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Train shame

126 Comments
By Anna Kunnecke

The other day, I was riding the train home, happily listening to the Dixie Chicks on my iPod, floating blissfully in my own world (even though the Saikyo line is known for its high rate of groping incidents). You’re thinking that somebody groped me, right?

Wrong. The guy standing to my right, swinging in tandem from the little rings, politely tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” he said. I pulled out my earphones obligingly, hoping I wasn’t going to have to have the conversation about where we’re from and what our hobbies are.

“Could you turn down your volume please?” he asked.

“Oh! Of course.” I whirled my thumb around the little circle, taking the Chicks down to inaudible. But I was flabbergasted. “You could hear that? I’m terribly sorry.”

He made a pained expression, like I had just stomped on his toe. I put my earphones back in, embarrassed; it is, in fact, incredibly annoying when the whole train car has to listen to someone else’s music blaring through tinny headphones. I reassured myself that I really hadn’t had the volume up very loud, and it was amazing he could hear it at all. I certainly couldn’t hear anything now that the earphones were back in — I’d turned it down too low in my flustered state — but I was too chastened to turn it back up. I stared out the window, while my fellow passengers also stared straight ahead in glorious indifference to the interaction they’d just witnessed.

Then the man tapped my shoulder again.

“Excuse me,” he said again in his courteous, painful English. “A little bit more, please, down?” He motioned with his hand, like he was petting a shaggy dog, then put both hands over his ears and winced. I was obviously assaulting his tender sensibilities well beyond what he could bear.

I pulled the earphones out of my ears again, more slowly this time. There was no sound coming from them; not even a low buzz. “You can still hear it?”

“Please, turn down more a little. So many people on train. Bad manners.”

I turned the iPod completely off, wrapped the earphone cord around it, and stowed it in my pocket. I double-checked that I was nowhere near the “silver seats,” where all electronic devices are to be turned off in deference to anyone who might have a pacemaker.

As clear as a bell, some internal voice said, “It wasn’t that loud. He’s just messing with you.” I knew that was the truth of it. There was no way my iPod had been loud enough to bother anyone, certainly not after I’d turned it almost all the way down after his first request.

It didn’t matter. Suddenly, the others on the train car weren’t just staring blankly, but were actually glaring at me. I imagined that I could feel their disgust. I was flooded with shame: my body registered the old hopelessness I’d always felt as a blond foreigner on a Japanese train. No matter how quietly I stood, I would still stand out. No matter how carefully I obeyed the rules and attempted to be courteous, I was a walking symbol for doing things wrong.

Later I asked my mother, who has lived here for more than 25 years, if she could help me figure out why the iPod incident bothered me so much. What she said was so right on the money that my vision actually cleared.

“You were shamed, in public, for doing something wrong. It didn’t matter that you weren’t even actually doing anything wrong — you broke the foreigner taboo, which is ‘Don’t cause trouble, don’t get anyone else in trouble, be the guest beyond reproach.’”

I got it. I had bought into his accusation that I’d done something wrong, because I had my own unspoken rule that as a foreign woman, I wasn’t supposed to cause a scene.

It was so liberating! He was a jerk, sure, but I had only felt so awful because I believed I had done something shameful by attracting his ire in the first place. I was the one who let his simple act of jackassedness do a whole number on me.

The kernel of possibility in my mini-epiphany was this: next time, without the internal monologue about the “rules for foreigners,” I could handle the situation completely differently. The truth is, I’m always going to attract attention. I’m pale, blue-eyed, and speak fluent Japanese. It’s time I accept that I will always stick out here — and think about what exactly I’d like to be noticed for.

I’m thinking so hard about this because I am keenly aware that I want to give my own blue-eyed daughter a different story: about what it means to be female, to be a guest in a foreign country, to be a victim or a hero.

Here’s one: So this jackass says to this woman on the train, “Excuse me, but could you turn your music down…”

And this one has a much, much better ending.

Anna Kunnecke is a life coach for renegades. She blogs daily at www.sitatmytable.com.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

126 Comments
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I think I would tell her to turn down the Dixie Chicks too.

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I'd just glare at the guy until he stopped looking at me

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I pre-empt interaction by glaring at everyone first.

usually gets me a seat on the train :)

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Anna, you should have told him off. Why cater to this barely concealed racism and/or sexism?

Had something weird on the train happen several years ago. I was actually relating a story to my wife and friends and was using my phone as a prop. The idiot behind me thought I was talking on the phone. He leans over my chair and tells me to "shut-up!" It was perfectly pronounced English. I was impressed. So I impressed him with a slew of Japanese epithets about his mother, family, and state of mind. Needless to say HE shut up and moved. I really don't care what other people think, but if you are going to open your mouth and let someone have it, make sure you've got your ducks lined up. Chances are you'll never see them again anyway.

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Why do people feel the need to listen to music while on the move? It's an insult both to those around you (i.e., anti-social) and to music (anti-cultural).

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"As clear as a bell, some internal voice said, “It wasn’t that loud. He’s just messing with you.” I knew that was the truth of it."

My GOD this article is so indulgent its a bit sickening.

What its impossible that she could have been ACTUALLY disturbing someone on the train by her blaring headphones? Country music is one of the worst for travelling outside the earphones, its the nasally, highpitchedness of it all.

