Everybody always generalises

The perpetrator this time was an episode of Radio 4's Excess Baggage revolving around Japan in which several foreign residents discussed life here in the usual ways. The usual ways being a kind of academically removed, observatory role casting a clinical eye on a culture without really inhabiting it. Being a professor in Osaka and eating sushi every Wednesday is hardly a basis for a pan-cultural hypothesis. Yet people still gladly do so, throwing up rubbish like "the law-abiding Japanese" or "the respectful society". Once you are swept along in the culture, as one can never really penetrate it, and live your every day in this supposedly polite country your view is somewhat different. Now I'm not claiming my point of view is the correct one, but I'd like to think it's more pragmatic than the usual wishy-washy adoration so many Westerners give to Japan.

The worst insult I can give Japan as a whole is to say it really is no better or worse, or different, than pretty much any other country in the world. What it has going against it though is sheer numbers. Say if five percent, no, let's be a little more realistic, if ninety-five percent* of any given population is a selfish, insufferable oik, it means Japan's population of 120 million has at least 114 million bastards, as opposed to Britain’s 57 million. Personal experience makes me believe the vast majority of these live in Tokyo, and the largest part of those seem to use the same train line as I every day.

This week's perpetrator was a woman, which is quite rare. Whether she was generally annoyed, outright racist or really claustrophobic I do not know but for some reason this short trip it was I whom she had decided to wage train war against. The train was full, space there was none. I found myself standing behind her with a crowd of people pushing me in every direction. At the slightest pressure she put her arm against the metal bar underneath the luggage racks and put up resistance. Now this is quite common. Usually the people standing in front of the seats have less room than you'd think and to stop themselves from keeling forward onto the laps of the lucky seated they have to hold the bar and push back somewhat.

However, this specimen glanced back with a nasty look, pushed back further and started pushing well beyond her personal space, turning her free shoulder my direction for extra pushing power. The woman was short and aged somewhere between 12 and 40. I usually have a hard time telling the age of Japanese people, but it was made more difficult because her genetic mudpool was obviously not encumbered much by beauty. With hair like a scouring pad and a face like a slapped haddock she scowled and took personal offence at the outright temerity I showed at daring to even occupy the same planet as her, let alone the same train carriage. She pushed and pushed, shoved her elbow back and into my ribs, rotated her shoulder over and over and saw every failure of mine to give her space as a personal insult.

Obviously there was no place for me to go, as the train was packed and I wasn't pushing her at all. My physical body was merely offering resistance to increasing pressure on her part pushed against an impenetrable wall of bodies behind me. I just stood there as this little harpie was waging war against my person.

These days I am just too exhausted to even care anymore. In my younger days I would have fought back, maybe tell her to "grow the F up, you incontinent old bat", but nowadays even throwing a marked look someone's way is just too much for me. I just stand there. I avoid gazes and let the laws of physics dictate. You push me but I can't go anywhere, that's the end of it. I'll let you exhaust yourself while I just take it like the dirty foreigner you already think I am.

At a further stop more and more people piled on, which invariably pushed me more into her space. To this she didn't take kindly and started pushing so hard she was losing her original position. In these circumstances I usually step sideways or, if there is no space, turn sideways, let them push past me and occupy the space they were inhabiting. This happened beautifully. She almost fell backwards, saw me slide into place and tried to regain her position. This was of course impossible and she started kicking my foot and saying, quite loudly, "yamete kudasai", "please stop" which, though using the polite form, wasn't very polite and a little irritating as I wasn't doing anything. More shoves and kicks followed. More impassive standing sill resulted.

A nearby man witnessed all this, gave the back of her head a dirty look and, instead of showing me sympathy, just made sure he was well clear of her, as much as was possible at least. When the time came to disembark the inevitable rush ensued. I was swept forward by the crowd, as was she, but she was kicking, pushing me all the way out the door. She even saw the opportunity to shove an elbow roughly into my chest on the way out, which was so feeble and pathetic that only a few hours later it barely hurt anymore.

The only way you could interpret Japan as a polite country is if you observe the passive acceptance of the wider public of such idiots. In Britain I would have been legally justified in punching her in the back of the head and a lesser, more aggressive person would probably have stabbed her in the ribs. People ought not to behave like this and it is generally unacceptable behaviour. Except in Japan where people live and let live, or bully and let be bullied. Sadly, of course, I can't act as the moral police in Japan as I don't even have the right to exist here. I could be arrested and made to pay the cleaning bills for bleeding onto the decent, law-abiding Japanese citizen who stabs me in the face.

I am still unsure of her motives though. I thought she started pushing before she had seen me, so maybe it wasn't a racist incident, though she wasn't pushing the people either side of her. But she might have spotted me from the corner of her reptilian eye when I got on and marked me as a, well, mark. Or maybe this woman was just genuinely pissed off at the world. In a country that glorifies and idolizes the cute it must be hard living as a reprehensibly horrific genetic mishap. This woman was ugly as sin and had probably spent a lifetime of disappointment and rejection. An astoundingly handsome man like myself would be an easy target for her wrath and frustrations. She hates the world, but that's okay, the world hates her too. I certainly do. But I don't hate her as much as those observers who keep claiming Japan is a more polite, respectful country than any other because that is so far from the truth it's laughable, if it wasn't so sad.

* I'm not a glass is half empty kind of person. There is a glass but the only thing in it is probably backwash.


  1. In more ways than one, you truly were the bigger man.

  2. I heard girls can be mean when they fancy you.

  3. Yikes. I never had anything like this happen to me, but I certainly was the recipient of extra shoves here and there when people would get off the train. Yay for passive aggressive racist fucks!

    I certainly agree with you though, modern Japan isn't nearly as different as the romantics make it out to be. And just about all manners and civilized conduct stay on the station platform when people get on that rush-hour train.

  4. I've never been to Japan so I'll practically speaking out of my arse, but I'm not surprised about this.

    I've seen quite a few YouTube videos of racism towards foreigners, and I was surprised to see that the police didn't even do anything about this. I also remember hearing about women being frequently attacked on trains, yet nobody actually stood up to these criminals.

    I can't say how society really is in Japan, but I can say that it doesn't sound very positive from an outsider's perspective.

  5. Well done for showing so much restraint! I've noted that recently Japanese people have got a bit more vocal about complaints in public in such situations, so perhaps this faux politeness is lessening. I imagine however that the ever-suffering foreigner must continue to put up with such crap in silence.

    People on the trains in Japan always avoid me or sit as far away as possible from me (unless the carraige is packed of course). I'm not sure if this is because I am a foreigner or because I wear an eye-patch... perhaps a combination of both?

  6. Sorry to hear about your bad treatment

    At the same time, I still feel Japan IS very different. I still noticed the differences back home. I walk around the SOMA area of SF and see broken glass every 5 parking spaces marking that a car was broken into at that spot within the last couple of weeks.

    I notice here that if I lose something I will never get it back where as I had things returned to me in Japan several times.

    I noticed that the people on public transportation in SF are an entirely different class of people than in Japan. The cars are filthy, their's graffiti, there are people stealing rides, not just a few either and people regularly get mugged.

    So, maybe Japan is more like England but it's nothing like SF. (or Shanghai for that matter)

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