A new Japan story…

Written by Lorna Shapiro

Chisato and I took the Shinkansen (the bullet train) from Yokohama to Kyoto on the third day of my stay.  We each had one suitcase but already I’d done some shopping and they weren’t light.  We bought our tickets for an assigned seating car and boarded, me expecting to find lots of tourists like us. Instead the car was populated with businessmen (almost no women) in suits.  Looking around we found that the only place for our suitcases was on a rack well above our heads.  Although 35 years older than Chisato, I am decidedly stronger, so it fell to me to lift the two suitcases up to the racks.  It was a struggle, and took some time, but finally I had both suitcases in place.  The train stopped about 6 times on the way to Kyoto; businessmen got off, new businessmen got on.  When we arrived in Kyoto, we repeated the suitcase process only backwards… It wasn’t until I was leaving the car, with all the businessmen still seated reading whatever they were reading, that I realized something was very wrong with this picture.  In all our struggles with the suitcases, not one person had stood up and offered to help.  I was astounded when this sunk in.  So, of course, I raised it with Chisato as we walked.  It appears there were two things at play here.  First is the Japanese imperative not to intrude upon another’s space, and the second is the lack of an ethic of taking care of women.  Who knew?  When I told this story to Mariko, my friend and a high school teacher in Japan, she was not surprised.  She told me that she regularly teaches the boys in her class about “ladies first” before they make their trip to Canada for a study experience abroad 🙂