But I say good on the guy for calling her up on it. That took guts. No doubt if you were a Japanese teenage boy you would have recevied an open palmed slap round the noggin, but i'm sure you would have complained about that even more.

Get your hearing checked.

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At first I would have been polite, but the second time...I can think of a few choice words for this guy.

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My question is: does the fellow do the same to his Japanese co-passangers? If not, then he's just picking on her for being a furriner - in his mind just a tourist too, and showing off his English. If he does approach all other passengers whose music bothers him in the same way, then good luck to him! At some point he will find that not everyone is as agreeable.

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when people speak English to me on a train I pretend I am French and do not understand English. someone asked me toturn down my slipknot yesterday and I ignored them. it was not loud.

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My guess is that the volume was ok, but you know when your trains stops completely for a minute, waiting the lights turn to green? That's when you realise how Japanese can be silent. Or maybe, it was really loud. Dixie Chicks? Well, I would complain too. In Engrish.

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Maria:

My question is: does the fellow do the same to his Japanese co-passangers? If not, then he's just picking on her for being a furriner

The same thing happened the other day, when a Japanese middle-aged man came on the train and it was as if he didn't plug his earphone properly into his player. The music could be heard by people on the other end of the train, and some people near me moved away. Of course, not one person told him to keep it quiet. Would they have said something if it were a foreigner?

I was wondering whether the author didn't plug in the earphone properly, because it's possible that sound was then coming out both the player and the earphone - but then does the ipod have an external speaker? The Japanese guy had an ordinary old-fashioned type walkman and I think he was listening to the radio.

I use those earphones which fit right into the ear, and nobody can hear anything unless I put it on really loud - in which case I would be damaging my ears. If the sound is loud enough for others to hear on the train (especially when it's moving), then it's loud enough to cause long-term damage to the ears.

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I would have only apologized if it was actually hearable when I took out my earphones.

But then again I have never understood train 'rules' here. It's okay to talk to your friends on the train but not on the phone? Why can't you put on makeup (I do anyways)? Isn't it far better to make yourself look nice, assuming that you're not spilling onto your neighbors. Same with food. All of those are taboo, but you can come onto a train reeking of cigarettes or beer and sit next to someone? You've got to be kidding me.

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I get glared at for applying chapstick, but people around me can dig in their nose for 10 minutes, no problem.

It was explained to me many times that the reason you can talk to your friends but not on the phone is that, "I can't hear the other side of the conversation." Yes, the reason it's rude is that other people can't listen in on your business. And people continually tell me that this is the RUDEST thing on the train. I think the ringtone is pretty rude, but talking?

Music is a bother if I can hear it. Usually I start bobbing my head to the beat and if the person sees me (of course they do, they're busy gaijin-staring) they turn it down. But it doesn't bother me nearly as much as the people who sit with their legs spread wide or think the handles are for gymnastics training.

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Anna,

I would have felt no shame. Stand up for yourself. Sounds like this guy was being a bit much.

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But then again I have never understood train 'rules' here. It's okay to talk to your friends on the train but not on the phone? Why can't you put on makeup (I do anyways)? Isn't it far better to make yourself look nice, assuming that you're not spilling onto your neighbors. Same with food. All of those are taboo, but you can come onto a train reeking of cigarettes or beer and sit next to someone? You've got to be kidding me.

LOL. Too true. Heck you can even get plastered and sleep on the train and in some cases drool on the passenger next to you or in some cases have seen some guys puke on the train.

And the talking...loud obasans in the morning and the damn kids in the afternoons. Loud as all hell. So why do I bring an I-pod, DS or PSP to use or listen to? Because everyone else is being loud and obnoxious.

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Anna, consider yourself lucky to have had your existence acknowledged. I can't remember the last time a Japanese train passenger spoke to me. Must have been around 1987 and I think he was probably drunk at the time.

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@ Pukey2: Ipods don't have any internal speakers; if you don't have headphones jacked in, you can't hear the music at all. The guy was just being a jackass.

I'm with you, I've got the in-ear headphones that if people around me can hear the music I'm listening to, odds are likely I am damaging my ears. I've never had anyone give me trouble while using them, although I have had people interrupt me just to talk to me, which is fine.

As for the whole don't-talk-on-the-train, don't-put-on-makeup-on-the-train nit-picky social rules, I've seen plenty of Japanese people breaking them. But the thing is, as a foreigner, you become an easier target, and people sometimes automatically assume that you're acting out of ignorance, which they can correct by scolding you. I usually just explain why I'm doing what I'm doing, or if they're being rude, I snap at them. Having a foreigner tell them in Japanese "I had a long day at work and I'm not making a mess, so let me eat my [censored] onigiri in peace, yeah?!" shuts up most of the meddlers.

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Strange - the writer describes herself on her website as "literally shameless" and that she "left (her) shame by the roadside."

So why is she writing an article about feeling shame on the train?

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I don't know why Japanese people feel that we are stupid. If you want to play your music on the train go right ahead. The minute he touched you it was assult. You should have hit him. This is Tokyo. An International City. If Japanese people can, vomit, pass out, pee, do Internet, watch TV, fondel little girls, I think you can listen to your music! Who cares really. Without us (foreigners) Japan would be screwed. It's time we just don't give a dam. Culture on a train. Funny. There is no culture in Tokyo.

