Any quick search on a news page will show you that the Japanese police are not the most upstanding citizens. And Kazuo Hayashi, a 58-year-old police chief in Gunma has given us all one more article to read on this topic.
I’ll start by making it clear that I’m not saying that police in other countries are any better than police in Japan, but it does seem that the Japanese police get caught by the media a little more.
According to Japantoday (yea… I know…), the police chief showed up at the scene of a fire drunk. And if that wasn’t enough, he figured he would add some spice to the evening by shouting and verbally abusing some of the locals.
Now for most of us, a drunk police chief verbally abusing locals would seem pretty bad as it is, but for Mr. Hayashi, it just wasn’t enough.
When verbal abuse didn’t meet the sadistic needs of his evening out, he moved straight into physical abuse by slapping a subordinate.
Additionally, the news source mentions that this Gunma police chief has denied driving to the scene…
Does any one else believe this? Really?
You will have to forgive me for not taking the drunken chief at his word, but have you ever been to Gunma?
Gunma doesn’t exactly have the most elaborate public transportation system and isn’t exactly the type of place where he could just walk to the scene… But yea. The drunken violent man says he didn’t drive there… Let’s just take him at his word. (You know that his bosses will!)
And after all of this, he suffers little more than a departmental change and perhaps a little discipline…
And I’m sure the incident will be described at a later date as regrettable (that’s if it’s covered at all).
In the past year there have been countless cases of Japanese police causing trouble and harassing citizens throughout the country. And these police officers have ranged from fresh recruits to police chiefs alike…
There is so much more that I could say about the Japanese police, and so much more that I eventually will. But for now, I thought it time for a bit of an update, and this J-win story caught my eye~
Why to Japanese people answer me in English when I speak to them in Japanese?
A question that many foreign Japanese-speakers find themselves asking at one point or another.
I had been speaking Japanese outside of Japan for about a year when I first set foot in Tokyo. I landed in the country excited to exercise my language skills and headed right to the nearest JR ticket counter to ask for a map and to buy some tickets.
Prepared with my Japanese language skills and a level on confidence which was probably undeserved at the time, I walked up to the counter and made my request in full Japanese. The staff smiled, opened a drawer, and replied to me in what I can only describe as a near-embarrassing attempt at English which came out jumbled and incomprehensible…
I stood, confused.
Why… why when I spoke to her in Japanese, did she answer me in English? And in broken English at that…
I couldn’t understand what she said but didn’t want to make her feel as low as she had just made me feel, and so I put on a smile in return and nodded my head pretending to understand what she had just said to me.
This is a situation that is all-too-familiar for foreigners in Japan.
You say something to a Japanese person in Japanese, and they respond in English.
When I first got to Japan, this bothered me like crazy… It would happen at restaurants, on airplanes, while shopping, and even with friends. And especially in the beginning it felt like a punch in the stomach every single time.
I would always doubt my Japanese skill when it happened. I would wonder if my Japanese was so bad that they felt the need to push the interaction into English just to achieve an acceptable level of communication with me…
But over the years, as my Japanese language skills developed and grew in fluency, elegance, and overall pzazz, I came to realize that it was time to adjust my confidence level. It seemed that my nihongo skill level had little, if nothing, to do with it. The more I improved, the more my confidence grew. And the more my confidence in m Japanese skill grew, the more I began to understand that Some Japanese people just want to speak English. And the more I understood this point, the less I cared when it happened. In fact, it has worked itself comfortably and naturally into my life to the point where I barely notice anymore.
But that doesn’t mean it goes unnoticed by everyone. Japanese people responding to your nihongo in English can be everything from discouraging to shocking, or for some, even embarrassing or disappointing.
On numerous occasions, I have had to laugh as I hear people say things like “I have had more chances to speak Japanese in my own country then when I visited Japan. Everyone here seems to want to practice their English”
Why do I laugh? Because it’s true.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet more Japanese people in social and business situations than I can even count. And I have found that there are 4 main types of English-speaking Japanese people that you will commonly encounter:
Type A – Can’t Speak English, But Want To
This type is pretty much harmless. They are generally friendly and may simply be fascinated with foreigners or English but had little chance in their life to use or try it. At the very worst, they are the type who view gaijin as a brand, and may even go through great efforts to befriend you.
