Photo: PAKUTASO
lifestyle

Japanese politeness is a myth: One person’s tale strikes a chord with people around the country

29 Comments
By Oona McGee, SoraNews24

Around the world, Japanese people are seen as kind, quiet, and above all, polite. While that’s true in many cases, especially when it comes to being served by those working in the customer service industry, it’s not always the case in everyday situations, and shining a light on the issue is Japanese Twitter user Arisa, who goes by @0smxUBZWd2MYRV3 online.

According to Arisa, Japanese people can be incredibly rude, and she’s seen it all firsthand as she works as a cash register clerk in Japan. She says it’s a stressful job, as she has to deal with people being rude to her day in and day out, and to top it all off, there’s nothing she can say or do about it, as her role in the customer service industry requires her to be courteous while smiling and bowing politely to them regardless.

Behind the smile and the Irasshaimase! (“Welcome!“) there’s a person with feelings.

Arisa recently took to Twitter to vent her frustrations, posting a thread that began with this tweet.

“I have a bit of a complaint. I work at the cash register, but you know what? There are way too many customers who have bad manners. What I mean is, there’s really a lot of customers who are unacceptable as people.

"When you serve customers, you’ll know all too well that it’s a lie to say Japanese people are polite. With 30-40 percent of customers having bad manners, the stress on me is piling up. I think it’s really terrible that they don’t make people learn how to interact with others during compulsory education at schools.”

She followed that tweet with another one, which reads: “I’m really surprised at the large number of customers who don’t say anything and just run off after snatching their change or receipt in an intimidating way. Store clerks are human beings??

"I’m disheartened every day because Japanese cultural standards have dropped this low.”

Rather than  just complain about the situation, though, Arisa is attempting to improve things by educating everyone with some tips on how to act as a customer.

“It’s fine to not say anything. I don’t feel bad at all if you give a tiny nod or use gestures to respond to my questions. [regarding how the customer wants to pay or if they want a bag, for example]. This is like the least you can do as a person.”

“Before the clerk uses the register, say onegai shimasu. [This phrase is commonly used to mean “please” in Japan]."

"When the clerk asks you things like ‘Do you have a point card?’ say something properly, like ‘No, I don’t.’"

"Finally, when you’re given your change say ‘thank you.’"

"It’s all pretty straightforward but it’s something only about 10 percent of customers can do.”

Arisa’s comments resonated with a large number of people in Japan, who supported her tale with comments like:

“Japanese people are kind to foreigners but strict with Japanese people.”

“Elderly male customers tend to be the worst. Surprisingly, young people are polite.”

“Ten years ago, as a student, I worked as a cashier at a supermarket, and the overwhelming majority of middle-aged men and women were rude.”

“I also worked on the register when I was a student and I was shocked by the way customers treated me.”

“I hate how there’s no vertical relationship in the service industry in Japan — customers are above and cashiers are below.” 

“So many customers act like god, but not a kind one.”

It’s true that the customer is god in the eyes of the Japanese service industry. But that doesn’t give them a free pass to forget the fact that, at the end of the day, they and the person serving them are both really human beings with feelings.

So next time you’re at the register in Japan — or anywhere else in the world for that matter — don’t forget a little courtesy can go a long way towards making a cashier’s day just that little bit brighter. That really shouldn’t be too hard in Japan, though, where customers ought to be more appreciative of the remarkable Japanese art of giving and receiving change.

Source: Jin

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Convenience store clerk hospitalized by customer dissatisfied with “smile-less” service

-- Ultra-enthusiastic Japanese Family Mart employee is the height of customer service

-- Ultra-enthusiastic Japanese Family Mart employee is the height of customer service

© SoraNews24

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

29 Comments
Login to comment

I always say "ありがとう" to shop staff after a purchase. It would feel weird just taking the change and receipt, then just silently hurrying away. I am also almost always the only person on a bus to say "ありがとう" to the driver when getting off the bus. Again, it would feel awkward to not.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

everybody know, well those who are connected, that Japanese people are not polite. The polite act is just part of their culture, their base or "religion" Actual is honne, and they can be extremely rude. I prefer, what you see is what you get, but here things are not that way.