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man I would have turned my I-Pod louder after the 2nd time he asked me...what an ass! Public shame...joke...be yourself...do your own thing...let them think what they want to think....

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When Japanese people violate these same "rules", other Japanese pretend it didn't happen. So if they treat you differently, screw 'em.

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He's a jerk.

Yoo could have placed your phones near his ears and said 'Can you hear anything?'

But the second time he bothered you, I would have said, 'NO!'

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I think this article brought shame to the Japanese. Reflects badly on their culture. Shame. I have never had anyone call me out on a train and if they did I would just move away from the rude individual. A lot of nutters out there, especially driving, without any sense of manners. To be frank, most people are very nice and kind here, with a lot of patience. Some say only 1% are ill mannered. But that is a lot of people!.

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I think I would tell her to turn down the Dixie Chicks too.

I agree. Though you should she told him where to step off, especially since she boasts in the article about her fluent Japanese ability. I managed to tell some Ojayi who was pushing and shoving me one day to cut in line where to step off in my much weaker Japanese ability.

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Why do people feel the need to listen to music while on the move? It's an insult both to those around you (i.e., anti-social) and to music (anti-cultural).

Are you serious? When you take the same 1 hour journey by train everyday music really helps pass the time. If anyone feels insulted by others listening to music (if it's not loud) then they should stay at home because they are clearly far too sensitive to be outside!

If this happened to me I would have turned the iPod off the first time but left the earphones in. Then when he complained again I could have really called him out.

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I've had a similar experience. A couple of years back when there were still reserved smoking cars on the Shirasagi I was sitting there having a cigarette when the Japanese guy in front of me turned around and asked me to please put it out. I apologised and put it out almost on autopilot, checked I was in the right car... yes, right car and numerous other smokers. I thought maybe it was because I was smoking menthol, which some people can find a bit much, but the same guy then proceeded to light up in front of me... menthol. I was in a bit of a bind, I didn't want to cause a confrontation by lighting up again, but by the same token I'd paid for my reserved seat in the smoking car with other smokers so I could smoke, and I had the same right to smoke as this guy in front of me. I attracted his attention to ask him if perhaps it was my brand that was irritating him, because I could buy some other cigarettes, and I knew he heard me and my Japanese is fair so I know I was understood, but he just said, "Don't smoke" in quite an abrupt manner and turned back to his smoking. I was stunned.

I think at the end of the day it was pure and simple abuse of power and bullying. He realised that as a Japanese person he had the ability to exert control over the foreigner and he got off on it. This sort of behaviour isn't limited to foreigners, I've seen some people do it to other Japanese people too. It's disgraceful conduct but the unwritten rules of Japanese society demand that you don't cause a fuss.

Personally I spent the next hour seething quietly until the guy got off the train and then I lit up again. I've remember the experience as a lesson in "how not to do it". Next time I'll just ignore him and pretend I don't understand, and let him break the rule about causing a fuss and be the bad guy when people around me stare, because I'll be the guy quietly sitting there looking concerned and confused while he rants with impotent rage at the foreigner.

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The second time he touched your shoulder, you should have said "sawaranaide kudasai" loud enough for all to hear. He needed to be shamed.

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nobo: "The minute he touched you it was assult. You should have hit him."

Wow! I can't believe you actually believe this minor incident should bring police involvement, because as soon as you (a gaikokujin) "hit" a passenger (a Japanese) on the train, I am almost certain the police will arrive because after all the writer, Anna did say, "politely tapped me on the shoulder." If a polite tap on the shoulder is assault in your books, I would hate to end up in your court.

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anna hopefully you learned from this, the 2nd time the twit got you to turn down you just need as one poster put have yr ducks in a row & verbally tell him & plug back in & ignore.

As for talking on ketais, when on the train I either ignore till I get off or just say I am on the train & in a low voice will call back. Problem is I think a lot of people once the get on the phone their voices can double or more in volume & THATS when its nasty.

If you want to survive & keep yr sanity you need to know when & how to speak to the locals when they get outta hand

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The truth is, I’m always going to attract attention. I’m pale, blue-eyed, and speak fluent Japanese.

You and me both love, but we don't all go around carrying the 'as a foreign woman, I wasn’t supposed to cause a scene' cross. Can't remember the last time I did anything 'as a foreign woman', and I've been here longer than your Mum.

Maybe the bloke with the ultra-sensitive ears was a jerk and a racist one at that, but there is no reason at all for you to respond as a foreign woman. Way too precious.

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Frungy...seriously u should have lit up another cig and blown smoke in the guys face...well hopefully if this happens again you will do that!

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Life coach for renegades? Renegade what? Better cop some grit, girl, and go and do thee likewise.

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shufu

What its impossible (sic) that she could have been ACTUALLY disturbing someone on the train by her blaring headphones?

Obviously you have trouble reading: "I pulled the earphones out of my ears again, more slowly this time. There was no sound coming from them; not even a low buzz."

The guy was a jerk. He couldn't hear the music.

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Problem here is that Japan and Japanese feel All righteous. Every Japanese is a born judge. Until they fall.

