The Asian shuffle
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that Asians shuffle their feet when they walk more than any other ethnic group I’ve encountered. It’s really annoying. People walk around like babies not lifting their feet, but noisily dragging them along the floor, the sidewalk, the street. Not all the time, of course, but often enough for me fairly to call it a Japanese thing, or an Asian thing. In Japan they say that that kind of gait translates to modern walking from the traditional wooden sandals called “geta.” In order to keep the geta on your feet so they don’t fall off you have to drag your feet along the ground. Footwear has traditionally been loose in order to make it easier to slip them on and off when you exit or enter a home, a room, etc. It’s especially noticeable among old men. On the street you can hear old men walking behind you long before they come into your field of vision because of their foot-dragging. The effect is augmented by Japanese men’s affectation for very under-sized, feminine slippers. It is a source of humor to many foreign newcomers to Japan. We often associate it with a streak of androgyny that permeates the culture here - a phenomenon most visible in the form of transgender television celebrities. There is a common pattern of wear on the soles of shoes throughout Japan. In addition, Japanese women traditionally affected a stylized mincing, pigeon-toed gait as a result of walking with kimono that restricted their legs. Most women do not wear kimonos these days except for especially ceremonial occasions, but that affected style of walking has been absorbed as part of their Japanese femininity. I think that historically, men have found sexual attraction in retarding women’s gait: high heels in the west; bound feet in China; platform geta in Japan, etc.
Long ago I stopped yelling at my wife cut it out, to lift her feet and walk like an adult, not a baby. But I’ve given up.
One interesting sight - not a daily occurrence, but common enough in the warm seasons - is the sight of elderly men and women in the morning shopping for daily necessities at the convenience store while still in their pajamas. (I have heard that this is even more common in China.) They leave their nearby homes and walk the streets in their pajamas and slippers without a care. It reminds me of that other daily phenomenon: old women cleaners walking into and out of the men’s public toilets while we men are using them. The reverse would not be tolerated: men cleaners frequenting the women’s toilets. Women cleaners do not close the men’s toilets while they are working in there the way they would do in North America. Instead, they ignore us and we ignore them as we each do our business. When you gotta go, you gotta go. To accompany that is the quirk of Japanese toilet design that leaves most men’s public toilets open to easy public view and the curiosity of any passersby. Not so with the women’s toilets, though. It’s just another thing to get used to.
Next, breath sucking and mouth covering. Traditionally for Asians the teeth were considered to be exposed bones and so the custom - especially among females who are supposed to be more modest than males - is to cover their mouths when they laugh - giggle is more like it - to hide them (their unsightly ugliness). They think that the giggle and the unnaturally high-pitched voice are cute. I think they are very annoying, but cuteness is very important for Asians, especially Japanese, whose corporate society depends on people being appealing to one another. But the voice and the giggle, like the walk, are affectations. People forget that they are. People also often cover their mouths when chewing. Asians often chew with their mouths open, so covering the mouth with the hand is preventive. In olden times Japanese women - especially married women - dyed their teeth black (called “ohaguro”) to further try to disguise the exposed ‘bones.’ They did that right up until the early twentieth century, I think.
Japanese slurp their food all the time. Because they traditionally have eaten from bowls with chopstick rather than forks from flat plates slurping was a more effective way of getting food to the mouth. It’s characteristic of eating noodles. And then, after they eat, they suck trapped food out from between their teeth with loud sucking sounds. Men especially do this, but women, too, to a lesser extent. It’s always annoying when you get stuck on a commuter train bench for twenty minutes next to an old man who is continually cleaning his teeth with grotesque sucking sounds. There’s no escape short of exiting the train as quickly as possible and hopping on the next one. And toothpicks! They pick their teeth with toothpicks after a meal right at the table. Many restaurants have small containers of toothpicks on the table, next to the condiments, for just this reason. Meal time here is a very auditory experience.
Finally, there is the loud talking. I have often complained to my wife that normal Japanese conversation takes place at what I consider almost a shouting volume. I have not yet given up asking my wife to speak more quietly, like a normal adult. She tells me to shut up, calling me the noisy one. Chinese are especially noted for it. I think in Asian cultures people are accustomed to use loud voices in public as a sing of health and energy, or what Japanese call “genki.” In Japanese being noisy (“urusai”) is not just about volume of sound. It also describes bothersome of behavior.
Me: Junko! Stop shouting. Talk to me like a normal adult.
Junko: Grant is urusai! (Bugger off!)
Married life is tough.