6 ( +13 / -7 )

N30N0M3N:

I always say "ありがとう" to shop staff after a purchase. It would feel weird just taking the change and receipt, then just silently hurrying away.

I'm the same way.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I often remind my students that when they visit the US, they should say "please" and "thank you" to service workers since most people here don't (even though they should).

Sometimes they reply that in Japan that they do. So I tell them to watch customers at a convenience store or at a restaurant and report back to me. This Twitter girl is right - most customers don't have the good manners to.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

A tad hysterical of a headline.

In general Japan is a very polite place to interact. Obviously some people are rude.

Theres all kinds of rude of course too. Some people change when driving, when they are a customer, after drinking etc. I agree that older entitled people are the worst in general.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

When I am a visitor in Japan, I strive to be courteous to everyone, and especially in those places where I am a customer. I always greet cashiers and others who will serve me. Sometimes they seem surprised that I address them directly, but they always respond in a friendly manner. In any setting where I seek goods or services, I am a guest, and believe it is my responsibility to be kind and gracious. I have never been disappointed in Japan by rudeness in being ignored.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

I see this as well. I always try to make my shopping pleasant for all. It's a pity. I expect / hope these service people will have a good experience with foreigners. I'd like to hear that side of the story, too.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Well, as I've said before I never bought into that belief by some that Japanese are exceedingly polite, afraid to stand out against the grain in society and unwilling to voice their opinions publicly.

While some foreigners may have had great experiences with Japanese being kind to them, that doesn't mean all Japanese people are. No different from any other country.

We have seen this with the news lately from Japan, increasing road rage incidents to violent assaults on the street.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I have always made it a point to say thank you to the people who clean public toilets. I've noticed how so many people just walk by them without any acknowledgement at all. I like to see them smile when I give them a hello and thanks.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

on the surface they are polite, especially in customer service roles. but its all an act. they are polite because their culture tells them to be, not because they are genuinely polite. its a big myth.

also agree with elderly men being the rudest and most entitled.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

I worked as a waiter during my student days, and was exposed to the worst of human behavior directed at me. As a result, I will forever be extremely kind to others in the customer service world, who get dumped on by the rudeness and thoughtlessness of the public. I think all people should be required to work one year in a crappy customer service job - maybe then we'd learn to treat each other better.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

If I had a point card I would have taken it out first. Please do not ask me.

Ask me if I want a bag. I usually do not for single items. Do not just put it in one.

Do not hand me my goods in the bag first, then attempt to give me change on top of a receipt to move the bills to my wallet and my change to another location while holding the bag of goods. I only have two hands. Not four.

Do not put change on top of the receipt. It is so awkward to deal with.

I am always polite when purchasing and always kindly thank the people, so please...please JT readers do not judge me as rude, but as logical.

:-)

-15 ( +3 / -18 )

I don't know why this made the news in the first place. It's widely known that Japan can be very rude. I've had to endure power harassment at the Japanese company I previously worked at, and I've seen Japanese superiors being rude to their subordinates regularly. Everybody just takes it or turns a blind eye. Luckily, outside the office, I have only encountered a handful of rude people in all these years.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Tom - "..Do not put change on top of the receipt. It is so awkward to deal with.."

Now that is a 1st world problem - lol.

Agree with many posters that shop/service staff are treated as chattel to be dealt with as they see fit.

My wife works in a financial company (normal office job + phone calls) and listening to her tales of whining, complaining, rude customers presents enough material for a netflix series.

Being civil / kind in daily life takes little effort.

Japan is no better or worse than many other countries, but just like to play up the "polite status" as somehow representative of society at large - when in reality it's not.

Reminds me of an article I read about how the european hotel industry love Japanese clients because they are always so polite and never complain. Why? One is possibly language barrier, but according to a leading Japanese tour guide operator who said in effect, "Yes, they never complain to the establishments, but we get hell from them - often over trivial things. And we have no recourse but to follow their whims and wants."

By always greeting and thanking and occasionally chatting with shop staff in a lively voice, I hope they feel "human". And it's always interesting watching the faces of the other customers. Love to have a video.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

also agree with elderly men being the rudest and most entitled.

Yeah, I'll say.