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After being a goth kid in Salt Lake city I seriously don't care if anyone stares at my for any reason. If they have nothing better to do, then that is their problem not mine.

If some guy pulled this stunt with me, it would be met with a curteous "mind your own business mate". I know I don't play my media player too loudly. I don't crash into people. And I give up seats for those who need them. As far as I am concerned that makes me compliant with the rules. So some jerk, and there have been a few, trying to cause trouble will be met with a cold return stair followed by the knowledge that he is being ignored.

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prideinjapanese...you sound like a typical Japanese person...no...no way would Japanese do such a thing....or they must have a good reason to act such a way. Typical way of thinking...it is this way of thinking that spoils your otherwise lovely country...wake up!

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Once in Tokyo there was a Japanese guy with very load music over the earphones in the train, a Japanese woman got up and told him to turn it down, which he did immediately. Here in Osaka, its very common for people to have their music blasting through their earphones. Sometimes bothersome. I however always check if my music is not too loud. Usually im on VOLUME ALL OPEN mode when i walk on the streets, and the moment I enter the train I turn it down a notch.

To get back on the subject, if someone asked me to turn down the volume twice, Id probably turn around and ignore the person or like Oneforall said, just move to different place.

But I think you guys should remember you are not home, so as long as you respect the Japanese rules and stay friendly, you should be okay. Dont force your attitude!

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After turning down the volume, the second time he interrupted my listening pleasure I would have calmly suggested that he go.... well, can't say the rest here.

When they glare at you, I just smile and wave at them. When they don't want to sit down next to you, I don't mind, more room for me. When it's rush hour and people push against me, I push back. When they sit and sniff for a long time without blowing their nose, I start sniffing loudly each time they do.

I'm not Japanese, and as such I am not bound by some of their more stupid rules or those who try to selectively enforce them. I will NEVER apologize for being a foreigner, I openly call myself gaijin because I'm not deluded like Debito that I am ever going to be accepted here. I kind of feel sorry for Japanese people, because all of their social rules make for a miserable life and probably contribute a LOT to the suicide rate in this country.

One other thing, the poster that recommended hitting the guy - you're gonna end up in jail with a trainload of witnesses testifying against you, the gaijin, no matter what the provocation is.

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"I do not beleive this story of the author. A Japanese would not do so unless music was too loud. Maybe its time to go back home?"

PrideinJapanese. You have zero clue my friend. There are so many jerks on trains. Here are a few examples of the prideful Japanese behavior I regularly see on trains.

1.People trying to get off the train cannot because some dim moron is blocking the door and trying to push his way in. I never see gaijin do this, only salarymen.

The young guy or girl who refuse to give up a seat for an obviously in need person. I have even had Japanese boys try to slip into the seat I was trying to give up for an older lady. I soundly pushed him away and made sure she got it though!

Newspaper reading morons who hit you in the face or back of the head every 20 seconds trying to read their news pages. People here seem very space challenged. Can't they realize they are hitting people and show some manners? Again never seen a gaijin do this.

Porn-o-oyaji. Where else do guys sitting next to girls young enough to be their daughter read porn on a public train?!? Again never seen the UK, US or Aussie reading smut on the train. Only Japanese Oyaji who should be old enough and mannered enough to know better.

Door blockers. Now how much common sense and mannered behavior does it take to realize that getting all the way on the train makes it easier for other people to get on. Yet there they are all piled up at the door with plenty of room in the middle of the train and people having a hard time getting on or off. Again Japanese people with all those prideful manners are at the center of this storm too.

Drunks. I have never, EVER seen so many drunk people before moving to Tokyo. Not even the frat boys at school got this publicly messed up. But I cannot count the number to times some moron who doesn't know his alcohol limits is puking on the train making everyone around him or her sick. Add to that the legions passed out or falling over on you with their lovely alcohol and squid breath to enjoy and train rides after 7pm in Tokyo are from HELL on many nights. Again I don't see puking or passed out gaijin, but instead the legions of alcoholic morons who can't hold their drink or realize they have had enough are Japanese.

So some twit being a jerk about 1/2 volume iphone volume can go to hell. And anyone thinking that gaijin should go home because they point out the pathetic level of Japanese train manners should remind you that you need our labor and money and investment more than we do.

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Ive told many Japanese to turn down the volume on the bus, It comes down to CHEAP headphones, you pay for what you get plus you increase the volume in those cheap ones causing hearing damage so you increase the volume even louder to hear it....my headphone buds are isolating meaning they keep the sound in and you dont need so much volume to hear whats playing and no one ever complains...the price is pricey thou 40.000 yen, but the sound is like you are right in front of the band live...

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I've had this happen a few times. Each time I stared at the guy and didn't do jack.

I think there are some types out there that like to get off on telling foreigners what to do because in every instance when this had happened, not two people away from me, someone else (a Japanese) had there music audible by the surrounding people and these people that told me did and said nothing to them.

Until many J-folk can stop invading my personal space with their laundry list of unacceptable behavior on trains; DON'T tell me to turn down my earbuds.

Besides, I don't even have them up that high. Can impair your hearing.

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Maybe its time to go back home?

Prideinjapanese, this author was raised in Japan.

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Exactly the same problem back home. Except people whine even more.

And they smell here too.

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Don't take any guff off these swine.

