Last Sunday night, I was heading home from my latest exciting expat escapade (buying cold medicine at the pharmacy). Across the street from where I live, there’s a two-story walk-up apartment building with an exterior staircase, and I noticed an elderly woman carting a number of heavy grocery bags up to the second floor.
As a matter of fact, the bags were so heavy that she couldn’t transport them the whole way at once. She’d place them, one by one, a few steps above her on the stairwell. Once she’d done this for all the bags, she’d walk up to where she’d set them down, and repeat the process.
My first instinct was to ask her if she needed help. It was already past 10 o’clock, though, and the street was dark, with no one else around. Given the circumstances, I worried that a strange man suddenly calling out to her could make her feel frightened and threatened, so in the end I decided to err on the side of caution and not offer my assistance.
However, a condominium complex in Kobe is going quite a few steps farther by prohibiting even residents of the same building from greeting each other while on the premises. In a letter published in the local Kobe Shimbun newspaper on November 4, a 56-year-old man who lives in the complex (the name of which he declined to give), related the events of a recent meeting of the condo’s owners association.
“The idea was presented by the parents of elementary school-age children who live in the building,” the man explained. “They said, ‘We teach our children to run away if a stranger greets them, so we’d like to make a rule that people should not offer greetings in the building.’”
Once introduced, the motion even gained support from residents without such young children. “Other people will feel bad if they say hello but don’t get a response, so let’s all stop greeting each other,” the man continued, “and so it was decided to ban saying hello in the complex.”
While Japan now shows a greater concern for child safety than it did in previous generations, this extreme measure has many observers shaking, or at least scratching, their heads. The condominium’s new policy quickly elicited a number of critical comments online in Japan, including:
“People who are up to no good avoid communities where the residents talk to and interact with each other, so I think making it a point to always greet each other is actually better for crime prevention.”
“Having neighbors regularly communicate results in lower burglary rates.” “The kids in my neighborhood are actually the ones who say hi to me.” “Saying hello to people is the most basic of societal interactions.”
Obviously, it’s important to teach children to be on the lookout for potential dangers. That said, it really does seem like instilling a response of “Flee the scene if someone you don’t know says a single word to you!” is going to set those kids up for a lot of problems later in life. As they get older, they’re likely to find themselves, on a daily basis, in professional or social situations that require speaking to someone without a formal, officiated introduction beforehand.
It seems especially odd to lock distrust into stasis regarding residents of the same apartment, the very individuals who’re most likely to progress beyond being strangers if communication is allowed to happen organically. As one online commenter put it, “If they say hello to each other every day, somewhere along the way people stop being strangers.”
Sources: Yahoo! News Japan/R25
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