You won’t see many garbage bins on the streets of Japan. Because you are meant to take care of your own garbage, and take it home, and recycle it responsibly. Tourist spots particularly are kept free of garbage bins, so that people don’t burden the place with tons and tons of waste. At a ceremonial tea ceremony, our guide said that it would be impolite to leave our used tissues behind, for the host to dispose of, and we were asked to put them discreetly into our own pockets.
In Tokyo, the local buses showed the same disregard for pedestrians as our very own BEST buses. But inside the bus, two older women wanted to give us their seats, because we were their country’s guests. It’s only after Asako, one of the organizers of the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival insisted that we were fine standing, that they settled back into their seats. They took advantage of Asako’s English to ask us some basic questions, where we were from, did we like it in Japan, were we having a good time.
In Tokyo, we were living in a hotel marginally better than a capsule hotel. A mattress, a small TV, hooks on the wall for clothes, but everything was scrupulously clean. Each floor had common toilets, again very clean, and everything provided for, bathroom slippers, bath robes, soaps, shampoos, washing detergents, sanitary napkins, a washing machine. Even at the festival theaters in Yamagata, the toilets were stocked with all the supplies. The toilets at Tokyo station stank a little, but that is to be expected with a daily traffic of around 490000 people. But even so they were cleaner than the toilets at most malls here.
During the festival screenings, people automatically took seats from the centre outwards, making sure that when others arrived later, they could take the outer seats with minimum inconvenience to themselves or others.
An Iranian interpreter who has lived in Japan for several years, said that it’s a formal culture. She said she’s never entered the houses of her neighbors. All conversations take place at the door, or the entrance area. But she admitted that it could be because the houses are very small.
However she said, the Japanese love giving gifts. And they love celebrating nature. The Japanese will take off on full moon picnics, or looking at the cherry blossom picnics.
Asako, was abashed by my unabashed admiration of Japanese culture. She argued that the rigid sense of courtesy and duty also led to depression and the highest rate of suicides in the world. She also thought that younger people were rebelling against the values of courtesy and duty imposed on them by tradition.
But I was not convinced. On my way out to Tokyo, waiting for my flight at the Mumbai airport, I was sitting across two Japanese teenage girls. They had punk hairstyles, several body piercings, loud make-up, stereotypes of teenage rebellion. In my usual nosy-parker way, I watched them chattering to each other in a language I could not eavesdrop on.
Then, they scattered a packet of jelly beans on the airport floor. Without missing a beat of their conversation, they were on the floor, picking up each and every jelly bean that had rolled out. They collected the sweets and dumped them into a garbage bin, while they continued talking merrily, tossing their pink and purple heads.
I’m not so sure whether Indian teenagers would have done the same.
A 17 year old niece who’s lived in Canada for the last 8 years, came back after 6 years recently. She told her mother, “Looking at the way people drive here, I think no one cares for anyone else.”
Her mother said, “And I don’t think they care much for themselves either.”