Friday, September 25, 2009

Bowing there is half the fun

I'm back, after a brief hiatus where I learned how to speak Russian (and subsequently lost it in a poker game), here today to talk about manners in Japan.

After spending ten ("juu") days in Japan ("Nippon"), it's safe to say I became an expert ("expertashiwaru") on Japanese manners. If you learn nothing else from this blog, know this -- the Japanese like to bow. A lot. Pass a friend on the street? Bow. Cashier hand you your change after buying violent comic book porn? Bow. Someone just bow to you? Bow. I was very happy with this system, as I've been bowing all my life. You see, when I was a young little Tiembi, I didn't talk much. No high-fives, no boistrous greetings to friends...I prefered a subtle, silent nod. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was an entire country out there mainly known for their subtle, silent nodding!

Okay, okay...not all bowing is subtle. Different situations call for different degrees of bowing, it seems. I noticed three distinct levels of bowing. When a cashier handed me my change, I'd fire off a Level 1 nod -- quick nod, barely any neck movement. If I was introduced to someone new, I went for a Level 2 nod -- bowing a little deeper, but nothing crazy or flamboyant...I just threw a little more neck into it. I never got to utilize a Level 3 nod, which is where you bend at the waist, bow deep, and probably close your eyes. I figure bowing at such a degree is reserved for receiving a college diploma or beating the original Mega Man without dying once.

But enough about bowing. We all know the Japanese like bowing. In regards to manners in Japan, what surprised me were the little things I take for granted here. Like sneezing. While on a train, the woman next to me sneezed; my brain must've been on autopilot, because I turned to her and said "bless you," despite not even knowing if she spoke English. Apparently, she didn't. She looked at me for a moment, then apparently got embarassed and quickly turned away. Hoping to clear up the matter, I turned to the beloved blogger, Mr. Blue Shoe, and asked how to say "bless you" in Japanese.

"They don't say that here."
"Then, what do they say?"
"Oh...well, maybe I'll start the trend here."

As of this posting, blessing sneezers has not caught on in Japan. Yet.

I also noticed a lack in male chivarly. Though my experiences were limited, I saw nary a door opened for a lady. In fact, walking into a grocery store, I held the door open so that the woman behind me could walk in, and it was like she could not bow enough to express her gratitude. I think if I helped carry her groceries to her car, I could've gotten a marriage proposal out of it. And speaking of carrying...while in a Costco (a wholesale warehouse that, yes, exists in Japan too), I saw a woman carrying two items -- a giant can of coffee, and a roughly seven month old fetus in her womb. Her husband? He was walking a few steps ahead, staring at the aisles, with his hands in his pockets.

That's not to say all Japanese men are inconsiderate bouchedags. Certainly we have our fair share here in America. But, sad to say, enough of these incidents occured that I couldn't help but take notice. For a society that has roughly 418 ways to apologize (133 of which don't require words), I was surprised that the notion of male chivalry never caught on. It's no wonder the Japanese women seem to adore us Western boys. Let that be a lesson. If you go to Japan, hold a few doors, carry a few bags, and the ladies will be bowing out of the palm of your hand.


  1. Good observations.

    The lack of chivalry thing drives me nuts on the trains and buses. Granted, I have seen guys give up seats before. But I've also seen a lot of guys practically waging war over the last seat when there are plenty of women standing. I have gotten up when I've seen women standing, and unfortunately sometimes that seat has been hijacked by a dude.

  2. The "every man, woman, and child for themselves with regards to public transportation in Japan" entry will be coming soon, lest you beat me to it. The world must know. Oh yes...the world must know.