The happy mailman

During my increasingly frequent cigarette breaks it is not uncommon for me to exchange bows and mumbled greetings with the endless stream of mailmen and delivery boys that come to the different businesses in our building. Indeed, I think my neck muscles have developed quite beautifully since I’ve moved to Japan and I can cast a sharp nod at 50 paces with deadly accuracy.

There is one mailman in particular who shines out wit his friendliness. It started with the usual “Your Japanese is very good” after I had asked him which floor he wanted when we shared a lift. At first I cynically, and arrogantly, thought he was just impressed to be in contact with a real life foreigner. But when I later spotted him cheerily wishing the girls on the floor below ours a good day and they all chirped back at him in unison, followed by another comment of his about me working late one evening it became clear that this guy is genuinely friendly and seemingly happy in his profession.
Needless to say I am quite jealous.

Generally it appears people in Japan, no matter how tedious or badly paid their work is, always exude an air of friendly helpfulness. From the old ladies who stand next to escalators to warn people to take care when stepping onto the escalator to the bin men and apartment building overseers, they all greet you with a smile and will bend over backwards to help you. And to top it all you never give tips here. It seems only the civil servants are massively inconvenienced and put out by clients requesting them to do their job, the miserable rotters.. Everywhere else the idea of service with a humble smile is the standard and though job satisfaction may be patchy you would never know it judging by the zeal with which people attend to their tasks.

This is in stark contrast to Britain, of course, where even the most handsomely salaried menial work can give rise to vitriol and bitching as if it were a genetic disposition to find fault and pain in everything life has to offer. Living in Japan has really spoiled me, to the extend I expect faultless, friendly service wherever I travel, especially in countries where one is supposed to give tips. I hardly ever get my expectations met, of course.

One thing I do notice, however, is that the recipients of Japan’s excellent service, the customers, are often very unresponsive. I often see people taking their change and turning away without acknowledging the friendly service for one instant. I always make the effort to say a friendly “thank you” to the shopkeepers; it’s the least I can do.

For now I must find ways to avoid the mailman. We have already exhausted most of the possible conversation topics, leaving only “what is your country?” and “what is your blood-type?” as well as the occasional “cold, isn’t it?” One of the great bonuses of living in Tokyo is that, paradoxically, the huge density of its population pretty much guarantees a solitary existence, despite foreigners sticking out like a big-nosed thumb. The last thing I want is to get roped into chit-chat with someone who so obviously enjoys his work that it makes me feel depressed with my inability to do likewise.


  1. Hey..I Just stumbled upon your blog. A very interesting read indeed!Cheers.

  2. Oh, the horrors of smalltalk... It's so cumbersome. I avoid people whenever the chances of entering into an actual conversation are low.

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  4. Great Blog! This is another entry that I like. I like reading about your experiences in Japan. Sort of affirms my impressions and experiences here too... and you write it with such wit! Keep it up!

  5. Rather then avoiding the mailman you could try initiating a converstation that will guarantee he will be avoiding you!

    Perhaps ask him where you can partake in your latest bizarre sexual fetishes :P