Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Decorum and Japanese Civility


A common stereo type of the Japanese as a people is that they are polite. The Japanese have many protocols to show politeness, from actions such as bowing to show respect (lower to show more) to language markers, like honorifics. The system of decorum is much more complex than a simple bow, but it’s a good start for any gaijin (foreigner), literally “people out of the country” to respond with a graceful bow.

For someone like me, returning to Japan to visit the relatives, common and routines jump out in comparison to the Western world I now live in. I had forgotten that every conductor who walk the length of the train, when exiting a particular car of the train, turns around, bows, and thanks the passengers, before entering the next car. Most people don’t even notice them, let alone acknowledge their gesture with a returned bow. Yet, it’s done. Every single time. It’s like a master furniture maker perfecting the internal back panel of a cupboard no one will ever see.

I also noticed several trips ago on my way back to the States, that the mechanics and other personnel outside of the airplane at by the gate were lined up, bowing in unison as the aircraft detached from its jetway and taxied away to the runway. With all the passengers busy buckling seat belts and shuffling the duty free magazines, I doubt anyone else noticed or cared. But there they were in a straight line, bowing deep to thank the passengers and wish us a safe journey home.

It’s probably a common practice I just hadn’t noticed til then. I’m glad I did, and have gained more appreciation for cultural differences that made me teared up as I was bidding farewell to Japan.

Photo: Our Northern Japan train trip

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This entry was posted on May 2, 2015 by in Culture, Japan, Travel and tagged , , , , .
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