A Different Empty Seat on Another Crowded Train

The doors slid open on the nearly vacant subway car and a mass of passengers piled in.  All the available seats were filed in a wild flurry.

Well, almost all.

People either spurned the empty seat or ignored it as if it were occupied. – Baye McNeil, Hi! My name is Loco and I am a Racist

Of course, people might not be sitting down for a variety of reasons.  Maybe they only have a couple of stations stops before home, so don’t see the point, or maybe there are letting a family member sit down.  But those are the only two good reasons, as Baye McNeil notes, if there is an empty seat next to you, the reasons for its being left vacant are rarely good, there are some Japanese people it seems, are afraid of foreigners, so as they rather stand than sit next to them.

The situation is slightly different if you come to Japan with a physical disability. There are seats put aside for the disabled, elderly, pregnant and the young, these are the ‘priority seats’, usually a couple of benches at each end of each carriage.  People (I say people, but it is usually a female member of the population that actually gives her seat up) do usually give up a seat to those in need, save for the exception of the odd salaryman, who either pretends to be asleep or, on occasion is drinking a can of beer, if the latter is the case he is often met by death stares from his fellow natives that seem to say ‘stop letting the side down’, quite heartening actually, to see such concern for the Japanese public self-image.

When I first moved to Japan, I thought simply that may hosts are very gracious, often giving up their seats for me, and do not mistake me, they are kind, but recently I have noticed another aspect to the act of giving up your seat, a darker side to the exchange.

The act of giving up your seat, especially if it is a very busy train, is a very public affair.  You get up and give your seat to another commuter, and it will often be to a foreigner, disabled, elderly person or someone who is pregnant.  People may have to make room for you as you get up and they sit down, so people do notice when give up your seat.   That it is noticed, imbues the act with a certain  performative character, almost as if the one giving up is playing the central role in the play ‘helping the unfortunate on the train’.  There is certain rules and moves to this role, which like a Kabuki actor, you must execute with no deviation from the script.  Here are the rules:

(1 Once you accept the role of ‘seat giver-upper’ you may show no signs of physical fatigue yourself. 

You may have had a long day at work, it maybe a Summer’s day, but if you give up your seat, you may not sweat, you may not sigh, you may not yawn or show any signs of fatigue at all.  It would simply be bad form to give up your seat to the physically encumbered, and then look like you were complaining that you were tired.

(2  You may not sit down, even if another seat becomes available.

That’s right good Samaritan, giving up your seat means you can never get it back, you are condemned to a vertical train journey.  Even if most of the seats are free in the priority seats section and person you gave it up for has left the train. This is really a sub-section of rule one, of not showing fatigue. 

(3  You must stand in front of the person who now occupies your seat, hanging from the handle bars.

Why be charitable unless you can guilt the person you helping?  That is the only reason I can think of to explain why people do this.  If they were trying to help me as a disabled person they would sit down, and therefore be out of my way.  But no, even if you motion towards an empty seat, they will not take it.  Maybe they have yet to compete the final act of their ‘priority-seat martyr’ Kabuki play, that of suffering by having to stand despite the many empty seats.

(4  You can expect lots of gratitude.

And of course, being brought up to mind my P’s and Q’s I begrudge no one a few arigatogaimashitas.  But there are some for whom that is not enough, and a saviour complex quickly develops.  You came on this train, sat down, then got up and with selflessness of Samurai facing battle, you gave up your seat to the disabled foreigner or pregnant lady.  You stood there, hanging from the stabilising handle bars for thirty minutes, eschewing the empty seats that you could have sat on so that people could see you giving up your seat, and recognise as the Saviour and Protector of the Priority Seats and all you got for that was one measly arigato? Unbelievable!

Well no actually, that’s being a good person.  Enjoy your journey.  Mine’s the next stop.

Heat Wave in Japannnnnnn…

No Dear Reader, the title is not a typo, that is what happens, when, in 35C heat with 79% humidity, this is how you type’ Japan’ when you fall asleep in your chair, as you type with your finger on the ‘n’ button!

Yes it is Summer in Japan and The Limping Philosopher finds its it difficult to work on blog posts. Although he did write an e-booklet called ‘Gaijin Story’ , here’s the link to both Amazon UK and Japan, although is available on all sites!

Gaijin Story Amazon UK

Gaijin Story Amazon Japan

On Being Depressed & Social Awkwardness in Japan

One of the main reasons my OCD is in remission here is because the Japanese are so forgiving. In Britain, I lived forever in fear of persecution by outside forces because of mistakes I was sure I was making through ignorance. But in Japan, there’s a comforting sense that things will work out OK regardless of my lack of understanding of practical concerns. – William Bradbury in The Japan Times

Whilst never diagnosed with depression, I have always been a glass-half-empty kind of person, a bit down, a bit depressed. I rarely talk about it, because I often feel that mentioning it, breathes life into to it, and sometimes, despite the wisdom of self-help books, talking about it doesn’t help, talking often magnifies the problem, making my situation seem worse than it actually is in reality.

