I’m constantly shocked to witness the brutal honesty, politeness, and concern for others in Japanese society whilst I am studying at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. These are but a few examples; One day coming home on a train, I witnessed a group of young tomboyish girls, all with short hair and snap-backs in my train car. The only way I could tell they were girls were from the small feminine necklaces/earnings they wore. A man had dropped his wallet right before a stop, and after he picked up his dropped change, ran to catch the next change on the other side of the platform. However he missed a 10 yen coin (6 pence), and the girls were fretting over it, one girl even picked it up and then decided to put it back down on the floor, as it was not hers. Eventually they could see he was still there, and as his train was opening its doors, and he was about to get on, one girl took the plunge and raced across the platform, to the man and handed him his 10 yen, before hurrying back to our train, where luckily it had been stationary for a few minutes.
A second encounter happened one morning when I was eating my cereal and reading a book when one girl approaching accidentally bumped into a chair on the way to the table, causing a clatter. She then said sorry (gomen nasai), which I found funny ‘you’re sorry to the chair?’ I said, jokingly. She replied ‘The noise. You are reading.’ Which quite frankly, I had not thought about, nor did I believe her mistake required an apology, but disturbing the peace of others evidently takes precedence over whether or not you yourself was hurt for a causing an incident.
I have learned so much from living in another country about the way you think and society. You always seem to assume your way of thinking is the most obvious, how you just unconsciously expect some things to be the same all around the world. You see dropped change? You keep it. You bump into a chair? You worry about your own injury. But ‘finder’s keepers’ is not the social norm in Japan and if you make a disturbance you should be aware of how it has bothered others before yourself because that is the polite thing to do. We can all learn from each other a little more by understanding the world through different eyes.