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Japan's manners are the laughingstock of the world

31 Comments

His tie is too short, likewise his shirt sleeves, and his pants pocket bulges. He’s a disgrace. He’s the prime minister. Abroad, he represents Japan. Really, Shinzo Abe should know better. Fortunately, his American interlocutor, President Donald Trump, is no more suave. If anything, he’s less. What, frets Shukan Gendai (March 10), is this world coming to?

Japan is a mannered country – a well-mannered country. Its politeness is notorious, proverbial. And yet Shukan Gendai worries about breach upon careless breach of decorum. Nor is that all. On numerous points, what is considered mannerly in Japan is unmannerly, if not downright odd, in other parts of the world. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are just around the corner. Will Japan withstand international scrutiny?

It’s easy to dismiss this sort of thing as trivia, but “international image consultant” Yoko Asaka raises the stakes. Nineteenth-century French novelist Honore de Balzac, she says, equated indifference toward clothing to spiritual suicide. A great writer saying a thing doesn’t necessarily make it true, but Asaka, Shukan Gendai’s source, is convinced, so let’s follow her and see where she leads.

Given that Abe’s suit would have cost him something like 500,000 yen, she says, the least he could do is wear it properly. The suit as we know it today is a creation of the 19th-century British finicky class – royalty and the upper nobility. Unwittingly no doubt, they set the global dress code for ages to come. Their rules are ours: the necktie hanging down to the belt buckle (Abe’s doesn’t); shirt sleeves protruding 1 cm beyond the jacket cuffs (Abe’s don’t); and as for the pants pocket bulge, it’s unsightly enough that we need no expert’s eye to draw our attention to it. Trump’s dress is diagnosed as even more careless, though his suit is at least as expensive.

One more point about clothes, and then on to other things. Japan’s love affair with the black suit bemuses the outside world, says Asaka. Whether the occasion is a wedding or a funeral, Japanese men wear black, unaware, or not caring, that, abroad, black symbolizes mourning. In Japan, it might well be said, a ceremony is a ceremony, and black is the color that most deeply dignifies it.

The social graces are precise but ambiguous. One culture’s manners are another’s boorishness. It’s a fine line globalization makes us walk. In Japan, Shukan Gendai notes, the circle formed by joining thumb to forefinger means “OK.” In France it means “zero, useless.” In Spain and Brazil it’s an obscene gesture.

Japanese  bowing can clash most awkwardly with the American handshake. Then there’s this: when greeting a stranger, Japanese tend to fold their hands across the belly. To Westerners quick to extend their hands, that indicates lack of confidence.

Eye contact is a controversial issue. Avoid it and appear shrinking. Make a point of it and you come across as domineering. Japanese tend to err on the side of caution. Where does one draw the line? Thirty seconds of eye contact per minute, counsels Asaka, is just about right.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

31 Comments
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Japan's manners are the laughingstock of the world

When it comes to the tabloids, you should never set standards too high. I thought this would be an empty-headed article overly-influenced by nihonjinron nonsense where some writer saw on Twitter that some anonymous people somewhere in gaikoku laughed at a single Japanese person doing something and this was unfairly generalized into a world-wide opinion. I should have known better than to have such lofty expectations for Kuchikomi.

Instead we got a vague meandering article that is mostly about Abe's fashion sense, but also sometimes about Trump's for no clear reason, with a token final paragraph regurgitating the same cliches about gestures in other countries having different meanings in other parts of the world.

I feel I've been made dumber by reading this garbage.

40 ( +41 / -1 )

Japan's manners are the laughingstock of the world

To people who don't understand that other cultures are different than their own, maybe.

Whether the occasion is a wedding or a funeral, Japanese men wear black, unaware, or not caring, that, abroad, black symbolizes mourning.

Google image for "wedding" : men in black suits everywhere.

In France it means “zero, useless.”

Not necessarily.

Japanese  bowing can clash most awkwardly with the American handshake.

But millions of people in the world who know Japan from martial arts have no problem with it. Or people who watch movies. Or read books.

“international image consultant” Yoko Asaka

Damn, find another job ! You suck at this one !

20 ( +20 / -0 )

Jees, attacking Abe’s and Trump’s dress sense now, like how chauvinists used to comment on women’s appearances. It makes it even more unfortunate that it’s a woman making this criticism too.

Also overlaying foreign attitudes and “manners” onto local ones and then calling them out on it is just a non-starter. It’s an invalid point and cannot even be acknowledged due to its silliness.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

the American handshake.

Handshakes are American, are they? You learn something new every day...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The American handshake, as opposed to the British, French, Australian, Brazillian etc handshakes.

Utterly ridiculous article.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

While Japanese do often favour drab colours for their suits, saying black is an exclusive colour to Japan is ridiculous.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Never trust a guy wearing flipflops with a suit....

