Originally published on 2019/08/19
One thing I’ve always admired about Japan and its people is how efficient the country runs.
Obviously, the train system is amazing. The turnstile that reads the IC card never (or very rarely) fails. Customer service is very impressive.
There’s a lot of amazing things in Japan, and I have met many kind-hearted, funny, and warm Japanese people. But at first glance, I thought they were all introverts like me. Obviously, that’s not the case.
Japan is a country that’s very accommodating to introverts. No need to worry that someone’ll try to strike a conversation with you on the train because chatting up a stranger on the train just doesn’t happen here (or, you know, like maybe 1% of the time).
If you walk around with orange hair, no one will point it out and laugh in your face. (Laughing behind your back is an entirely different story.)
Such things reminded me yet again that I was no longer in the Philippines.
It’s not uncommon for a complete stranger to try to talk to you in a jeepney or when you’re waiting in line for something. Filipinos are also pretty loud and many will not hesitate to make fun of someone openly.
Not particularly commendable behavior.
Most Japanese mind their own business. With many Filipinos, they make other people’s business theirs.
Sometimes it’s bad; sometimes it’s good.
One time, I was on a train and I got seated to what I assumed were a boyfriend and girlfriend with how close they were leaning on each other — and by leaning I meant they were starting to look fused together.
They were both asleep, and the guy’s head was touching my shoulder.
I found the situation a bit funny in an awkward can’t believe this is happening to me way.
In the Philippines, something like this would have made other passengers in the jeepney smirk or chuckle.
In the Philippines, I would have caught their eye and we would have chuckled silently together or someone would have made a soft comment about being exhausted to the bone.
But this was Japan and no one made chuckling noises or even looked in our direction. I have seen many people nodding off inside the trains, so obviously this was pretty normal for them.
Still, it seems that the idea of “minding my own business” takes precedence in these situations. An acquaintance of mine once said that she boarded a train where a drunk girl was leaning and pressing her head against the train doors.
No one intervened, so my acquaintance was forced to act and pull the drunk girl gently to the side.
Now back to the dozing couple.
It was an awkwardly funny moment for me, and I had a weird feeling of wanting someone else to see it. I don’t even know why I felt that way, but maybe because I was used to it in the Philippines, I wanted to see that strange camaraderie borne from being witness to strange situations.
And then my eyes connected with someone — another foreigner! Blonde hair, light skin, and she looked at me and the sleeping couple and gave me a smirk-grin combo.
She found it funny, too!
I was relieved.
I don’t know how to explain why I felt that way.
Maybe it’s because I’m in a new country and still establishing new relationships and finding my feet in a new culture.
Maybe I just wanted to feel a fleeting camaraderie with a stranger I’ll never see again — that the reason I find it attractive is that it’s just a short moment of emotional connection, of sharing the same feeling of amusement and “Sucks, huh? That’s okay.”
It’s strange the things I had been missing when I became immersed in another culture. Sure, there are some things that are similar to what one can find in the Philippines, but the differences can be stark once you finally see them.
This wasn’t a rant or a philosophical discussion but just a realization of what I felt and why.
I don’t doubt I’ll stumbled across more bizarre cultural cravings and shocks as time goes by.