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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Useless Japanese Services

What Japanese services may be of no service to Westerners? While in general I love Japanese service, and find it easy to avoid the services that I do not need, the following 60 services may be of little use to Western customers, except as examples of Japanese cultural alterity, which tourists tend to enjoy.
  1. Sales staff talking one octave higher than they would otherwise.
    I don't want people to demean themselves to the extent of talking in a falsetto voice.
  2. Petrol Station (Gas stand) attendants. Fortunately these are now seen less and less, due to changes in the law which now allow drivers to fill their own tanks. Having someone do it for you, while you wait in the car watching them do it, adds unnecessarily to the cost of petrol. Like the people waving flags on each approach of roadworks compulsory gas station attendants may have been a way of ensuring full employment.
  3. Sales staff putting out their hand to allow you to deposit refuse into it (pass me a bin please)
  4. The cries of "someone has ordered XYZ" (XYZ icchou), or "someone wants an extra serving ("okaidama") in Japanese restaurants and otherwise announcing what you have ordered to the rest of the restaurant),
  5. Snack hostesses and other providers of conversation that one must pay for.
  6. Photo-me machine booths (purikura) everywhere with the ability to add annotations and to make ones eyes bigger (more Caucasian?).
  7. Surgery to add a crease to upper eyelids or make ones nose longer. 
  8. Traditional Japanese hotel (ryokan) waitresses (nakaisan) that tell me how, and in what order, and which sauce to eat my food, and even when to go to bed.
  9. Supermarket workers that escort you to produce you ask the whereabouts of rather than tell you what isle the produce is sold in, because I usually want to weave my way through the store rather than be escorted to the far side of the shop.
  10. All the till receipts even when your hands are full of shopping and change (which is generally used as a paper weight)
  11. Wrapping and more wrapping (some convenience store workers seem to find it difficult to put a niku-man on my hand, perhaps they fear I will be burned),
  12. The attempts at English even when I am speaking in Japanese,
  13. Offers of disposable chopsticks (which are supposed to be easier to use than regular ones)
  14. The instance upon providing (and requiring me to bring) a card particular to each hospital or clinic
  15. New years cards from various service industries
  16. Taxi doors (I have to remember not to annoy drivers by shutting my door and hitting them with their handle)
  17. Tiny indoor slippers that I can't get my feet into
  18. A little bit of food, called tsukedashi, that I have to eat and pay for to drink a beer
  19. Phones that don't accept or allow me to change SIM Cards
  20. Banks and post offices that insist upon providing receipts (if you try to do a runner, they run after you)
  21. All the advertisements inside my newspaper
  22. The wrapping for the newspaper on rainy days though our postbox is a box and under our porch
  23. Book covers and book "belts"
  24. Toothpicks
  25. Being thanked by vending machines,
  26. Ice in bar urinals,
  27. Purposefully adding extra froth on my beer,
  28. Bits of plastic fairing around the windows of cars,
  29. Mammoth exhaust pipes on cars, the whole car "meiku" (in the sense of make up, or cosmetics) after-parts industry,
  30. Umbrella condoms when an umbrella rack would do fine since umbrellas are so cheap they are almost free and the Japanese do not steal things anyway
  31. Surprise packs of things I do not need sold on New Years Day by department stores,
  32. Department stores or shops that are able to sell things at inflated prices due to the fact that they are prestigious shoppers and can provide wrapping that indicates their prestigiousness.
  33. Being greeted with a bow if I am one of the first customers arriving in the morning.
  34. The ceaseless announcements of things that are utterly obvious ("do not bring dangerous things onto the train"),
  35. Car park attendants that wave me in directions that I already knew I wanted to go in,
  36. Public service sirens to call me home to lunch and dinner,
  37. Cardboard toilet paper tubes with printing thanking me for having finished the toilet paper,
  38. Toilet seats that blow dry my posterior,
  39. Free muck brown tea in canteens that tastes like it was produced by a goat,
  40. Politicians with no policy just a loud Tannoys.
  41. Individually wrapped fruit,
  42. Square water melon,
  43. The opportunity to taste sausages in supermarkets (unless this is an opportunity for free food, which it is not. It is an attempt to make customers to feel obligation or giri to return the favour).
  44. Horrible looping background music in shops such Yamada Denki and Mr Max
  45. Sales staff that ask me to sit down.  I would often rather stand and when I want to sit down, since I am not a dog, I do not need to be asked to sit down.
  46. Noise producing devices to hide the sound of my excrement falling into toilet bowls. Admittedly these are only generally provided only to women.
  47. Supermarket cash register staff that repack shopping into baskets as opposed to into bags to take home as in the UK. They carefully position the heaviest items at the bottom of the basket making putting the same items at the bottom of ones bag difficult.
  48. Being asked to confirm the brand of cigarettes that I order from behind the counter in convenience stores two or three times.
  49. The little piece of plastic grass in bento lunch boxes.
  50. Theme parks replicating areas of foreign countries such as Huis Ten Bosch, Parke Espana, and Shakespeare Country Park.
  51. Restaurants and hotels which could easily provide a view but do not, such as Sea Mart in Hagi, which is almost beside the sea but provides a view of the back of some warehouses obscuring the sea front.
  52. Tourist attractions which are places where something once happened, but are now only an empty field with a commemorative stone to mark the spot.
  53. Being able to see the car or person I am controlling in Japanese video games such as MarioKart.
  54. Female staff who clean the gents while I am using them.
  55. Sales staff,  such as at DVD rental stores that pass things to me in their scripted order, rather than putting them on the counter requiring me to keep standing their proffering a bag of DVDs or to accept all the things the are passing before I have put the other things away.
  56. Telephone service staff that use all sorts of polite padding and take ages to get to the point.
  57. Telephone service staff that insist upon putting me through to the appropriate staff member when my question is so simple as to be answerable by anyone and therefore forcing me to ask my question again.
  58. In spite of, or as exemplified by performing various demeaning services that I do not ask for, the general patronising superciliousness of service staff who stick to their scripts and praxes rather than submitting to being my willing servant.
  59. The general tendency of service staff to attempt to provide what is required as indicated by non-verbal communication rather than listening to my commands, which I find myself repeating, like the brand of my cigarettes, two or three times.  
  60. Elevator girls that press the buttons of elevators in departments stores and announce what is available on each floor. Now largely a service of the past.
Bearing the fact that tourists of all nationalities travel in part for the sake of cultural alterity, there is a case to be made on the contrary for Japanese services providers to ham up all the above services providing them in lavish extravagance (e.g. even more wrapping, even higher sales voices), so as to provide a stimulating, weird cultural experience to visiting Westerners.

