Commuters’ tolerance tested in face of declining public manners

June 22nd, 2012By Category: Culture

Spa! (Jun 19)

On May 21, the Shibuya Fukutoshin subway station was the scene of a knife assault. When the perpetrator was arrested two days later, he reportedly told police he had lost his temper after the man “had bumped into him.”

Spa! (June 19) uses this incident to consider the many ways in which rail passengers show lack of consideration toward their peers. A survey of 200 adults found that 133 said raucous conversations were the most objectionable — voiced by two thirds of all respondents. This was followed (with multiple replies given) by poor manners when boarding and disembarking (129); inconsiderate sitting posture (128); noise emanating from headphones (116); anything involving inebriation (104); conversing on cell phones (98); eating and drinking on the trains (90); perfume or other strong odor (82); reading, use of cell phones, playing games or other activity that intrude on others’ space (81); and females putting on their makeup (71).

Some elderly passengers have been known to burst out, loudly ranting at the source of their annoyance.

“One old man exclaimed, ‘Today’s young people are too self-centered! Don’t you have any consideration for the elderly?’ relates an eyewitness to one particular incident. “But after that, he pulled out his cell phone and began talking in a loud voice and his conversation lasted for quite a while.

“I thought about saying to him, ‘Before you complain about other people, you ought to consider your own lack of manners!’ but decided it was more trouble than it was worth.”

On another note, it seems cars limited to females only have not entirely solved the groping problem.

“Once on my way home I got groped by a woman around age 50. Since I’m a woman, it didn’t bother me that much, but her hands were definitely roaming over my hips and thighs.

“Once on my way home I got groped by a woman around age 50. Since I’m a woman, it didn’t bother me that much, but her hands were definitely roaming over my hips and thighs. ‘Can this really be happening?’ I said to myself, but felt resigned that there was nothing to do about it. But I realized that the women’s only car is not entirely safe either.”

The task of attempting to bring order to the chaos falls mainly on station personnel. According to a survey by the association of private railways, reported cases of violence against station attendants leaped from 183 in 2007 to 236 the following year. Of the 229 incidents in 2011, alcohol was a contributing factor in 75%.

“There have been cases where the police had to be called in and a train was delayed by up to 15 minutes,” says a source at a railway company. “It’s troublesome to announce the cause of the delay to the passengers. What do we tell them? ‘The delay is due to passenger difficulties?’ Frankly, I don’t want to have to say it was a passenger’s fault.”

“Whenever we have to scrape off vomit, it’s almost never the person who regurgitated who informs us,” says another source. “But the mess has got to be cleaned up right away; otherwise it becomes encrusted on the floor.

“You don’t have to apologize to us,” he appeals to Spa! readers, “but if you vomit, please let us know right away.”

In a separate sidebar, Spa! also gave some offenders equal time, inviting them to give excuses for their inappropriate behavior. Like the men who openly leer at nude photos and other risqué contents of male-oriented printed matter.

“Well they sell ‘em at the stations,” retorts a 44-year-old man who peruses such publications. “Some women may be turned off by it, but their illusions toward men are overdone. To me, people who are overly self-conscious about such things are even more unpleasant.”

Ichiro Tanaka, who operates a site called Densha Tsukinshi (Train Commuting Warriors) is asked what he advises to those who encounter potentially aggressive trouble makers.

“Just apologize to them,” he says, quoting an old expression that goes “Kunshi aya uki ni chika yorazu” (a wise person never courts danger).

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • Me San says:

    Interesting article. What I don`t like is the apologetic tone of everyone who was quoted, though I know this is the `Japanese way.` As a train-related employee, I understand a certain level of restraint and customer service, but as a customer riding on the train or making my way thru a station, there is no possible way I would ever hang my head lowly and apologize for toward someone else’s obnoxious or rude behavior.

    Honestly, nobody ever displays perfect public behavior and manners throughout their entire life. One`s considered rude to one person, is a non-issue to the next. It`s dependent upon each individuals social code, and it`s a wide margin for error. For me, I think it`s silly that a girl will put her make-up on while riding the train, but it doesn`t bother me enough to call it rude. Perhaps to someone else, it`s the end of the world. Even as wild of an example as I can think of, if I saw someone laying across the rain seats – I could see that as being rude. But maybe the two stops before I got on there wasn`t anyone there, so that`s why the person laid down. But as long as when someone who asks if they can have a seat sparks the person to sit up and perhaps offer a short and sweet `sorry`, is it that much of a foul against humanity?

    I`ve watched people cutting heir finger nails on the train, with the remnants flying all over the floor and seat. Seen people run into others very hard in their attempt to get on or off the train. People touching people. Bluntly telling someone else to shut up. The list goes on and on. I think that most Japanese who behave in this manner do it simply because they expect the other person will `back down`, look away scared and cower in the corner – or walk away. And typically, that`s the reaction I witness when these encounters occur. It`s more rare to see someone actually reply back in the same aggressive manner, but when they draw the line in the sand to say `screw you`, I never see much bravado thrust forth after that.

    Being an American and having a different perspective on personal space and the whole `bumping into people` phenomenon` that plagues Japan – my attitude and view is to keep to myself and try to be as invisible as possible. I`ve offered my seat to an elderly person from time to time. I`ve turned down my iPod volume if I thought it was peeking out from my headphones. I`ve moved and twisted to be polite and not bump people. But there does come a time where you can`t be a doormat for everyone, or try to accommodate every last person who`s standing in line to gripe about every last thing you do. I`m polite, but assertive.

    If I`m walking down the street and coming my way are 4-5 people walking hand in hand, and they don`t have enough sense to see that they are taking up the entire sidewalk and have no intension of offering me some clear space of my own, then I will walk right into them, push my way thru so they can see that I am not being polite about it. And if they stop or glare at me or say something, I am more than happy to reply back to them to get out of the way. Same on a train when the publicly accepted way to exit a crowded train is to herd out and push like cattle or an ant colony. I see people riding bicycles and can`t move out of the way for foot traffic. People on scooters and motorcycles who ride in between lanes if traffic or cut to the shoulder to stop at the front of the lane at a red light. People groping others on a train. If everyone hear continues to just turn a blind eye toward it, then it will continue on and on.

    I applaud the man who was arrested for the Shibuya stabbing. Finally, one knife-weilding Japanese person who is a hero to so many of us.