Pushy Japanese Oba-sans
We have all seen it at one point or another. You are getting on (or off) of a train, and a woman ranging from anywhere between her mid forty’s to her sixties, shoves by every single person just to get on the train and sit down.
These older women (or Oba-sans) can seem sweet and harmless, but it is there that the danger lies. Japanese people are known for being passive. They typically don’t show emotion, and they are more likely to walk away from any form of confrontation than to get into an argument, spat, or power struggle (especially in public).
These women have lived in this culture their entire lives and know this. And exploit it.
They are more than well aware that nobody is going to fight them. After all… it’s Japan… and … they’re women.
In fact, shortly after first arriving in Japan I was at a supermarket shopping for my dinner. I was young, working freelance, and pinching every penny that I could, so I always waited until around 7pm when the local supermarket discounted the meat! As I arrived in the meat section, I noticed that there was only one package of meat left and that it had been discounted by 50%!! I picked it up and went to put it in my shopping basket as I looked forward to the dinner that would follow, but magically, it never made it to the basket…
I got my first real taste of culture shock on this day as a Japanese woman well into her 40′s pulled the pack of meat right out from my hand and put it in her cart. Without so much as a look, she simply walked away. It was as if nothing happened…
Still in shock, I purchased the contents of my shopping basket and went home to eat a meat-less dinner.
But what happens when someone protests? What happens when someone finally stands up and says “Hey lady! I’m not gonna take that S#@&!” ? What happens when somebody shoves back??
Well… that’s where this post truly begins.
It all started with a seemingly quiet trip to Ikebukuro, a large and somewhat crowded shopping area in Tokyo, on a Saturday morning. I boarded the Yamanote line and managed to get myself a seat near the door. All was well and good until us Ikebukuro-b0und commuters went to get off the train….
As the doors opened, people waited to either side to allow for those exiting the train to do so with at least some ease. With the exception of just one woman. She was in her 50′s and had that crazy look in her eyes!
As people poured out of the train, she did everything she could to fight her way in. Looking like a salmon pushing its way upstream, she shoved past a man who was clearly having a bad day, and that’s when the unimaginable happened.
He shoved back.
It was a gentle shove, barely carrying the scent of frustration and even more barely noticeable to those not looking directly at the two, but what followed was something that will remain in my memory for years to come.
It started with a noise. A noise which at first resembled a grunt but quickly turned into a full and terrifying scream. Followed by what can only be described as nearly-profane language and a quick swing of her purse to the side of his head…
Everyone around stopped. Stunned. None of us could believe what just transpired. But more amazing was the fact that in the brief moment that it took us to recover, this woman had managed to get herself a seat. And not just any seat… my seat, right by the door. A cold shiver went down my spine and the train was gone. The moment had passed and would be remembered by all.
Now… It’s not every day that we get to see such incredible events in the gentle land of Japan, but its for exactly that reason that when they happen, they stand out.
The most dangerous part of it, is that you never know when its coming. Something as small as a sneeze could end up having you harassed by one of these Japanese middle-aged women, or even end up having you dragged to the police box (which if you read the post about what happened when I turned in a wallet, you will realize that as a foreigner, you don’t want to go to a police box for any reason other than perhaps asking directions)
After a quick search on youtube, I was able to find this video of middle-aged Japanese woman who was quite upset at an elderly woman simply for sneezing on her jacket:
I think one of the most common points that comes up when talking to Japanese friends about Japanese culture, is this point about pushy middle-aged Japanese women.
As I write this section, I am sitting in a JAL lounge in Narita Airport and right in front of me there is a Japanese woman in her early 60′s who just pushed her way to the front of the snack counter, and is currently filling her purse with “complimentary” snacks.
Now… I could spend another 500+ words talking about how this pattern could possibly relate to a Japanese female “mid-life crisis”, or how it could be a release or overcompensation for a lifetime of ‘gamman‘ (the Japanese practice of holding back or self control), or even how it could potentially be a back-lash from decades of taking crap…
I could get more into this… But I won’t!
Instead, I am going to open up the floor to all of you~
If you have a story or two, share them in the comments section below!!