Bishop: JinK-san, I saw the funniest thing on the subway this morning.
Jink: What’s that?
Bishop: A woman was running frantically to get on the train in time.
Her facial expression was desperate. I’m not sure what she was late for, but she was giving 110%
to make it through those sliding doors before they closed.
It was almost as though she was in the Olympics trying to break the world record.
JinK: Punctuality is important in Japan.
Bishop: Ha, ha, that’s true. Unfortunately for this woman, she didn’t quite make it.
I’m not sure what she was late for, but it must have been important.
JinK: Even if it wasn’t important, even being one second late to work is considered unacceptable
(barring exceptional circumstances). Japanese trains run on time, and during rush hour a train
comes every 2 or 3 minutes, so there’s really no reason for anyone to be late.
If you’re late because the train was delayed, the train company will give you a ticket to prove
that the train was delayed. Without that ticket, lateness is not forgiven.
This is true at schools as well as at companies.
Compared to the flexible attitude in the U.S., Japan is much stricter about punctuality.
Bishop: Really? That’s very strict. So that’s probably why she was in such a hurry.
But the funny part was her facial expression when she missed the train.
While running, she was flustered and desperate. But the moment she realized the door closed and
she didn’t make it, her expression went blank.
She just looked off in another direction, as though nothing had happened.
In the U.S., someone that desperate to catch the train would certainly have an outburst.
JinK: Ha, ha. Yes, now that you mention it, people do yell four letter words when they miss the train here.
In general, I’ve noticed that people in the U.S. are much more … open in expressing their emotions.
Bishop: What is it that allows Japanese people to be so stoic?
JinK: I don’t know if you’d call it stoic. Controlling emotions in public is seen as a virtue in Japan.
Japanese look very poorly on those who disturb the harmony of the group.
Yelling in public may help you release stress, but it makes everyone else uncomfortable.
Bishop: So, is this related to the concept of not inconveniencing others, like the old woman
who didn’t want to call the ambulance?
JinK: That’s part of it. But it’s also related to the concepts of face and shame.
Bishop: Face and shame?
JinK: The woman in this case wanted to get on the train, but was unable to do so.
In other words, she failed in public. Expressing emotion would be admitting to that failure.
Admitting to failure in public would cause her to lose face and experience shame.
Simply put, it is also embarrassing for her, too.
So that’s why I think she put on that “Nothing is wrong” expression.
Bishop: Really? In the U.S. people get angry at the train for not waiting for them.
Good train operators will sometimes wait for people who are rushing to get on the train.
JinK: They don’t do that in Japan.
That could mess up the schedule, and it would inconvenience the rest of the passengers.
So in that way this is related to not inconveniencing others.
People think that it’s their fault for missing the train, not that it’s the train’s fault for not waiting.
Bishop: That’s complicated…
JinK: I suppose it is a bit complicated. Let me explain using an example from sports.
In American football, they do a victory dance after scoring a touchdown. This gets the spectators excited,
so it’s not a bad thing in itself.
But compare that to sumo, Japan’s national sport. Even after winning a championship match,
it would be considered very bad form for the winner to do any sort of victory pose.
After the match, the winner bows without showing any emotion, and leaves the ring. It’s also common to
extend their hand to the losing opponent.
This is to show respect to the opponent regardless of who won and who lost, to ensure that
nobody loses face or is shamed. It begins and ends with formalities.
Bishop: Yes, I’ve always thought that makes them look really cool.
Likewise, the loser never shows any frustration or disappointment.
JinK: Exactly. The loser maintains their dignity and keeps face by congratulating the winner.
Bishop: One thing I don’t get though.
When I went to a Japanese high school baseball game, the losing team were all crying after the game.
Does this not cause them shame?
JinK: Good point, Bishop-san. The difference there is that when someone cries because they themselves lost,
they are admitting to their own weakness and it makes them look bad.
When they cry over their team’s loss, though,
it shows how much they care about the team, so it does not make them look bad.
Bishop: That’s really interesting. So if the woman running to catch the train was part of a relay race team,
it would be OK for her to cry after missing the train.
JinK: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes losing face for the benefit of your team can be seen as a virtue.
There are instances in which crying on behalf of your team is not shameful. Though I’d say they are limited
to those times you tried your best. Probably not for being late for the train…
Fact #6: In Japan, it’s seen as good not to publicly express emotions
by Bishop & JinK.