I moved here in Tokyo last year in June 2017 and, since then, I’ve been discovering things of this culture that I was absolutely not expecting to find. I want to share some of these epiphanies with you.
First, I have to say that my move here has not been a complete leap in the dark for me. I won my fair amount of miles with Emirates for about 5 years, traveling from France to come visit my wife - based in Tokyo -, before to decide to call Tokyo home. So, I kind of knew the Japanese culture, at least from the surface, directly or indirectly, and how life in Tokyo was.
Though, being a resident unveils funny or less funny aspects that are not visible, or you just don’t take care of, when you travel here as a tourist.
Kindness is a point of view
One of the most (positive) shocking things we all admire of Japan, when we come here as tourists, is the extreme kindness of people. At the supermarket, the Post office, at a restaurant etc. Japanese workers are so kind, friendly and helpful that you automatically start to hate your home country. I’m Italian and I lived for 8 years in France, so I particularly missed that good feeling.
You know, one of the best thing you learn when you live abroad, wherever the country you choose, but mostly those with a culture so far away from yours, is that everything is relative. Tout est relatif. All your beliefs, your points of view, everything takes a new perspective. Kindness is a point of view, too. For me, a kind person was someone who behaved kindly in all situations, regardless of the context. A person who is kind while working as a bartender is also kind if you meet him/her on a train.
Not in Japan. A person who is extremely kind at work, can absolutely appear rude in another context. A person who bows while giving you the change at the supermarket, is the same person who, say, on the train, doesn’t give a shit if there are many people around him during the rush hour: he stays inflexible right in the middle of the entrance, unconcerned about the space that he’s occupying while he could just step aside half a meter allowing others to jump into the train.
In France, a country where good manners can be so extreme to become hilarious, people wait for you keeping the door open for minutes. It was such a pain in the ass that, in the end of my 8 years, I was so annoyed by this that I started to find strategies to never have people behind me when passing through doors. Here in Japan if your colleague is before you, you have to take care not to get the door on your face.
The point here is that Japanese are kind when they have to be kind. When the procedure forces them to be kind, they are the kindest people on Earth. Like robots:
_IF_ context_is_(this) _THEN_ be_kind() _END_
Well, of course in every place in the world you will find also kind people in every situations, and total assholes in every situations. Anyway, it was shocking to me when I started to saw this dichotomy, but it’s also something that gave me a new perspective. I realized that I’ve always expected certain behaviours from other people and I was judging them if my expectations were not matched.
I learned not to judge anymore people who I think are rude because they do not match my personal standards of kindness. They just don’t even think about it. It’s a profund cultural difference and that’s how you have to take it.