Some people will take their attempts at English as “microaggressions” (aka a mild, unintentional form of racism), but in the end, I think it holds more of a child-like curiosity tone to it. (I once went a little far with this analogy comparing it to a young child seeing a new animal for the first time, and mimicking the animals sound in the hopes of achieving communication. They might just wanna be friends! – this analogy was not well taken by some. lol)
Type B – Can Speak English, But Have No Confidence
This type, much like Type A, are relatively harmless. Chances are, unless you actually ask them, or unless someone else says something, you may not even know that they speak English. They come in all shapes and personality types, and usually had a rather specific reason for studying English in the first place (whether it was for a certain goal, or simply a strong personal interest). While still very much aware of the fact that you are a foreigner (and potentially more aware than Type A of what that really means), Type B will usually be happy as long as they can communicate with you.
Type C – Can Speak English, But Don’t Really Care
I like this type. They can speak English, but will typically carry the communication with you in whatever language you set as the precedent. More often than not, the language will jump back and forth seamlessly in conversation with them, and there is more often than not, a general feeling of equality. Type C is the truly internationally-minded type and unfortunately they are also the rarest type.
Type D – Can Speak English And Want To Show It
This is the type to watch out for. They are the ones who will blatantly ignore your Japanese and respond with English, and they are commonly a little different from the average Japanese person. These people see English as “cool” and therefore want to be seen/heard speaking it as often as possible. Unfortunately, this usually comes from a deep seeded issue with their self-esteem, and therefore it doesn’t stop with English. It is far from uncommon for these people to be disliked by fellow Japanese and foreigners alike for being condescending or generally annoying.
Note: I have purposefully left out 2 types from this list Type P, which are people like the JR staff above, who may just be doing it for the sake of “professionalism” and making things easier. and Type O, which are the elderly people who will approach you in any range of situations just to practice their English. I have left these types out, because 9 times out of 10, the person in types P or O will also overlap into one of the above 4 types.
So when it comes down to it, there is only one type that you really need to be concerned about; Type D. But even though three out of four sounds like pretty good odds, it’s still a little tough to put a population percentage statistic to each type, so it’s still up to you to identify and adjust your social filter.
I was going to add an entire section talking about what do do when a Japanese person responds to your Japanese in English, but instead, I’d really like to hear your thoughts. What do you do in that situation?
The scary part is that if you really think about it… You could apply almost every point in this to foreigners who speak Japanese….
“I’m sick and tired of being stared at by Japanese people all day, every day, everywhere I go.“, said the Australian man in his late 20′s sitting 2 tables away.
To which his friend replied, “Then go back to Australia.”
This is Japan. And if you are foreign, chances are that people are going to stare at you.
It doesn’t seem to matter that we are living in the 21st century, and that foreigners, or gaijin are no longer a rarity in Japan. People stare. And it’s probably not going to go away any time soon.
And while I would think it safe to assume that this staring at foreigners phenomenon would be more common in areas where there are less foreigners, in my experience, it has actually been quite the opposite.
While in Tokyo, I am stared at on a regular basis, I find that in the countryside, mountains, small towns, and minor fishing villages, etc.. (I… travel a lot for work) I am more or less treated… well… a little more normally.
People will make passing eye contact, nod, greet, or generally treat me the same as any other visitor. In smaller towns when someone does stare at me, I can usually expect it to be followed with some form of (attempted) conversation. Which all-in-all, if I have the time, is never a bad thing.
Some people are bothered by this. In fact, some people are seemingly overly bothered by this… to the point of starting fights or even changing seats/train cars/etc.. just to get away from it.
I was unfortunate enough to witness a North American man in his late 30′s freak out on a Japanese man on a train a few years back, just because the Japanese man was staring.
Now in his defense, the Japanese man had been staring relentlessly for about 25 minutes straight when the gaijin man, who was growing increasingly uncomfortable and irritated throughout the duration of the train ride, finally snapped.
He stood up, walked right up to the Japanese man and started yelling, “WHAT?! …SERIOUSLY?!?! WHAT DO YOU WANT?!?!…..”
I wish I had more of a story here for you, but I was somewhat embarrassed to be in the same train car at the time, and decided it might be best to switch cars.
I guess everyone has their own feelings when it comes to being stared at…
For me it has become a part of life in Japan that has seemingly faded into the background like the noisy pachinko parlors or the vending machines that sell neckties and beer. From time to time I will notice, but for the most part I don’t.
When I first came to Japan, being stared at was a point that really stood out to me (especially being stared at on a train… I felt like there was no escape), and whenever I was with Japanese friends, I would always ask the golden question:
Why do Japanese people always stare at gaijin (foreigners)?
And with the number of times I have asked that question, I find it amazing that the only seemingly legitimate answer I ever received is, “Because we can. Japanese people can’t stare at other Japanese people, but for some reason we feel that staring at a foreigner is something we can get away with.”
But I guess when it comes down to it, we have to accept that there’s nothing we can do about being stared at.
Or is there…?