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I don't think he did it because you are blond haired and blue eyed, but maybe because his ears were bleeding. Come on, Dixie Chicks? Might as well be carrying a rainbow flag and riding on a harley topless.

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"I’m always going to attract attention. I’m pale, blue-eyed, and speak fluent Japanese."

A good way to keep people from bothering you is talk to yourself, laugh out loud, and take a big angry deep breath while clenching your teeth. Works for me.

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Ditto to what Cleo said. Anna, your mother has lived in Japan 25 years and you were presumably born here. Whatever your current nationality happens to be, you are most certainly not a guest in Japan. Time to start realising (and letting the jerks know, too) that you are Japanese, regardless of what your passport is.

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Ha, ha! I enjoyed this, thanks Anna :-) The trains, my goodness!

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I have been next to folks on the train who were wearing "in the ear" earphones and it was easy for me to tell that the volume was low, but I could still hear it a bit. Our ears don't really insulate the sound as much as we would like to think that they do. While it doesn't really bother me, people like that guy love even the tiniest bit of justification for their complaints.

You should have turned the iPod completely off and left the earphones in...that way you would know for sure if he was just being a jerk. And you could have embarassed the crap out of him by handing him your inactive iPod in front of everyone.

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Had something like this happened to me on a train, I could not for the life of me imagine reacting in that way. Additionally, I have trouble believing the purported reaction of her fellow passengers:

...the others on the train car weren’t just staring blankly, but were actually glaring at me. I imagined that I could feel their disgust. I was flooded with shame: my body registered the old hopelessness I’d always felt as a blond foreigner on a Japanese train.

Most passengers could care less about what others around them are saying and/or doing. A woman fainted in front of me two days ago and myself and a Japanese woman came to her help. The other passengers were walking over and around us to get off the train! This story sounds like a complete fabrication to me. An uninteresting one at that!

Life coach? Sounds like she needs to sign up for some of her own lessons!

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Japanese people do actually tell other people to keep it down. My 28 year old Japanese friend was on a bus to go to the ski slopes with me and the ojisans in the back were having a lively conversation. He politely asked them to please be quiet and consider the others around them. They took it in stride.

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Having issues with the world around you is how we improve the world. We look at problems and we try to solve them. My point is that there are far worst behaviors on Japanese trains than the odd volume issue. Most involving bodily fluids that are a much bigger threat to health and safety.

People should complain and try to find solutions. But individuals should be well intentioned. The guy in this article sounds like a jerk looking to harrass someone or take out his work frustrations by bothering someone else.

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I was told to turn it down once. Just moved away from the guy without even taking my headphones off. It worked. There aren't that many A holes, but there are some. Just ignore, don't let it bother you.

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Not much new here: simple bullying story. Japan, trains, blonde hair, blue eyes, Ipods, just pieces of the story. Could have been anything, a bully will zero in on what is different and try to take advantage. Stand up to bullies and they will back down. Peace!!

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I am not sure why the author makes the assumptions that she makes. Some people are just sensitive about tiny tinny noises coming from ipods. Or the man might have imagined that he heard the noise the second time. Or perhaps the author's body language was such as to communicate displeasure at being asked to turn down the volume level the first time, which insenced the man to ask for the level to be turned right down or off.

It seems to me that the tolerance of noises on trains depends upon culture. See Nakajima Yoshimichi's "Urusai nihon no watashi" (The lound Japanese person that I am) where he suggests that public vocalisations should only be made by groups (hence the loud annoucements made by polical parties, and train companies) not by individuals (who are meant to keep silent).

In the UK it is not so bad to be using phones on trains as long as one makes no more noise than one would speaking to someone next to you (which is also okay). In Japan it is not okay to use ones phone on a train even if you whisper.

Is there a "reasonable" level of noise that one can make on a train, or is any noise above zero an infringement of good train manners? I think that in the UK, there is a "reasonable" level of noise. But perhaps in Japan, any speech and perhaps any music is considered sound pollution.

But then again, when it comes to the sound of nasal mucus being swallowed, there seems to be greater tolerance of that sound on Japanese trains. And of course there is the sound of noodles being eaten....

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"A Japanese would not do so unless music was too loud"

Yes, they would, they are and they have been. Just seeing your comments is a proof enough that there are some Japanese hates the fact that foreigners are working in their country, earning their money, send it away and support seasheperd with it too. Sorry, but this will not end. Remember there are more Japanese living outside of Japan than the amount of foreigners living in Japan. How would you like them to be treated the same way?

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cleo, sumobob: I agree. This woman is not a guest in Japan. Obviously she has been here for a long time. It's a strange story but by the sounds of it, the man was just power-tripping and picked a 'foreigner' to do it on. The advice her mother gave her was weird as well; telling her own daughter she broke the foreigner taboo. No need to feel shame just cause you are a foreigner! Geez! Be polite. Use common sense. Try not to bother others on the train. You don't have to follow any special rules.

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Simple solution for next time, tell them (in English) that you dont speak English.

If they stare or glare at you, with their head revolving 360 degrees tracking you, just squint your eyes back at them, they will turn away. Works every time.

What can we do to defend against the people who purposely cough in your face??

you broke the foreigner taboo, which is ‘Don’t cause trouble, don’t get anyone else in trouble, be the guest beyond reproach.’”

