Please Do It At Home06.06.10

A first glance at Tokyo might reassure a visitor that things are not so different from industrialized Western countries. McDonalds is everywhere, and many signs are helpfully written in English. The above sign posted on a train in Tokyo is a good example of both initial similarity and fundamental difference. Natural enough sounding English, but what does it mean? What is “it” that one is supposed to do at home, anyway?

People raised in the U.S. may puzzle for a bit before either deciding “it” has to do with listening to music, sharing earphones, or sitting in a seat reserved for the elderly, pregnant, or disabled. Some might think “it” refers to a public display of affection, or young men using extra firm hair gel. A few might even conclude that the English is misleading, since none of the above activities seems a smooth syntactic or semantic fit.

People raised in Japan or having long familiarity through immersion know immediately, instinctively, without being told. Putting this into words might take a little time however, since “it” is such a part of the Japanese worldview and value system from early childhood that explanation is rarely needed except to young children just becoming aware of life beyond the immediate family. Perhaps one good way of explaining to outsiders might be this:  “It”- that which is to be done at home and not in public- is becoming so involved in your own interests or fun that you forget your place in society and don’t notice the negative impact of your actions on those around. Back to the sign, it is neither the sharing of earphones nor the listening to music (as long as it can’t be heard by others) nor the casual body language alone which is censured. It is the sum total of all of these which betray a self-centered way of being which is anathema to Japanese society. The sign makes a whole lot more sense understood in this light, but is still incomprehensible to many in the world where I grew up. So similar and yet so fundamentally different: Welcome to Japan.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under culture.

2 Responses to “Please Do It At Home”

  1. May I suggest that you send this in as a Letter to the Editor of the Seattle Times or the Chicago Tribune? This is great. This is genius! You truly have found your writing voice Andy!

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    Posted by Julie Wiley on 12/13/09 June 9th, 2010 at 3:23 PMReply

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