Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
In her September 22nd Japan Times Japan Lite column “Japanese as a second body language” Amy Chavez devotes four paragraphs to the topic of Movement. It’s an interesting and valid point: how do people in different cultures physically occupy and move in the three dimensional space that surrounds them? Chavez pursued the idea of elegance in Japanese motion, which I thought was a bit stereotypical and inaccurate. In practice I find that Japanese do not pay much attention to their physical surroundings, making vehicular and even pedestrian traffic a treacherous and hair-raising obstacle course. Not a day goes by when, walking in crowded Tokyo, someone in front of me does not stop suddenly, or suddenly change direction without looking over their shoulder to check for other people. By the grace of God I have never crashed into anyone, but I’ve had close calls. More and more I am of the opinion that when such things happen I should let myself crash into these sloppy walkers to try and teach them a lesson as an act of brotherly loving kindness. In such a case, though, I would certainly be blamed.
Japanese culture trains people not to be aware of their surrounds so much as to trust others to watch out for them no matter what they do. It’s “amae no kozo,” or some kind of group indulgence in practice. That kind of consideration or indulgence of others appears to work. But it only appears that way.
Published on Thursday, September 27, 2010 as "Indulgence that appears to work."
I've written before that negotiating pedestrian space in Japan is like pachinko balls in an arcade game, or amusement park crash cars: everyone ricocheting, or nearly ricocheting off each other.