William Bradbury’s quite excellent article, in a recent edition of The Japan Times prompted me to write something. Bradbury notes how his OCD is remission in Japan, because ‘the Japanese are so forgiving’ and goes on to note that:

Japan is a comfortable stomping ground for socially awkward people. Serious character and personality defects go unnoticed or are put down to foreigner status, and rather than tarnishing your self-image, they can even help you romanticize yourself, with a bit of imagination.

I can recognise much of myself and my experiences of being physically disabled, certainly socially awkward and, at least in an on-off relationship with depression in Bradbury’s article. I would go further, it is not merely that Japan, at least in its foreigner population, tolerates eccentricity, it positively encourages it. Also there are two other factors at play.

The first is to do with boredom. There is a large component of depression that is to do with boredom. A person that is bored is capable of doing anything and everything, and usually does. It is simply impossible to be bored in Japan; buildings are many stories high, convenience stores are open 24/7, and just occasionally the earth shakes or the wind blows during typhoons, just in case you are getting too comfortable. Boredom is impossible.

The second thing is this: along with the encouragement of eccentricities, Japan is also a place that does not allow you to be anti-social. If you are in say a bar, even on your own, you will be encouraged to talk, perhaps even flirt with fellow patrons, something which would be unthinkable in Britain at least. If Japan has one commandment it is this: ‘Thou Shall be Social!’

All of which is very good for a person who experiences depression. Isolation fosters depression, but Japan will give you every opportunity to avoid depressive episodes. I’m not going so far as to suggest you move here if you have depression, but if you did have depression, and are wondering what to do about it, well I leave you with William Bradbury’s words:

The modern world of self-help books has many mantras — “Change your life,” “Be the person you want to be,” “Get your priorities straight” — but here in Japan, the character isn’t seen as being so malleable: People are what they are. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is based on perception. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is all about going against your nature and changing the wiring of your brain, whereas in my experience, many Japanese tolerate their nature, for better or worse.

Amen.

How I Live in Now in Japan

[T]here remains a general tendency amongst expats, not to mention tourists, to accentuate their adventures and downplay their daily routine, those few moments and, over the course of one’s time spent overseas, increasingly unremarkable encounters. That’s something of a regrettable thing. I believe it’s often the case that the seemingly normal things, if savoured, can become uncanny things. These strange mundanities then weave themselves into the fabric of moment-to-moment life and incorporate slightly off-base or out of whack aspects into that which would otherwise (and unfairly) consider an ordinary day. –Richard Russell, Dancing over Kyoto, 2013

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything, almost a month in fact. Mostly it is because I have been busy teaching at the University, which allows me little time to think of interesting ideas to write about. But also because I was thinking about this quote, I can appreciate the author’s regret, it is one I share. Maybe it is because I am not a great writer, that I cannot capture the mundane as Richard Russell (and myself) would like to do. I had almost given up writing anything to do for public consumption, and concentrated instead of updating my diary. I re-read my post to spell check it. It read:

Sunday 6th July 2014

Busy and now typhoon season is upon us. Typhoon Neoguri, the second typhoon of the pacific season for this year approaches Japan. Should make landfall in Okinawa on the 8th and should be on Honshu on the 10th. Usually brushes past Osaka. Still flashlights bought, lithium batteries charged in case of blackout. Minae flying up to Sapporo on the 11th which is worrying could still be windy and stormy around Hokkaido.

As I read it back, I realised why recording the ordinary and the everyday of life in Japan is so difficult.

It really isn’t ordinary. Of course, here in Japan like everywhere else, there is the ordinary, minutia of everyday existence; hair needs cutting, food needs eating, apartments needs vacuuming, bills need paying an so on. People here, get up, have breakfast, go to work, come home, maybe read a newspaper and watch the news before going to sleep. Only when they watch the news and weather report, sometimes this happens.

Yes, its typhoon season again as typhoon Neoguri, approaches Japan.  Maybe it is different if you a foreigner from a country that has more extreme weather, Britain is virtually mono-seasonal, it has Winter; which runs from November until February and Autumn for the rest of the year.  A gale force wind or temperatures in excess of twenty centigrade are considered extreme.  Nobody needs to remind you to make sure your flashlight batteries are at full power, or whether your lithium battery is charged in case of blackout, aside from the occasional powercut there isn’t going to be a blackout, although floods are becoming more common.

Of course, it isn’t really odd routines about the weather, whether they be earthquakes, tsunami or typhoons, that make living in Japan un-ordinary but how quickly you incorporate those routines into your way of living, they become, not just normal and everyday, it becomes unthinkable that you could act otherwise.  And it’s not just a routine for typhoons, for example passports are kept in a safe, but accessible place in case of emergency evacuation due to earthquakes or tsunami, passports and some other documents related to marriage and residency in Japan in fact, and a bit of cash, in case you haven’t been to the bank when calamity strikes.

