変な心遣い (Strange acts of consideration in Japan)

Here is another series of ‘What else is weird in Japan’ – I think only after living in Japan for while and experiencing their culture a little can you really appreciate and understand all the weird things that they do (not that I’m applauding them nor do I want to emulate them).

By acts of consideration, I don’t mean kindness acts that people carry out for one another. In Japan, it has became like sort of a culture, so from television programs to ads and to things that you buy from a convenience store, you can just feel the hospitality seaming through every corner of Japanese lifestyle. I’m sure everyone who has been on a holiday to Japan will say that Japanese people are the most polite bunch ever. Hospitality is wired into every Japanese and in every part of Japan’s society.

Hopping onto the Omotenashi(おもてなし – hospitality) trend that was sparked off by TV newscaster Crystal Takigawa  in her Tokyo Olympics 2020 speech, I’m going to highlight some aspects of  Japanese hospitality that goes overboard and becomes at best, bizarre, instead.

  • Dark-coloured plastic bags when you buy erm stuff for private use like erhm condoms and sanitary pads

Yes if you buy stuff like that the counter staff will put your items into these kinda bags. You know like reverse psychology, I suspect by using this bag you will have the exact opposite effect by having all eyes turned on you when you carry it onto the train. You’ll get stares like ‘ooohhh so this guy is gonna get lucky tonight!’ or ‘oh this woman is on her period, better avoid triggering her PMS!’ Duh. The black bag just makes it more obvious instead.

But yeah this is a typical act of consideration (心遣い – kokorozukai in Japanese), because items such as condoms and tampons are considered private stuff, so people generally assumed that nobody wants to be seen carrying one of those in public. You know, if people are that embarrassed by purchasing stuff like that, they would bring their own bag to put them in. I don’t think there is any need to draw even more attention by using that kind of plastic bags. It becomes more like ‘Look at me look at me! I’ve bought a condom! Yay!!!’.

  • Flushing sound function in public toilets

Anyone who’s been to Japan before would have noticed this. I’ve mentioned this before in one of my previous posts, and yes I don’t get why peeing is embarrassing.  It’s a very natural human need, and we all do it, so what’s so embarrassing about it? It achieves the same effect as the black plastic bags; ‘I’m peeing, so don’t listen to my peeing!’ Yes the world knows you are peeing because you’ve turned up the flushing sound to the maximum volume.

  • Women-friendly restaurants and cafes

Look at the bar above. What kind of bar do you think it is? I would think it’s just a regular bar. But to the Japanese, women are such differing species from another universe that they have to design restaurants and cafes in such a way that will allow women to enter with ease (女性でも入りやすいお店 – Even women can enter this store with ease). Wow, I didn’t know that women are so stressed to the point that they can’t even enter any restaurant they like!

It’s not quite the same as having restaurants and cafes that target just women. That I’m fine with, since men and women ARE wired to like different things after all. But if a store were to say, target both men and women, it is assumed that men can enter any store with no problems at all but special arrangements have to be made to appeal to women as well. Or to let them ‘enter with ease’.

And it’s not just restaurants and cafes. Food and products in the market are advertised like that as well. ‘Even women will be able to eat this with ease (女性でも食べやすいもの)’, ‘Even women will be able to use this with ease (女性でも使いやすいもの).’ (What the hell do they mean by ‘even’?! Like are women that weak that they need like extra small bites to eat or extra light stuff in order to carry something?!) Phrases like this are everywhere on ads and stores.

Wow, I don’t know if women are being celebrated or being discriminated against. I guess you can look at it one way and say that it’s good that they put in a lot of thought into appealing to female consumers as they are seen as a good potential targets. That’s why companies go to great lengths to put women on pedestals in an attempt to tap into their spending power.

On the other hand, you can also look at it from another angle and assume that society is putting women down as weak, fragile beings that need to be protected at all times, and that’s why special arrangements have to made just for women. This is society putting expectations on women, unwritten social rules that dictate things from what kind of decisions women can make to what kind of stores they can enter. It’s like society saying ‘Oh you are woman, so you shouldn’t go into this store or eat this kind of food! Here, we have something else made just for you…’

I think this is a rather grey area as to whether it is really an act of consideration or not, but I’m sure it is no news to you and me that gender equality is almost non-existent in Japan. Yes, it’s slowly changing, but how long will it take before women fill up almost half of all the executive positions and in the parliament? I think the glaring gap between men and women is one of the main causes for this, erm, kind of ‘hospitality’ towards women.

  • Too much packaging

This has got to be the ultimate form of consideration that Japanese have towards their customers. Even if the producers understand that the packaging is ultimately going to be thrown away and never see the day of the light again, they are still going to put their snack in a pretty plastic bag and then inside a pretty box. And I suspect that box is going into yet another bigger box with all the other little boxes.

Why do they do that? Because it’s pretty. Because it’s hygienic. BUT most importantly, because people can *wait for it* take it with ease. Yes, that’s possibly the main point of it all. Not only does it look pretty, but it’s easier to be handled in a box rather than on its own, because the snack itself looks pretty soft and fragile.

But what are the repercussion of having so much packaging? Too much waste produced. According to studies done by The Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/06/daily-chart-3), Japan doesn’t fare too badly. But it is only because Japan spends a lot of extra resources on recycling and reusing waste (see here – http://www.waste-management-world.com/articles/print/volume-12/issue-2/regulars/iswa-comments/japans-waste-management-situation.html). Nothing is done on the reducing part. If waste is not produced unnecessarily in the first place, Japan wouldn’t need to use excess resources to recycle. And it’s A LOT of waste to recycle.

Ok for now this is all I can come up with. My brain cells need a break haha. But if you’ve got more to share or you don’t agree with any of the above (‘hey, black plastic bags are actually a freaking good idea, you know!’), feel free to comment!


About Kimono Party Girl

I was born and bred in Singapore for the first 20 years of my life, and then I decided that even after flying all over the world as a flight attendant, life is still too boring. So, in search of more adventure and add spice to my life, I quit my job, packed up, and left for Japan - which is, to me, the promised land. I've always been fascinated with Japan ever since I was 8, thanks to Ayumi Hamasaki, aka the Britney Spears of Japan. She's the first J-pop singer that I have been obsessed with, and my first contact with the Japanese language was through her lyrics. Yup, I first learned my Hiragana from her song 'I am'. But what really sealed the deal was my first trip to Japan in 2010. The fresh air, the beautiful cherry blossoms, the endless fast fashion trends and the awesome food was what made Japan the land of my dreams, and it had since become my goal to one day live, work and party in Japan. So after working like a horse as a flight attendant for 2 years and saving up a decent amount, I made a big leap of faith and moved to the land of the rising sun. I have studied one year of Japanese and two years of graphic design. Currently, I'm in the midst of shukatsu (就活 - job hunting). Wish me luck!
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