While most people who notice, simply choose to ignore it or pretend that they are sleeping, some people choose to have a little more fun with it.
My old roommate J, used to make a game of it by seeing how long he could hold eye contact with people. (surprisingly, top record sits over two and a half minutes!)
A Swedish girl that works in the same building as me uses it as an opportunity to show off her magic tricks with coins, pencils, etc..
And my friend’s son (9-yrs-old) has made it routine to get into games of peek-a-boo or rock-paper-scissors with people who stare at him! (props to the minor on the creativity here lol)
But I think one of the more well known ideas comes from an artist named Arni Kristjansson.
Arni designed a (very legitimate looking) book cover which has been dubbed The Staring Book.
The Staring Book book-cover makes any book you are reading, look like a fictional book called, “日本人はなぜ外国人を見つめる？“ (Why do Japanese People Stare at Foreigners?) and has built quite a following. The cover has been featured on such sites as CNNGo, and Rocketnews24 and for anyone interested, is download-able in PDF format on Arni’s page!
Everybody has their own way of perceiving and reacting to being stared at.
And whether it drives you to the point of emotional breakdowns on the Tokyo subway system, or doesn’t faze you at all, it’s safe to say that it comes with the territory.
So if you are in Japan and hate being stared at, get a book cover, play some peek-a-boo, do a magic trick or two, or as the Australian guys friend said, go home.
Culture Shock. Two words that mean so much to so many.
While to some people, culture shock in Japan may be as simple as having difficulty adjusting to Japanese food, it can be something much more serious for others. There are countless people who come to Japan and for some reason, become bitter, or shut off. They take shots at Japanese people and culture, and confine themselves to a very minimal social circle.
I’m going to go ahead and say that I am pretty much stating the obvious with this post, but it is an obvious point that is commonly and easily overlooked by so many people who come to Japan.
I truly believe that when living in Japan (especially a place like Tokyo) it is important more than ever, to surround yourself with people who match you. Not just fellow foreigners, but Japanese people who have similar mindsets, ideas, opinions, feelings, etc…
Obvious enough yet? Keep reading~
I have been living with and around Japanese people for over a decade now. And you don’t make the conscious choice to stick with something for over 10 years if you don’t like it.
And while my life right now is more or less exactly how I would like it to be, it wasn’t always this way…
The first while of my life in Japan was stressful. I went through a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and emotions and spent years thinking,
- My personality didn’t match Japan or Japanese people
- My opinions were too strong (which still might be accurate haha)
- My ideas were unreasonable
- My words and actions were unacceptable
- My emotions were too rampant
- My clothing wasn’t fashionable enough
- My Japanese was first too casual, then too formal, then too feminine, then good to a point where people got irritated when I didn’t understand something they said
Now, I have always been the type to voice what is on my mind and I have always enjoyed talking about Japan, life in Japan, and Japanese culture. And after some time and a large number of discussions with people ranging from tourists, to even psychologists here in Japan, things started to become more clear.
There is a phenomenon behind this that the majority of people don’t pick up on.
In the country we are raised in, we spend our lives filtering our social interactions. When we are in elementary school and high school, we often go through a stressful or awkward period where we are trying to find who we are. During this period, we interact with a wider range of people. Most of these people wont match us, but some do. And these few that do, often end up becoming our social circle.
From the time we develop our social circle, we (whether consciously or not) gain a more full understanding of the type of people who match us and the type that don’t. This understanding eventually becomes our social filter and we carry it with us wherever we go in life.
But this filter is not a broad one. For the most part, it covers personality types that we have grown to know and understand in a culture that we have an embedded understanding of, and overall comfort in.
So what does all this mean?
It means that when we come to a new country (like Japan) many people, if not all people, are essentially starting over.
Most people’s social filters will take time to adjust to a new culture and new set of personality types, and most people don’t even realize that this is what happens. Especially people who come to Japan at a later age, or people who truly believe that they have a complete understanding of Japanese people and Japanese culture, tend to suffer.
In our home country, with our social filter in place, we tend to interact the most with people who we feel will match us, and filter out the rest so effortlessly that they don’t have a chance to really enter our minds or our opinions. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have gotten this down to an art form without even realizing it.
As we get older, our social filter gets a little lazy. We become less accepting and tend to generalize more (e.g. I get along well with foodies, but I don’t like bikers, etc…). And this is where the danger come in.
The majority of people move to Japan after reaching adulthood. At which point, not only is their social filter adjusted for life in Japan, but it’s also set up to generalize in very broad terms. Starting to see where the danger comes in?
And this can easily lead to a person thinking Japanese are rude, or I don’t get along with Japanese women/men, or even all Japanese people are racist.
