban with a Japanese person claiming the foreigner hurt them..
I could honestly sit here and keep writing about this for pages and pages, but more than anything, I would love to get your thoughts on this. So please take the time to drop in a comment below!