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"Bits of plastic fairing around the windows of cars"

Stops wind noise, but I agree with all the rest.

Some would say it is an over-engineered service culture. Some would say that it is a make-work programme so, even though their women are underemployed, they can employ more people than this economy can really justify. I think I know the real reason: to kill heuristics.

If you babysit all ages all of the time, and never teach anyone in school to do their own thinking or research, none of the population will have heuristic skills. Put another way: nobody can rock the boat by thinking for themselves. Scary how much sense it makes...
"Sales staff putting out their hand to allow you to deposit refuse into it (pass me a bin please)"

This one is interesting for what it says about Western notions of purity and human decency. Generally, touching garbage is degrading, but rather less so if it's your own garbage, because you "know where it's been". Someone offering to degrade themselves in front of one is profoundly unsettling.
Thank you both. I have added another 16 from 45 onwards.

I think that linguistic (and this may be equivalent to heuristic) thought is stifled but perhaps imagination is welcome and encouraged.

@Ashley Yakeley
I agree entirely.

You sparked me to make a post of my own. I've linked to you.

You are a wanker. It sounds like you want japan to be America or Australia. Piss off home mate and dont come back. Japan is great tge way it is and does not need you.
Ah. Just read it again. You are a pommy wanker. Plenty of tgem who come to Australia and bitch about the heat and pretty much anthung else. If you dont like tge rest of the world then stay home.
Thank you for your comment Lavish. I kind of agree with you.
This post was kibd of tongue in cheek. I have lived here nearly 30 years, and like Japan very much. I am always lamenting how much the Japanese are making Japan like America. I think I say at the top of the post that these services may be useless to gaijin. I had tourists in mind. At the same time tourists like that which us different so perhaps they shoukd increase the wrapping etc.

Dear Lavish

Thank you for your second comment. You are right on most counts, and I am great for any comments, but I must ask you to suppress the profanity.

Japan is my home.
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.