Actually you just encountered a nut job, an abnormality, he or she is not representative of the entire Japanese population, and most probably, has the same encounters with Japanese people as well.

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I do not have an Ipod but everyday, some young, Japanese jerk on the train has their crappy J POP music way too loud and you can just see everyone around them angry, I not say anything, but as a good Mexican I just make sure to fart up a storm right near their face, because these young jerks are usually stupid university students who also pretend to be asleep and never give up their seats to old grannies. I just enjoy the music and let my beans do the talking for me!

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Put earphones back in. Turn off sound. If pestering persists, you have two options:

"The sound is off. Are you sure it's not coming from inside your head?"

"Chikan! Dare no te?" [grab hand]
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The second time he touched your shoulder, you should have said "sawaranaide kudasai"

"Sawaruna, sukebe jiji" might be more to the point.

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Are we to assume that coaching renegades entails teaching them to simulate Japanese shame programming? It might be a good idea to research Bioenergetics a bit. A classic energy-stealing technique, especially popular in Japan, is creating a feeling of obligation or shame in the mind of the one from whom the energy is to be taken.

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Perspective at 12:19, I disagree with your comments of "stupid rules" and "miserable life." It is true that some Japanese have forgotten the "Edo manners" based on consideration for others. However, being a gaijin does not give you the right to do whatever you want on the trains. I commend people who actually speak up to point out bad behavior. I usually give people who use their phones a good glare. That shuts them up.

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Good one Nessie. There is a lifecoach for you. Phones on. Power off. That gives you an objective measure of who is being the jerk in this scenario.

Myself? I am not going to give the foreigner the benefit of the doubt. The Dixie Chicks? That music does not imply sensitivity and consideration for others in my book. Brazen. Young. Like the author? It is the author's word against his, and I am not getting his side of the story by any stretch. But you know... he could be a jerk I suppose.

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Here's are some radical ideas.

The train is a method of transporation and not a relaxation lounge. Noise is a natural side effect of being in public. Being alive means being exposed to sound.

Live and let live. Read your paper, listen to your own ipod or whatever, daydream or space out. As long as the noise isn't really bad, mind your own business.

This kind of in everyone's business busy body needs to be taught a lesson in humility. Just give him a cold stare followed by the deep freeze of being ignored. I have met very few people here willing to start a real confrontation. If you ignore the majority of this type they will give up.

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I hate people blasting music on the subway and buses here! TURN IT DOWN!

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I hate people blasting music on the subway and buses here! TURN IT DOWN!

cool your jets mate. It's music.

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I always have headphones while I'm on the train, and I always check to make sure whether or not it's too loud. I made the mistake of riding one day with a larger pair that did leak noise and I didn't realize how loud it was until the train stopped for a few minutes longer and I saw an old woman sitting some seats away turning around to look at me. I didn't think about it at first because, um, yeah being a foreigner, I'm quite used to little old ladies staring at me at any given time. However, I looked to the side and saw a few more people staring, and finally I removed my headphones and I realized why people were looking at me... I had no idea I'd even had it up that loud. Quite embarrassing. It's always good to check!

This guy sounded rude though. Considering I've never had that happen to me personally I don't know if it's just a foreigner thing, but I've seen people Japanese and foreign breaking the "laws" of etiquette more than once. Particularly high school students who fill up entire cars and laugh loudly and raucously and don't care at all who's on the train with them. If my friends and I did that, we'd be kicked off the train, haha!

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I think Anna has struck a nerve. My 50min train ride I take in stride since I'm there by choice. I could/should go by MTB most days. Seen plenty of people speak up about headphones tho it almost never bothers me. It's more fun the watching others. But I do however, and often sometimes, speak up about noses and other unsanitary things. Come to think of it I've seen some really disgusting things! Nutters abound! Many people would be well to be more in tune with their surroundings. When an elderly person needs seat? Big person, little person, I let them know, I think you should - get up! When something is so obviously the hardest thing for me personally is to do this in a nice way.. with a smile.. >:-/ Hm.. i probably should ride tomorrow.

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I'd like to thank everyone for their insight btw. I had no idea ;-)

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Here's are some radical ideas. - The train is a method of transporation and not a relaxation lounge. - Noise is a natural side effect of being in public. - Being alive means being exposed to sound.

What Tkoind says, within reason.

cool your jets mate. It's music.

Maalenki, it stops being music as soon as it comes out as tinny leakage.

Personally, I wear over-the-ear headphones both to keep out the subway noise and to keep in the music. Common courtesy.

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quote:The second time he touched your shoulder, you should have said "sawaranaide kudasai" loud enough for all to hear. He needed to be shamed. unquote lol, it is true, i always say " sawaruna".all people leave me in piece:)

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marushka:

"unquote lol" You don't unquote a quote, you end a quote. quote, end quote.

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brotokyo:ok, noted

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Ignore them, people try to shame me all the time, who gives a crap what other people think, if you let them get to you you have to start to follow a set of never ending unwritten manner rules. You were not annoying him he just wanted to do something on the train and by him attempting to show how little manners you have it makes him feel better.

