Sundry Charges

The view from Jougaseki near Ito. This is a popular suicide location.
My guide refused to come back at night (when the ghosts are said to roam).


The learning and knowledge that we have, is, at the most, but little compared with that of which we are ignorant.
Plato


As an outsider it is always interesting to note differences in the way people conduct themselves. Here are some interesting points of things that I have not seen either in Canada or Hong Kong:

Tobacco addicts ('smokers') are completely inconsiderate of any non-smokers. Many NEED their dose ('fix'), and will take it pretty well anytime and anywhere. It is really peculiar seeing somebody both exercising (jogging/biking/etc) and smoking at the same time. But, such is commonplace here. Pretty well most of the big-wigs here are quite hopelessly addicted, so designated smoking areas are available in many places, and there are no laws that seem to be in force to reduce the filth. Unmistakably, they are a nation of 'dirty smokers': There has been no attempt to show 'sophistication' by it (as many Europeans have tried to do). There seems to be no etiquette at all. In fact, once when I was walking along, I noticed an entire block cordoned off. Apparently it was just a suspected (natural) gas leak.

There are really wide (about 3m) sidewalks in many major metropolitan areas. This translates into extra temporary parking space for bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks alike. Although, it is unusual to see a motorcycle or car being driven (even for a short while) on a sidewalk, it is actually a rather clever idea: It provides for temporary vehicle parking (like deliveries), without obstructing the normal flow of traffic too much. I have never seen or heard of anyone being 'run over' through this system either--so it appears safe.

When they are on patrol, police in their cars go about their duty with the lights flashing. They use the siren to 'mean business' --unusual considering all the hard of hearing here.

The ambulance drivers use some loudspeaker to ask other vehicles to move out of the way. This is another nice idea. Unfortunately, I can see problems for this to work as well in Canada --some hard-line Quebecois would likely purposely obstruct the ambulance until the request was made in Quebequios. But at least in a country as homogeneous (99% or more) as Japan, it seems to work nicely.

All the underground garrages have some sort of exiting vehicle indicator. Normally lights will flash and a buzzer will sound. Quite startling at first.

Those who cough and sneeze, seldom cover their mouths. A "bless you", or "gesundheit" or even "excuse me" never follows. They have other superstitious rites to perform.

Flatulence is typically completely ignored.

Especially in Tokyo, everything is done indirectly. At least that is the idea. Apparently when the direct approach is used, it implies some sort of 'hostility'. Seems to me like a nation of very sensitive back-stabbers. But, to them, it is business as usual. Basically the unwritten rule to complain about somebody, you must not interact with them directly, rather you must complain to their supervisors. Then it is up to the supervisor to take any corrective action.

Another interesting thing is the 'required' respect. Apparently age is considered as the standard by which all respect is judged. Well, at least to a point --because the aged seem to be respected only so long as they are useful. I was brought up and taught the principal of 'respect is earned'. Sometimes at odds with the locals who feel it should be automatically imbued (no matter how they behave).

Although age is supposed to get you instant respect, it only works to a point. After reaching a more elderly category of age, the amount of instant respect dramatically plummets. It is like if you cannot work, you are no good. Sadly, many of the 'homeless' fall into this category.

Most businesses have manuals prescribing every detail of what is expected of the incumbent. This includes, of course, how to mechanistically deal with every and any instance of customer interaction. So, when here, if you get the impression you are dealing with a 'robot', you are. But don't panic, it is completely normal. After work, they become slightly more human. As an interesting footnote: Even the Japanese are tiring of this sort of thing.

When dogs are walked, it is typically on a leash. Typically small dogs are more popular. Most of the owners are 'quick-draw McGraw' types with newspapers: As soon as the pooch starts squatting, the owner places the paper underneath to catch the mess. Afterwards, the feces are bagged, and disposed of in some trash container --if one can be found.

Cellular phone usage when riding any public transportation service is frowned upon. There are constant reminders given in Japanese. And many reminders posted near the doors of the coaches. The only exception seems to be e-mail. The use of phones in e-mail correspondence is really popular in Japan. Many people walk and ride whilst feverishly reading or entering in messages. So much so that, if you are surrounded by about 5 doing this simultaneously, it will sound like a rain storm.

Cellular phone usage when manoeuvring any vehicle (car, motorcycle, scooter, etc) appears to be a summary offence here. It apparently does not matter if you have hands-free or not.

Public urination in is surprisingly commonplace. Especially at night. I have not seen this in the countryside, so it must be some practise specific to Tokyo (the only place that I have noticed it). At least public WCs are accessible and present. Surprisingly more so than dustbins. And, although there are small bins for 'cancer-stick' disposal, they are seldom used. Convenience in refuse disposal is as close as the pavement for many Japanese.

One of the most mystifying bits of watching Japanese television is the way subtitles and dubbing are applied. The quantity does not bother me (sometimes you can have question, answer, and comment --and even the name and title of the speaker-- on the same screen). But the consistency does wander. There is no rhyme nor reason to the application of dubbing or subtitling. Sometimes there is dubbing. Sometimes there is subtitling. Sometimes both. Sometimes it will change during the course of the programme. And these are typically huge networks. My theory on this is that sub-titles (for foreign speakers) are used when they are more confident of their translation. Even the low-budget (schools, community television) stations in Canada have more consistency.

Most Japanese endlessly strive to achieve a tacit understanding (called "ishindenshin" [possibly translated as 'according to the heart; conveyed by the heart']) with everyone else in their particular group. This is one of those underlying cultural concepts that is heavily endorsed. Although it seems responsible for the relative harmony in the society, and the willingness to work together to achieve a common goal, it also tends to retard or deprive the Japanese of individualism (highly frowned upon, as already mentioned).

Due to the cost and complexity of legal matters (in terms of both time and money), the Japanese are urged to settle disputes among themselves. I don't know how well it works out for those who do settle among themselves, but it does seem to help assure that only the wealthy or desperate seek out lawyers.

In recent years, a 'special category' of otaku has emerged: The kuroi [black]. These are typically rather introverted people who find it easy to fly into a fit when things do not go precisely as they want them to. Perhaps the logical extension (exaggeration) of the 'control freak' class in the West. They are also noted for muttering to themselves and seem to shun most social contact. Some may use a more 'polite' general term of 'kuroto' meaning professional.