It's funny how these type are quite meek abroad.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I've sometimes felt when I visit Japan that I'm too polite, that I say please or thank you too often or use too polite a form of it, especially when I'm buying something. Glad to know that's not the case.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@TheLongTermer

Oh, the guy with the flu.

It's not a myth, some people are good, some are bad. Some are genuine, some are not. Don't try to make the Japanese look like some beasts from the jungle. For the record, they're far better than any "educated westerner". As a westerner that has worked in the tourism industry in many countries, mostly European, you wouldn't believe my stories.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I totally feel for the cashier, but she has to realize that, when you work with people in either the tourism or generally emporium business, you're bound to have plenty of people that look at you as literally that - the cashier, the receptionist, the waiter, the maiden, and so on. As human tools more like. It's normal human behaviour, believe it or not.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

no flu here, but I would agree that there are some very polite Japanese, but its all an act. Some of them will vent the first chance they get at a foreigner. No suprises, I dont really care.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

The story about Japanese being so clean and never dropping trash anywhere in public is complete...well, trash, too. Nothing could be further from the truth. Drive between major towns on a slightly slower route, avoiding expressway tolls, and you will see absolutely huge piles of household trash of all types dumped over the side of guard railings, on embankments below the level of the road. Go check it out if you don't believe me. The threat of being called out by someone stops them dropping the tiniest item in busy city streets, but when they feel sure there's no one around, that's a different story. I know the majority are quite clean and tidy, but am just saying that there's a myth around that too.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

Sure, I give at least a nod of thanks as a rule. What gets me is sniffly "conbini" clerks wanting to put their hand on mine when I'm receiving the change. Disgusting!!

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

I am always polite when purchasing and always kindly thank the people, so please...please JT readers do not judge me as rude, but as logical.

I'm on your side, Tom, but good luck with that!!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

many young people seem to be more polite, but i don,t think that,s "surprising". i think the reason why many Japanese old people are self-entitled pr-cks and extremely rude is because they know that in Japanese society, everyone is supposed to respect older people no matter what. things get worse in any workplace especially in a supermarket or a restaurant where the "client is always right". put these two together with the fact that they,re getting older, they,re old and they don,t wanna accept that reality. not a good combination.

So many customers act like god...

this is true, especially in Japan ( historically there were always big divisions in Japanese society ).

“Japanese people are kind to foreigners but strict with Japanese people.”

Japanese people are kind to foreigners, especially tourists, because there it is, their culture tells them to be kind and polite. but things might change if you stop being a tourist and start living in Japan long term.

i agree when people say that everyone should work in a restaurant, supermarket or any customer service related job for at least a few months. i believe the world would be a much better place. anyway, at the end of the day, it doesn,t take much to be kind, to smile and say a simple "thank you".

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Go check it out if you don't believe me. The threat of being called out by someone stops them dropping the tiniest item in busy city streets, but when they feel sure there's no one around, that's a different story. I know the majority are quite clean and tidy, but am just saying that there's a myth around that too.

100% correct. Go into the mountains, tons of garbage utility items, all thrown out. Japanese dont want to pay the 500 yen throw away charge. Cant blame them; thats all a scam, they resell it later anyway.

Im sure if you took a dive to the bottom of these canals, youd find heaps of waste there. Ive seen so much crap wash up on the beaches here.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

If the customer is King then they should remember “noblesse oblige”.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

All good ideas, but unlikely.

But here’s a tip for you Arisa, if you recognize the same customer(s) that come everyday, and you know they don’t have a point card, stop asking.

invalid CSRF

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Odakyu line station staff are the rudest, most obnoxious people in Japan.

Their disdain for foreigners is unprecedented, avoid them at all cost.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

one of the very first cultural "shocks" in Japan was when I realized how many people walk around looking down or like if they are dead inside, especially those wearing surgical masks.

Felt sorry every single time when witnessed the overly polite clerk asking with a smile "do you want your receipt?" or "should I warm it up for you?" followed by a "shitsurei shimashita" after the zombie doesn't even nod or anything. More than that, it was how naturally the clerks deal with this every time. In my home country this kind of attitude is only reserved to very affluent people, but in Japan this is pretty commonplace. Your life/upbringing should be really sad to ignore other humans' existence. Or it's just an asian thing.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The increase in rudeness is international, I think. Japan is still a more polite country than some.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites