Monday, June 05, 2006


Allow me to be a culturally insensitive barbarian for a moment.

I'm cool with most of the stuff that Japanese folks do, and I'm usually not one to become irritated by little things.

One thing that does irritate me, however, is when people take little customs too far and impose them on me when they don't need to be imposed.

In the same way that I become border-line enraged when someone tells me to take my hat off, my stomach turns when I'm told, in a public place in Japan by a Japanese person, to please take my shoes off.

Now, entering someone's house is fine. I'm cool with that. Everyone in Japan does it, and I suppose there are good reasons for it, and it makes for a clean house. The following are some instances of the shoe taboo pissing me off:

  • A dressing room

    I was in a dressing room yesterday putting on a shirt when some worker stuck her head in and asked me to take off my shoes. I've got an idea -- wait for me to get out and don't look at me when I'm fucking changing. I think I'll go back there commando with some breakaway pants. After I go into the dressing room I'll quickly shed the pants and assume a sumo squat until she sticks her head in there again.

  • That'll learn 'er.

    Or maybe I'll do the African Aardvark Dance, sans underwear.

  • Restaurants

    Sometimes in Japan (in "traditional" restaurants), people must take off their shoes. I wouldn't mind this so much I guess, but whenever I go to these places I always end up wearing boots, and I take forever to take them off and put them on because I am not as accustomed to the speedy removal of footwear like my Japanese counterparts. So basically I'm a big bitch and get irritated at stupid shit.

  • The Gym

    Thankfully, I have never had to work out at a Japanese gym. Aside from incredibly high memberships ($200 "registration fee" and usually around $120 a month), they have a thing for the shoe taboo. Patrons are not allowed to wear the same shoes in the gym that they wore to the gym. The only time I set foot in a gym was to check it out cuz I was thinking about getting a membership, and I got to walk around in a pair of stupid looking slippers. I guess that didn't bother me as much as the gym staff's reaction to me attempting to enter the gym in my shoes.

    Japanese people are generally pretty laid back and non-responsive about stuff, but in the rare instance that I've seen a Japanese person flip out, at least 3 have been for shoe violations, and 2 have been directed at me specifically.

    The first time was from my host mother. I did a home-stay as a student in Japan, and my host mother was a complete bitch. I was 19 years old, had never really been that far away from my parents, and here I was in Japan for the first time ever. After being in Nagoya for a total of about 1 hour, I walked into the genkan of the house, and being the wide-eyed, not-wanting-to-offend, younger and more naive version of myself, I took off my shoes like a good little gaijin.

    Then I touched the outside part of the genkan, i,e. the area at the bottom of the steps, with my socked foot....and my host mother flipped....the fuck....out.....

    She just started going off in Japanese. After 20 hours or whatever of traveling and a shaky foundation in Japanese, I had no idea what grievous rule I had violated, then she broke into English and explained what I had done.

  • You don't touch the outside part of the house when you take your shoes off, asshole.

    After I got my heart rate under control and was assured that the culture police weren't gonna come and arrest me, I went to my new room and cried myself to sleep.

    One time I forgot something in my room when I was late for school after I had my shoes on, and I crawled through the house on my hands and knees, carefully elevating my feet from the surface of the house floor, so that they wouldn't touch.

    If my host mom had seen this, she would have gone completely bonkers...

    What a bitch she was. She eventually gave up on my uncivilized ass, because she pretended that I didn't exist for the last 6 months I was there.


    So I guess my point is that a traumatizing event(s) early in my development here led to me getting irritated every so often at the inconvenience of having to take off my shoes. Or maybe my feet smell like death and I don't feel like wrecking anyone's night. Maybe I wouldn't mind taking my shoes off if I wasn't told to take them off in such a patronizing tone (everytime a foreigner slips up on some cultural mistake here, they're corrected as if this is their first day in country), nor would I care about taking them off if there were a really good reason to take them off. A dressing room? Who the fuck cares? The gym!?!? I should get a membership at a gym just to show them what a huge mess I can make out by running on the treadmill, then take a 2 flush dump without flushing.

    In the shower.

    Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see the sign that said I couldn't take a crap in the shower. In our culture, it is OK. You should be more accommodating.

    That's part of being American though, I think. I talked about it with Brando when he was in Japan. Everywhere you go in Japan, something or someone is telling you to do something. In the States, if someone tells you to do something for no reason, we have a tendency to do the opposite because, well, fuck them, they're not the boss of me. In Japan, it's almost the opposite. If someone isn't constantly telling them to do something, it's chaos. What does this have to do with shoes? I don't know, I'm rambling, it's Monday, and I had a shoe-filled weekend.

    I guess I have kutsubyou.

    Shoe sickness.

    ps. I've been wanting to do this for a while, so here it is. I did it using nothing but Microsoft Paint's cut 'n' paste function, which is why it looks unblended, but it turned out pretty good given the fact that paint doesn't have a blend or smudge tool. =)

    pps. I don't advocate the beheading of anyone. I just advocate absurd photo edits, so don't get all mad.

    ppps. Tomorrow is 6/6/6


    Blogger nedric said...

    After I got my heart rate under control and was assured that the culture police weren't gonna come and arrest me, I went to my new room and cried myself to sleep.

    Yikes! They actually have "culture police" in Japan? My mom was a member of the "hair-style" police when I lived at home.

    I like your comparison to Americans: we would refuse to do what others tell simply on principle alone: sheer spite.

    1:47 PM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    Yes, they do have a culture police. It's an all volunteer force, consisting of patronizing spinsters with nothing to do but hang out at international centers, receive retail english lessons, and criticize gaijin on trains. They've been "studying" English for at least 20 years and can barely form a cohesive sentence, unless it's a rant about ikebana or heian-kyo. They like to start off sentences with, "...We Japanese..." to contrast themselves with our barbaric ways, and are somehow able to pretend that Japan's seemingly minor problems are indeed just minor problems and setbacks.

    I wish I could storm each and every one of their homes with my patrol boots and do a tapdance on their tatami floors.

    2:29 PM  
    Blogger David said...

    LOL great entry. I didn't know any of these Japanese "customs". I just knew that Japs love to work their asses off ...

    7:06 PM  
    Blogger Jinxy said...

    American's first reaction upon being told to do something:

    "Fuck you."

    American's second reaction upon being told to do something:

    "Fuck him, I'm going to do the exact opposite just to spite him."

    American's third reaction upon being told to do something.

    "Fuck that, where's my gun?"

    Or maybe that's just me....

    10:41 PM  
    Anonymous Jon said...

    Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see the sign that said I couldn't take a crap in the shower. In our culture, it is OK. You should be more accommodating.

    LOL, Paul, I honestly think that is what they expect us foreigners to do sometimes.

    I tried to get a membership at some sports club 7 years ago, and was denied due to the foreigner stigma. After all "what kind of impression would letting me in there give to the other customers?"

    I had to ask the guy if he was joking because it seemed so surreal. But I had the last laugh, as they soon went out of business. Mu, ha, ha.

    And yah, the no shoes in dressing rooms rule is pretty weak...

    But on the topic of the "spinster brigade" i.e. "culture police," it brings up an interesting point.

    The way societies regulate their members (whether they be natives, or guests).

    And the disappearing trend of calling people out in public.

    While bitchy old ladies picking an "easy target" (some foreigner who they feel they can criticize without fear of repercussion) is admittedly lame, it seems to me that if the Japanese don't start checking their youth, they are in some serious fucking trouble as a nation... Brando (if you're reading), you remember the clown girls? A lot of them sit in seats reserved for old people, and what's more chat on their cell-phones, which you aren't supposed to do.

    Public humiliation is a GREAT deterrent, that we somehow lost the ability to use in the US. There's a reason why they used to humiliate people... because it worked! I'm only sad to see it slipping here in Japan as well.

    But I digress... Wearing your shoes inside should not be subject to humiliation, it should be subject to castration... what was I thinking!?

    P.S. The Japanese don't really work more, they pretend to. The US consistantly has higher productivity levels. After 5, many of them are just waiting for everyone else to go home... which means that everyone is waiting for everyone else to go home... pretty pointless.

    11:11 PM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    Amen to the whole "I'm working so hard!!" thing.. But still, the people in smaller companies tend to take it in the shorts as far as being exploited.

    Did you talk to Brando about the whole social pressure thing when he was here, cuz he talked about it a lot. Is that why you hip check girls who are squatting at crosswalks and knock ciggies out of peoples' mouths when you're drunk? ehehhe But yeah, how's an old lady going to pick on a gaijin who (while I am not) is most likely a transient, and then ignore everything else. She's lucky I wasn't drunk. Or something.

    7:38 AM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    oh, and PS Jon:

    Remember that time we thought it would be a good idea to give me a haircut at my host mom's house and we made a huge mess? I think that was the beginning of the end of it for me and her. Especially when I got in the ofuro. Whoops.

    8:05 AM  
    Anonymous jon said...

    How could I forget? It was all fun and games until some hair got in the furo (bath)

    Thanks for reminding me about hip-checking that chick. I'd totally forgotten about that hilarious episode. Hey, if she's going to squat in the middle of ongoing traffic, she should just be happy that I didn't give her a genital check to the head!

    I think reactions like that (and grabbing cigarettes) are caused by social pressure from the inside, rather and external pressure... meaning that sometimes living in a different culture can be really frustrating because you tend to notice a lot of the bullshit that locals put up with (they call it gaman, which sounds like Jamaican ya man or maybe shaman?)

    The only thing we foreigners can try to do, I suppose, is respect their ways, and try not to provoke them.

    Can't we all just get along?

    10:06 AM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    ...oh yeah, and that's another thing.

    When do I get to take a little cultural sensitivity break? When are people gonna do stuff like I do stuff? I come to Japan, I respect the Japanese ways. I'm totally fine with that. But when folks come to the USA from other countries to live, if I even hint that they should, I dunno, do stuff like we do stuff, or maybe learn conversational English or something crazy like that, all of a sudden I'm intolerant. A bigot. A racist. An oppressive white male. blahblah.

    I'm a pretty adaptable dude, but I'm going to have to apologize in advance if I cannot accommodate every single custom of every single person that I may encounter while stateside. Let's just make it easier on everyone. The whole "When in Rome" thing goes both ways, bitches.

    As for stuff like hip-checking squatters, my buddy likes to hip-check people who read books and write text messages while they're walking. I've been doing that a bit lately too. If someone is going to walk across hachikou crossing while reading a book, they're gettin hip-checked.

    10:23 AM  
    Blogger brando said...

    I actually liked the clown girls in Shin-jew-koo. I remember honestly asking "Is there a show going on?" It looked like they were about to do Cats or something. I did think they were pretty cool, actually. And when I say "cool", I mean "completely absurd". Sort of like saying that paul is a heterosexual.

    As for social pressure to act right, I was very impressed. Those Japanese really know how to embark and disembark a train, stand in line, wait your turn, etc. Americans do not. I am sure that Iraqis would be pushing each other under the train on a daily basis.

    One of my big pet peeves is what I call the elevator effect. Whenever you are on an elevator, and the doors open, some schmuck always tries to get on before anyone gets off. Then they act all surprised that it didn’t work. You have to unload before you load.

    "Hey Fuckface, Newsflash! Two solid objects cant occupy the same space!"

    2:45 PM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    clown girls = she-boo-yah

    as for standing in lines, if directed to do so by a loudspeaker or a sign with a cartoon character on it, japanese people will "queue up". otherwise they wont. i discovered this at the cafeteria at my university in nagoya. unless otherwise instructed, japanese people will typically crowd around something and just go. americans are actually waaaay more likely to form a line and to snatch someone up if they cut in front of them.