Because of this, there are many people who either spend their time in Japan thinking that Japanese people in general aren’t for them, or even go so far as to give up on living in Japan and leave.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are just as many people who manage to adjust and quickly find a group of friends/colleagues/comrades who match themselves, and never experience this side of culture shock and the stresses that come with it.
The important thing to take away from this is that Japan is really no different from any other country. Japanese people, just like the people of any other country in the world run a wide range of personality types.
Some of these people will match you in every way, but most won’t.
The most dangerous and unfortunate thing that you can do is generalize all Japanese people into one broad category.
In the end, you are only putting undue stress on yourself and potentially creating a tainted view for yourself.
This article, is one that I will continue to update and re-write but for now I will publish it as-is. And we would all love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please toss them in below.
The title pretty much says it all. Japanese people… Tightly wound and constantly practicing enryo* and gamman* (the Japanese practices of ‘holding back’). But when the sake (or beer… or whiskey… or whatever the drink du-jour happens to be) gets flowing, it all comes undone.
I can’t count the number of times that I have seen the following happen:
End of year - bounenkai party season – all the office members make their way to an izakaya (Japanese bars) and the drinks start to flow. All fun and games at first, and then at some point in the evening a fight breaks out. There is yelling, there is screaming, and from time to time there is even a little bit of physical violence. Maybe someone gets a little too irritated with the new guy who wont shut up, or maybe Mr. Shy finally gets up the drunken nerve to tell the office cutie just what he thinks about her and her short skirts… But no matter what the situation, the example is illustrated.
And it doesn’t just stop there. Believe it or not, its not an uncommon occurrence for a Japanese man who lives away from his family to call in a drunken rage and proceed to yell at his wife blaming all his problems on her. Then, as if that isn’t quite enough, he’ll even go so far as to make her put the kids on the phone so he can share the brunt of his drunken decision with them!
And if the office and the home were where it stopped, you might not be reading this post.
But as it would seem, it seems to seep its way into the streets, parks, trains, and anywhere that these drunken time-bombs walk.
My story comes to you back from the year 2007… I was sitting on a bullet train on my way to Sendai Japan when a man who smelled of alcohol from 5 meters away decided to wobble his way over to the seat next to me and try and start up a conversation. To add to everything, he thought it would help his cause to speak English.
He slammed himself into the seat next to me and opened the conversation with “My daughter’s a b****” (which I would later find out he was mistaking for the word “whore”). My jaw hit the floor and his story began.
The next 25+ minutes (which felt close to an hour) was filled with his attempt at telling a story in English…
What was the story about? While I could barely understand a word that came out of his mouth, his message was still crystal clear: He was not happy.
My tipping point in this particular conversation was when the man started going on and on about how his daughter liked gaijin and how gaijin were destroying this country, his daughter, and his life.
Honestly… what in the world could have possibly possessed this man to think that I would be the person to talk to about this?!?!
But I just kept telling myself, ‘He’s Drunk. He’s Drunk‘ figuring that it would come to a sleepy end soon enough. But then the bomb finally went off and he spit out the line that I suppose was inevitable,
“So go back your country foreigner”.
At this point, my face kinda looked like this –> (O.o)
I was tired, he was drunk, and honestly, I just wanted to enjoy my train ride.
So, I thanked him for the conversation and stood up.
And what does he do? He grabs my arm and pulls me back down into my seat. And to this, my reaction was less than passive.
I grabbed his hand by the wrist, looked him in the eye, and asked him quite sternly not to touch me again.
He paused for a moment.
And then… something mysterious happened…
He reached for his bag… and as if pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he pulls out a bottle of Japanese alcohol.
He holds it in front of me and with an almost mischievous grin on his face, says, “let’s drinking!”
What would you do?
I have never really been one to turn down interesting opportunities or situations in my life, and so I accepted.
As the time passed and the contents of the bottle depleted, the tension that once filled the air dissipated and the man who once seemed my enemy was now seeming much more like my friend.
We drank and talked (or at least tried to talk) for over a good hour. We showed pictures of our loved ones, talked about the good and bad of Japan, shared life stories and laughs, and even exchanged business cards. And in the end it came to a close just as I had originally predicted… He fell asleep. And that was it. I got off at my stop with another story in my pocket, and a difficulty walking a straight line.
He didn’t really want to fight. They very rarely do.
And so we wrap up yet another rant. Hopefully a little wiser, or at the very least, feeling slightly entertained.
After speaking to friends, colleagues, and random Japan-lovers about this, I found that many people have their own unique and interesting stories in this area, so I invite you to share!!
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.
Tokyo Metro Poster - Japanese Spatial Awareness
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.
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!