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Andrea Harner
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December 8, 2008

Japanese commuters told to be courteous as standards fall, Telegraph


Five years ago, it would have been unthinkable for passengers on Japan's crowded trains to witness a female office worker applying make-up on her way to work. But now, grooming in public is commonplace. For some, such behaviour reflects the fact that the politeness and courtesy that was a trademark of Japanese society are fading fast.

Standards are falling so rapidly that Japan Railways has just launched a poster campaign urging women to "Please do it at home" – put their make-up on, that is.

"I would have to say that levels of inconsideration have accelerated in the last five years or so," said Toshiko Marks, a professor of multicultural understanding at Shumei University. "I first saw a young woman applying her make-up on a train about five years ago but now it is an everyday sight," she said. "I even see people on trains eating food that has a strong smell, such as noodles, which means everyone has to put up with it."

Professor Marks said that the worst culprits are youngsters in their teens and twenties, and that women are the greater offenders.

"Japanese women used to use different words to men, a more polite and feminine version of the language, but that has completely disappeared, and even television announcers now use words traditionally used by men," said the professor.

But not everyone sees the new-found willingness to speak out as negative.

"There is a whole trend towards informality, and people here are finally relaxing," said Nicole Fall, a trend director with consumer intelligence agency Five By Fifty. "Before, young people were under pressure to act in a certain way, but we are advising clients now that they need to get rid of the formality in their offices because they're not getting through to their own staff and they're not getting through to a whole range of young clients.

"And if you can't connect, then you're just building barriers," she said. "Young people have become freer and that means Japan is more democratic. It's a sign that the country has progressed."

While this means that commuters now rarely apologise for inadvertently treading on a toe, there is a more sinister aspect. Men seem more ready to argue and even come to blows than before.

Masao Nakabayashi, of the Aiiku Hospital's Maternal and Child Health Centre, said that his department had reported 13 "monster husband" incidents in the first half of the year alone, in which many fathers-to-be have become aggressive. A record of the increasing violence to staff have only been kept for the past two years; before this, it wasn't deemed an issue.

"Parents used to have time to teach their children respect – we could actually call it common sense – but mothers and fathers now both have to work and are too busy to nurture and raise children in the right way," said Professor Marks. "People say they are frightened they will be attacked if they get involved in a situation. And that leads to another great Japanese tradition: pretending that if you can't see anything, then nothing is happening."

That reluctance to get involved, claimed the professor, means that people who put their feet on seats or shave on a train are not being shamed into reconsidering their actions – which in turn reinforces the notion that what they are doing is acceptable.


I can only hope that this article is one of those stories where the reporter doesn't get it quite right. The story comes from the Telegraph and they are known for using thier pulpit to suit whatever agenda they are pursuing at any given time so who knows.

I think the sign on the subway post is hilarious though!

Posted by: johnfromdowntown at December 9, 2008 12:50 PM
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