    11:27 AM  
    Blogger nedric said...

    You are a bigot if you think for a second that I am ever going to learn conversational English... Wait, is there really a class for that? I mean, one that Americans should be taking right about... NOW!

    So if I understand you correctly, Paul, although it may appear to Brando that Japanese know how to deal with trains in reality they are conducted by a little cartoon figure? I have got to get one to just carry around with me for walking down the sidewalk in this hell-hole of a University town. Just like the elevator/train issue, people just can't seem to get it straight that when walking down the sidewalk with at least one other person, means that when there is oncoming walkers you have to file in or walk in the mud.

    I personally just walk through yards and flowerbeds and people's houses just to avoid all of that jazz. People seem okay with that.

    12:32 PM  
    Blogger Paul said...

    It's weird, just like stuff in the states i guess. somethings in japan are super orderly, while other things are chaos. getting on and off the train is one of the orderly things -- everyone lines up on either side of the door and waits for the people to get off, then they cram on. however, i heard that the trains in shanghai resemble a battle scene from braveheart whenever the doors open.

    i think that maybe in japan, if a japanese person has to be around someone for an extended period of time, i,e. in close quarters on the train, they will do their best to be polite. however, if, for example, they are merely passing someone and wont see them ever again, they dont really care. i dunno. weird.

    1:10 PM  
    Blogger brando said...

    She-boo-yah! I knew that, darnit.

    2:49 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This was LOL funny. Reminds me of the time I was walking along the street in Spain in the morning drinking a coke. Some kid decided to yell at me and tell me that drinking coke in the morning was bad for my stomach. Um, thanks, Pepe, that cigarette you're holding is doing wonders for your lungs. So, I went to my office and related the story to my co-workers. They gave me the sympathetic look, but I could see in their eyes that they too thought I was insane for having coke before the 3 o'clock meal. I told them that in a country where pregnant women smoke, how could they think that coke was damaging to my stomach? My co-worker justified the smoking-while-with-child telling me that doctors actually recommend that women continue to smoke while pregnant because if they stopped, they would get hypertension that would be damaging to the fetus. Um, LO QUE SEA!!!

    -your sista

    11:31 PM  
    Anonymous jacquelinem16(jacqueline alvarez) said...

    Oh my goodness, pauly! I really needed a laugh right now, and thanks to you i fell out of my chair, rolling, until my stomache hurted! No kidding! I think that your experience with your boarding mom, did seem out of control, but...that's their custom! I'm sorry she made you cry! Now, you're a strong man, Hooah! In case you're wondering who the F*** IS THIS, i'm the one who sent you an email about 3 weeks ago, Nurse, Married to a 53 yr. old, very sick man; You told me that i had alot on my plate? it's o.k. if you don't remember! LOL! I love to read your blogs, you tell the truth in a form which seems humorous to me! Thanks for making my day, i really did need a laugh! Bye!

    12:12 AM  
    Anonymous Jon said...

    They did a study in Japan about elevators, and they found that more people could fit into them if nobody knew anyone else.

    But as soon as they introduced everybody, only about half the number of people were able to fit in the same space. (not sure about the exact numbers)

    When you don't know someone it is easier to block them out. But when you know someone, then immediately there are social restraints on what is and is not acceptable, a) behavior, b) proximity, etc...

    For those of you with the blues, here's a video to cheer you up. While it basically just tells the story of Phantom Menace, I am AMAZED at his ability to fit everything into rhyme. (that and there's nothing funnier than the Emperor playing piano)

    Hope you like it too...

    *WARNING* You might want to turn this DOWN if you are at work

    11:30 AM  
    Blogger brando said...

    When we came back on one of the last trains at the end of the night, I would say it was at about 185% capacity.

    Now I wouldn't say that I have a huge proximity problem, however I did have a strong desire to start windmilling my arms.

    2:36 PM  

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