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Abe's sartorial elegance, or lack thereof, isn't something I've noticed or care about. One of the few things he seems to do well is visit other countries to drum up business.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I do not consider manners among Japanese to be laughable, and I do not know any one who does. Different, and hard to understand, but definitely not laughable.

As regards suits and flip flops, I respectfully disagree. First saw flip flops and suits the first time I went to Hawaii. Don't know about today, but forty years ago it was accepted practice, and eminently practical for the Hawaiian climate.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

$5000 suit? Looks like a Walmart Special actually. So do Trumps.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I never connected clothing with manners before. Interesting idea.

A slob can have excellent manners. It has nothing to do with clothing, except that showing up to a snooty occasion without a correctly snooty attire would be ill-mannered.

But I've had many "good manners" totally fail in Japan. Ladies first doesn't work in Japan.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Of course clothes are related to manners. Being properly dressed for the occasion is good manners. Dressing inappropriately for the situation is the height of bad manners.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

I'm all Uniclo. Do I make the cut?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ridiculous article -- please remove.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

gokai_wo_maneku:

I'm all Uniclo. Do I make the cut?

Fortunately you do. But if you were one of the sheep wearing Uniqlo you would be put in the soylent green line.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Shukan Gendai IS the laughing stock. Anyone who takes it seriously becomes a laughing stock.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

He’s a disgrace. He’s the prime minister. Really, Shinzo Abe should know better. Fortunately, his American interlocutor, President Donald Trump, is no more suave.

The only part of the article that made any sense. The rest was garbage.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

There seems to be a bit of a trend in political circles in this country to wear suits and ties that reflect your political party. LNP/Labor go for the navy/blueish tones, but show their loyalty via the tie. The Greens like to sport a teal suit I've noticed.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Nineteenth-century French novelist Honore de Balzac, she says, equated indifference toward clothing to spiritual suicide.

Don't quote what you don't understand. Balzac was the most sarcastic guy ever born, became famous for mocking the lack of substance of the elegant Parisian high society. There is nothing special about Abe's clothes or manner. Useless mean article.

joining thumb to forefinger means “OK.” In France it means “zero, useless.”

It means both OK and number zero when counting in France and in Japan. Then what ? Abe speaks in gestures in meetings with other head of States or has he interpreters ?

Trump’s dress is diagnosed as even more careless, 

Trump's appearance is peanuts compared to his 'locker room' manners, tweets and speeches.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What is the point of this article? It makes no sense.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

As for conservatives, suits are no laughable matter.

Also I reject the statement that „The suit as we know it today is a creation of the 19th-century British finicky class“

A jacket and slacks is the international standard even for girls, while greens prefer no tie and maybe sneakers.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I actually think the world should adapt Japanese manners. And I hate the handshake, not only because I am a germ phobe...but it seems rather aggressive to me.

The handshake itself has its own set of "manners". Is it too weak? Too strong? And how long do you grasp the hand? I think Japanese manners are just right.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Should we go 19th century, just with smart phones?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japanese salarymen don’t dress like Abe anyway.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only laughter I find in Japanese manners is when people who don't live here talk as if ALL Japanese are these well mannered, polite individuals and the country as a whole is devoid of anyone who's a jerk. You see this mindset particularly in interviews with celebs who are coming for a promo tour or event/concert, and will undoubtedly have their rear ends kissed by everyone the entire time in country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Too say that Japan's manners are poor is unacceptable exaggeration.

To say that Abe needs to dress better is unfornate truth. :)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The color of the suits in Japan I have no issue with.

A black suit with a crisp white shirt looks good. (As long as the suit is neatly pressed and not just thrown on from yesterday!!)

What I do find strange is the ridiculous obsession with skinny trousers and long pointy shoes.

Not a good look lads. Time to move on.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The comment that pointed to the fact that a female writer is criticizing the clothing manners of a male politician is more interesting than the article. This observation reveals an important fact that men in Japan too are subject to the very same strictures about appearance as women in other societies (I know only USA). It is tough on the men maybe, but EQUAL (HA! HA! HA!)--if you go for that kind of feminism! Somebody quick write the OECD and tell them how advanced we are, in a mode unsuspected by their questionnaires etc.!!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Christina TsuchidaToday  04:57 pm JST

The comment that pointed to the fact that a female writer is criticizing the clothing manners of a male politician is more interesting than the article. This observation reveals an important fact that men in Japan too are subject to the very same strictures about appearance as women in other societies 

You've never actually been in this country, have you.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The title of this article is sure to garner attention, but IMO it is nonsense. Before seeing this article, the idea that Japanese manners were somehow bad never even occurred to me. While I have not myself been to Japan, I know others who have, and I have met Japanese visiting over here. No one I know has ever criticized Japanese manners.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It isn't the clothes or appearance that makes the man, it's who he* **is**. It's on the inside, and Donald Trump is an embarrassment* to America. He's rotten to the core**.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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