Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
As highlighted in the article Baffling Japanese Politeness – At The Movies, Japanese politeness can be pretty extreme, to the point of unnatural. It uses the movie theatre situation as an example. This article focuses again on the politeness issue, and takes a look at the Japanese habit of queuing.
Japanese people simply love queuing. Wherever you go, you can see them queuing up in an orderly manner – you won’t see pushing, cutting of the queue or any other “undignified” behaviour. Whether it’s outside a restaurant that reputedly sells awesome food, or a popular attraction in Tokyo Disneyland, the Japanese are willing to stand and line up patiently for up to more than two hours (no exaggeration here) just for the couple of minutes of gratification they get afterwards.
At temples and shrines, during the peak season for praying (such as New Year’s Day and festival days), it can get extremely crowded, to the point where it can take you a couple of minutes to walk a few metres. Yet, the Japanese people would nevertheless queue properly and await their turn to pray at the prayer area. Here, there’s always a box for visitors to throw money in before making their prayers. Due to the difficulty in arriving in right front of the donation box, if they are close enough – say, about a couple of metres, they might even attempt to throw coins into the box from their current location, and make their prayers from there. As not all Japanese people are great basketball players, there’s a real chance that the coins would land on someone’s head (lucky!).
Even in the aftermath of the Great Eastern Japan Disaster that occurred on March 2011, when Northern Japan was struck by a triple catastrophe – a huge earthquake and the enormous tsunami that was triggered by it, and the Fukushima nuclear plant radiation - there wasn’t any chaos at the stores, the supermarkets and the convenience stores in the areas affected – despite the fact that supplies were limited. People were queuing properly - almost as if it was business as usual.
Perhaps this habit of queuing properly is because the ancient ninja blood still runs in them (“nin” means “endure”, “ja” means “person”. So the actual meaning of “ninja” is “a person who endures”)? However, what you are about to read puts paid to this theory…
At a platform in a train station, the Japanese people also queue up nicely while waiting for the train to arrive. In particular, in big cities like Tokyo where there are so many people to the point where you can get a headache just by being among them and breathing the same air as them, queues can get pretty long, especially during peak hours.
At last, the train arrives, and the doors open. As is customary, the people waiting to board it wait patiently for those who are alighting. At this point, if you’re new to Japan, it’s hard for you not to marvel at this wonderful, courteous behaviour. No one steps onto the train yet. Everyone is waiting silently and patiently. Finally, the last person from the train alights…
Suddenly all hell breaks loose.
Everyone rushes into the train to try and grab an empty seat. It’s every man and woman for him/herself here. If it’s extremely crowded, you could even find yourself being pushed or shoved inside Human Sardine Express. That's very polite, thank you very much. Spend just a split-second thinking, “What is going on he…” and all the seats would be taken. On the bright side, this can be viewed as one example of Japanese efficiency at work. Something the Japanese can be proud of. Yeah.
Surprisingly, the ones who move the fastest are the older folks – in particular the old ladies. Who said that the elderly are feeble and weak? Women - weak and demure? Bah! Not in the case of Japan, oh no. When it comes to grabbing a train seat, the Japanese – in particularly the old folks - can give The Flash a run for his money. Heck, if there’s an event called Rush-For-The-Train-Seat at the Olympics, the Japanese could send in a contingent comprising of their elderly and bring back home a couple of extra gold medals.
Granted, such a situation only takes place in big cities, and doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s still a pretty common occurrence. Even in the rural areas, if, by any chance, the number of people taking the train is similar to that in big cities, it is highly probable that the same thing would occur.
Well, at least now you know that the Japanese do act like normal human beings sometimes.