Surely, you might say, there are humdrum things such as paying bills. Bills you say, you mean things like electricity and water bills which you pay at convenience stores?

Nothing is ordinary, everything is experienced as exceptional, and it when you reflect on it, and recognise it as an experience of the uncanny, that sense of exceptionality is heightened.  And yet the writer in me is not satisfied with that, there must be a way to capture the mundane.  But I have yet to find the way, and now typhoon season has begun, everything will a little more ‘exceptional’ than usual, as I now live in a world where, with great regularity you have to check your flashlight, lithium battery, as well as water and food supplies.

It is in no way ordinary, but this is how I live, at least for now.

Japan calls for safety of disabled in disasters

Originally from NHK World June 11th 2014

In its first appearance at a UN conference on the rights of persons with disabilities, Japan has called for ensuring the safety of disabled people during natural disasters.

The meeting of countries that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities began at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

The meeting includes delegates from more than 140 nations. Among them are representatives of groups for the disabled.

The convention, which went into effect 6 years ago, aims to prohibit all forms of discrimination against people with disabilities and to promote their participation in all areas of society. Japan formally became party to the treaty this year.

Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Motohide Yoshikawa, said his country has revised some of its laws and enacted a new one to allow people to take legal action in cases of discrimination against the disabled.

He said Japan revised its disaster management law after disabled people suffered disproportionate harm in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The revision mandates the creation of lists of people who need support in case of evacuation.

Japan Disability Forum executive Katsunori Fujii said the ratification of the treaty will help Japan become a more hospitable place for people with disabilities. He said Japan can make a global contribution in such areas as engineering for personal welfare.

The 3-day conference will aim to include support for the disabled in the UN’s list of sustainable development goals.

Have you seen the ninja granny?

Japan is a place for sub-cultures; we have our Oaku, our Harajuku gilrls, they are a well-established sub-strata of Japanese society.  But today I discovered another sub-species, ladies and gentlemen may introduce to the ninja oba-chan.

Even long term residents of Japan might be confused, so let me explain. An ‘Oba-chan’ is a granny, a  elderly Japanese lady, one day all women of Japan, whether they have grandchildren or not shall be called ‘oba-chan’.  ‘Ninja’ of course, you know, they are those stealthy assassins, the most famous of which was Hattori Hanzo, not, as Quentin Tarantino would have us believe, a great sword maker, but a great assassin, who become a samurai for saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the sixteenth century.

What has all this talk of ninja got to with Japanese granny’s I hear you ask?  Well, I shall tell you, you see I have this theory: Japanese grannies are all descended from ninja.  Sounds crazy right?  So let me explain.

I’m out shopping, buying stuff for my Friday night meal, and fancied some sausages.  In Japan there is a really cool treat, a sausage fried in cornmeal, a corn dog to American readers, an ‘American dog’  to Japanese readers and simply awesome to this British writer.  You can eat in the convenience store, but I had bought two, one for me and one for the wife.  Taking it home meant the following: trying to stuff convenience store sausages into the small plastic container in the world, trying to whip an elastic band around.   I cannot do it, I have tried but my palsy effected left side will not let it happen.  I do try, I had at least t five good goes, but no avail.  Time passes; I get frustrated and seriously think about giving up on my beloved sausage.

It is at this point, and only at this point, that ninja oba-chan will appear.

Because suddenly an elderly Japanese lady appears, seemingly without making any sound, takes the plastic carton and then a whip-splat-kerpow – hey presto, I am presented with one neatly wrapped carton of food.  I try to mutter a arigatogozaimasu – Thank you, but before I can finish my sentence, I get a hai dozo There!  And as quick as ninja oba-chan appeared, puff like that, she’s gone.

Let me know if you encounter her.

 

Michey is Both Other and Lame!

Everyone is the other, and no one is himself. – Martin Heidegger

Recently in Japan, Uniqlo, a clothing chain, started a clothing range, with involvement from Pharrell Williams of ‘Happy’ videos fame.  The range is called ‘i am OTHER’, and it is a serious of hats, shirts and blouses.  Each has a phrase on it, phrases such as:

‘Unlike any other

Think other’

And my personal favourite:

‘The Same is Lame’

I love the idea of this as an academic philosopher; there is a long tradition in philosophy about interrogating the concept of the ‘same’ and ‘the other of the same’.  Google ‘Other of the Same’ and see for yourself.  Also as someone with cerebral palsy, I especially enjoy wearing a hat that read ‘The Same is Lame’.  Let me explain why:

Merriam-Websters defintion of lame:

 adjective \ˈlām\

: having an injured leg or foot that makes walking difficult or painful

: not strong, good, or effective

: not smart or impressive

l

:  having a body part and especially a limb so disabled as to impair freedom of movement

:  marked by stiffness and soreness <a lame shoulder>

2

:  lacking needful or desirable substance :  weak, ineffectual <a lame excuse>

3

slang :  not being in the know : 

So I am both Other and lame.  Deal with that Mr. Williams!

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