The exact same thing happens to me when I goto the post office, I speak perfect Japanese, give them exact money yet 1 out of 5 times they mess up a price or weight or number of items because they get nervous speaking to me, suddenly the room goes quite and everyone is looking at me, but since it is not my fault I don't let it get to me in, if you did you would never learn Japanese because you would be worried so much speak it.

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He wanted to speak to you, you are a blonde (most likely cute) foreign girl, he wanted to show you he spoke english... he was trying to pick you up.

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I hate the tinny sound that spews out of most iPods about as much as I hate being sat in the same car as a gaggle of loud, hysterical high school girls so I always ride the trains with top notch ear plugs. That way I'm not bothered by any irritating noises and other people can feel free to be noisy. I realize I'm sensitive to noise, perhaps more than most, and perhaps the guy in the storyvis as well. The onus then should be on him to deal with his problem. It is Tokyo after all and it's nearly impossible to get away from irritating noises once you leave your house.

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I did the same thing to several teenage kids blaring their headphones at times.

I wonder if the writer was using the apple earbuds?

Apple's headphones do not go inside the inner ear, so any sound coming from them can be heard by people standing next to you, no matter if you aren't blaring your music.

I recommend inner ear buds. They cannot be heard by the people around you.

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The volume of any music leaking out of someone's headphones is as nothing compared with the endless barrage of useless recorded announcements reminding you not to talk on a cell phone, not to smoke, and to hold the handrails when riding the extremely dangerous escalator.

Maybe if we got rid of all that garbage, people with headphones wouldn't rile others up so much.

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I have seen people being told to turn the volume down on trains here in Sydney too, although most people just try to ignore the scratchy tinny 'music' to avoid problems. They can be irritating though.

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I will give you some advice. Buy a pair of reflector mirror sun glasses. When someone looks at you stare at them. In Japan people think reflector glasses are only worn by Yakuza. Absolutely no-one will bother you or look at you when you wear them. I tested it out and it works like a charm every single time.

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I have to agree that the guy was just being an a$$ and getting off on a power trip. A bully without fists. Get a set of noise cancelling headphones and then just iggy the troll.

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I'd like to know one thing: how can one be fluent in Japanese and yet lack cultural literacy? I'm not one to claim fluency (yet), but in a foreign land certain conformity is expected. Generally, people in Japan don't listen to music or chit-chat on their phones while on the train. Yes, you do see it everyday, but it is commonly frowned upon. Some train lines occasionally do "manner up" campaigns or outright make it a rule not to do so. My point is, the author's plight is lost on me. We're in Japan, not Nashville.

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You should have been ashamed listening to the Dixie Chicks, under any circumstances!

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Don't think I have ever once had a bad experience on a train in Japan. Maybe blonde gaijin men are treated differently, I don't know.

But just remember that there are lots of mentally ill people around these days. A lot of the strange behavior is simply because the people doing it mentally ill. And I find that drunks and mentally ill people seem to gravitate to gaijin - at least to this gaijin. I'd say that inner voice should have told you to chill out. If this was your worst train experience then you are doing better than lots of people on the planet - blonde, female, gaijin or otherwise.

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I probably shouldn't ask this...but who are the Dixie Chicks?

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Interesting story. You should have yelled "chikan" at the top of your voice when he touched you - that would have put the jerk in his place! Look at it this way - you are probably the only contact he has had with a woman for several months - and being a gaijin he likely viewed you as a soft target.

It's funny how they allow 1000 decibel advertising from vans early in the morning here but a tiny little bit of music from headphones is frowned upon on a train! That bloke must be a barrel of fun in his life, too!

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"you broke the foreigner taboo, which is ‘Don’t cause trouble, don’t get anyone else in trouble, be the guest beyond reproach.’”

I wonder how many "guest beyond reproach" gaijin there really are. On the contrary, I usually think Japanese are far too accepting of bad gaijin behavior. So, its amazing the different perceptions long term foreign residents have.

Poor blonde women in Japan! Maybe they need to start a support group....

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I once got on a subway in Osaka, sat down and the guy opposite me had his Mr Johnny out standing at attention and he was milking the cow. I ran as fast as I could to the end of the train. The other passengers just sat there on the carriage and ignored it. Bizarre-o Japan-o.

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Yeah, I wouldn't have complied. I watch old cockers on the train all the time pushing and shoving and then scolding younger people for manners. Dryed out lonely old people who want to share their misery.

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or ask him where the gaijin only car is and point in both directions, next time....next jerk.

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this story makes me miss japan a little less. bueno. japan is like anywhere else I guess. beautiful country, beautiful language written and spoken, awesome food but some real fricken jerks here and there.

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get some closed canaphones or IEM's.

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This story is pure fiction. Nobody, i mean , NOBODY, listens to the Dixie Chicks.

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I agree you should have shouted "chikan". I have no compunction to telling miscreants to frick off in Japan - it's the expected racism from a small minority.

