Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pedestrian Rage

I'm taking a little break from my tonsil adventures to revisit an old topic I covered in my Four Biggest Aggravations of Japan. There has since been some rearranging and I decided my number four ranked aggravation has shot up to number one: "Nobody Pays Attention While Walking". Actually it shot way past one. Putting it on a list of aggravations is like putting Jack Nicholson from The Shining on a list of people with a case of the Mondays.

I'm a pretty happy guy. My emotions stay level and I never lose my temper. Yet whenever I'm outside and walking in Japan I am constantly angry. And not just a little T.O.ed, I'm talking a barely contained simmering rage. Why is this? NOBODY PAYS ATTENTION WHILE WALKING. Actually, that's not fair. I can't make such a broad sweeping generalization about a society. I'll be generous and say half the people don't pay attention while walking. Meaning 50% of the population are pedestrian inept, sidewalk novices, incompetent at strolling, and jerks. In video game terms, they have poor path-finding.

The other day I was making my weekly trek to Tsutaya to rent some DVDs. As usual, people weren't paying attention, but that's OK. When I see someone down the block walking towards me on one side of the sidewalk while they are engrossed in a novel, I always move to the other side. I don't mind getting out of the way of people with everything being equal. But there are some times when I refuse to move out of someone's way. One of those times is when a precedent has been set:

Diagram 1

As you can see in diagram 1, me and the Green Guy are simply walking down the block like two normal human beings about to pass each other. Jerk Salaryman isn't aligned with either of us, but that's OK. He can keep walking straight and we'll still be able to pass without trouble, though a bit close, or he could take a step over and fall in line with Green Guy thereby making this problem free. Green Guy passes me which set the precedent. Everyone now should walk on their left!

Diagram 2

I've been here long enough to know better than to assume people will simply use their senses to take in information, process that information, and decide on what logical action to take. So I looked at Jerk Salaryman to see what he would do. We briefly made eye contact at which point he ignored the precedent and did not take the only two options available. In diagram 2 you can see instead he fell in line with me and began to look absolutely anywhere except straight ahead. He exaggeratedly examined signs, looked straight up at the sky, straight down at his shoes, and in general made a big show of how he was not paying attention.

This is unacceptable.

Similar things happen every time I'm out walking but this time, for once I am sure, was absolutely on purpose. I refused to move over and continued to look right at him as he pretended to not notice that I existed. As we were about to collide he finally relented, looked at me, and stepped out of the way. I glared at him. And that was it. But that wasn't it! I was still angry! Angrier than I had been in a long time. And it was mostly from confusion. WHY DO THAT? Why purposely walk at someone, pretend to not pay attention, and try to get them to move out of your way? Why does this sort of thing happen so often? I replayed that brief couple of seconds in my head as I walked, this time grabbing him, shaking him, and demanding an answer. Why do you and your ilk do this?! I must know what thought process can end with trying to make simply walking down the sidewalk difficult!

Even if I had imagined the part in the beginning where we made eye contact and he really was oblivious to my existence, he still inexplicably moved to one side of the sidewalk without first checking if anyone was there. At best he deserves to go to foot-traffic court and lose his walker's license for such a grievous moving violation.

The most frustrating part about all of this is there is nothing I can do about it. I can't adapt now and purposely not pay attention. I'd feel like a jerk if I was always playing chicken to see who could pay attention the least. Also, not watching where you're going seems awfully dangerous.

Anyway, am I alone in getting angry about this? When I'm out walking I feel like the last bastion of sanity on the sidewalk but they say crazy people think everyone else is crazy so... maybe I am! Maybe people see me and say, "look at that maniac, using his eyes in order to avoid obstacles. What a loon!"

Please comment on my sanity below.

(I like turtles.)


  1. You did the right thing.

    Yes the question "Why do they do that" is a really rage-inducing question. A lot of things that happen can be gotten over but the question of why in the hell it's "allowed" or "done" doesn't go away.

  2. My theory is that this is a status thing and a power play. I've noticed that this behavior is mainly exercised by older males (40+) and I think they think that being in possession of a penis and being older than the other party entitles them to be yielded to by others. Women must always yield (or at least are expected to) and men according to perceived status (based on age, employment according to attire, and, in our case, nationality).

    Men in Japan are deferred to so much for nothing more than being male, I don't think that they even realize this is happening. They don't think they are being jerks because they just expect people to move out of their way on an unconscious level. It's not even "entitlement" so much as maneuvering through the world as they always have and never giving it a second thought until for some reason it doesn't happen - then, they think that you are wrong because you've initiated some strange development.

    I don't like it anymore than you do, and as a woman, I see even more of it than foreign males (I've compared notes with my husband), but I don't think these guys even know what they're doing when they play these games. They just blithely operate in a world that frequently yields to them and absolutely take it for granted.

  3. Jerk salaryman? Do you suppose he works at the jerk store?

  4. Interesting point, as always, Orchid. I think it's a combination of factors. That could definitely be one. But I've also seen this happen with women, and I think many times it's just people being oblivious.

    I have a good friend back home who would have problems walking in conjunction with other people. Whenever we would go into the city or a mall or a crowded place, he just COULDN'T walk. He'd be bumbing into people, and it was like he was lacking some sense for navigating in crowds. Many people are like that here, but to a worse extent.

  5. Hey anonymous! I don't know but you're their all time best seller!

  6. Haha, I'm glad someone else understands my frustrations in Japan. Besides the fact that people don't stay in a straight line or pay attention, they love to walk three and four people wide. And there are sometimes whole sidewalks of people walking as if they drive in America (on the right side). Also, Christ, the squeal of the bike breaks that seemingly substitutes for a bell in Japan...I'm loosing the higher ranges in my ears.

    Nice diagrams, btw.

  7. Is this a foreigner thing? I've read about this type of stuff so often that it makes me think these jerks are just anti-foreigner.

  8. Honestly, I don't see this as a Japan thing only. When I walk down the way in the mall, or at college, or hell, even when I'm driving down the streets here in SC, USA, and there are some people walking on it, right in the middle, oblivious to their imminent soon to be flattened death. They wont move half the time even if you bonk the horn at them, like the expect you to cross into oncoming traffic rather than inconvenience them.
    I just chalk this behavior up to general self centered jerkiness that resides over many people in many nations. And yeah, I don't think half of them even realize they're doing it, and as a nice yielding person, I get really pissed sometimes.

  9. I'm sure it can happen in any country. Just seems to happen more often here.

  10. I'm Japanese and this happens to me, too. It's so unbelievably rude. I also think the not-turn-to-the-side-when-there's-not-much-room move they do when walking past, which ends up flinging me across the sidewalk, is quite rude, too.