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Saikyo line does have the most finest cRaZiEs in Tokyo. I should write a book on the amount of weird people I seen on the trains in tokyo. Seems to me the old man wanted to single you out. He was probably drunk or out of his gord. When gajin are alone on the train, you will definitely get "PUNKED" Japanese style. The most popular problems I have with stupid people on the train is:

Backwoods kids from Tochigi,Saitama, & Chiba goofy and stupid High School & college students and/or dropouts and/or low life 20 year olds( especially chiba) kids talking about me on the train especially when I am dressed very nice to go to work at the office. I understand Japanese language very well. I can here their stupid comments coming from their mouths. Sometimes I want to say some curse words and threats. But what will that do. If i say anything, " I'm the bad foreigner stereotype ! " and probably get arrested on the train. Sometimes it's just really annoying and the comments are racist. What's suprising is they do not know nothing about me, that I came from a bad area in America. I've seen drive by shootings occasionally in my neighborhood. Some of my high school friends passed away from bullets. These so called bad a&% kids from Japan do not know anything about me. They talk so loud on the train about me it's annoying to the other passengers. Sometimes the passengers on the train look at me and check what I'm about to do, watching my reaction.

The stinky salaryman I hate smelling other poeple especially at night. Saki,cigarette, sho cho,squid breath, & izakaya cologne. Vomiting

Salaryman acting stupid coughing in peoples face sneezing without tissue in hand. no underarm deodorant smelling like curry, forgot to brush my teeth in the morning deep fried natto, pickle & onion, mayo & double squid pizza sandwich breath. Reading porno (telephone books waste of paper) comics sitting next to a woman/ or high school / elementary school girl.

Newspaper,Book & magazine reading idiots everytime I am walking inside or outside the train, my shoulder always has to brush a newspaper,magazine or a book. or 5 second delay walking for someone to pull back their reading material. Why can't people read a mag/book/newspaper at a coffee shop. or get a phone and read the paper online.

The make up girl caking on to much make up on her face to hide her bumpy face

Bump & Run grandmas Some of these women (grandmothers) should play NFL Football or Rugby Because they are not polite, disregard anybody standing in there way. Sad to say these old women are not polite and will destroy the very fabric of politeness in Tokyo. Young people watch these idiots (copy their style of train eqtiuette) and soon everybody in tokyo is rude and stupid. They probably taught their sons and daughters to sit in the silver seats and cough mist on peoples clothes and face. idiot old people

The housewife & annoying children I gave up my sit for a 6 mth pregnant woman guess what she didn't sit down, she gave her sit to an annoying kid that wouldn't sit down in the sit that I gave to her. The train was rocking but she didn't want to sit down. I guess she is to proud to accept a seat from a gaijin. Or she's a blooming idiot ? The idiot mother usually tells her child or removes the child's shoes, the kid jumps around the seat, like it's a playground. Usually the child takes up 2 or 3 seats. The mother not giving anybody a place to sit down. Sometimes I witness this behavior on the silver seats with handicapped people standing with canes. Idiot mothers get a job

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I'd like to know one thing: how can one be fluent in Japanese and yet lack cultural literacy?

Are you for real? Language can be learned abroad, form textbooks and classwork; cultural literacy is only obtained from living in that culture for a long time, preferably in one's formative years.

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being a Canadian born Japanese living in Japan, i can see the gist of both sides of the story.

ive been asked to turn down my music(even with the in-ear headphones), realizing that it actually was coming out a little loud. but i was a little cheeky with my response saying that it wasnt any louder than the j-high school kids playing with their DSes in the seat across from us. he then abruptly asked them to be quiet while i turned down my music a little. so there we were; a couple of guys awkwardly and anxiously waiting for our next stop, hoping for the unhygienic(i had to mention it)and grumpy salaryman to get off.

I just think that some people want some excitement in their mundane commute. I dont think its totally aimed at visible foreigners but if you really believe that you aren't causing any trouble or harm to anyone, just ignore those people. real talk

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cultural literacy is only obtained from living in that culture for a long time, preferably in one's formative years.

And not always even then

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the stupidity of the situation is that the train makes a lot of noise too.

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ThonTaddeo, "Are you for real? Language can be learned abroad, form textbooks and classwork; cultural literacy is only obtained from living in that culture for a long time, preferably in one's formative years."

Yes, I agree with you. So the author claims to be fluent in Japanese (having also lived in Japan for a long), yet in this situation she was bereft of cultural sense. Or, if I'm incorrect, she is culturally tuned-in, but chose to flex her individuality despite what's expected here in Japan. Either way it's too bad.

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When I first came to Japan, I very often felt somehow suspicious or that I was doing something wrong even when I wasn't. I felt like a guest, quick to apologize for anything. And, sometimes, people did talk to me like I was a guest, or perhaps a small child. But, after several years here, I got a sense of ownership to being here and my Japanese language ability had improved enough to stick up for myself. I feel like a local for the most part now.

I may have turned my volume down a bit the first time, but the second request would have been met with a somewhat rude response. Sometimes people here need to be told "No." and "Mind your own business."

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Anna's lesson is one we must all learn at some point. There are jerks out there and if you feed them your shame, they will give you more of the same. You have to stop feeding them, and if you can, turn the shame around. This does apply to gropers too. And yes, women do seem to knuckle under and take the shame even if they have clearly done nothing wrong and it feeds jerks like the one in the article. The trouble is that not all these guys are actually jerks just trying to make you feel bad. You have to double check. The best thing Anna could have done is to turn the ipod off completely, then put the earphones back in as if she were listening. If he complains again you shame him.

Its the same with alleged gropers. You have to check. I have thought I was getting gropped at times but it turned out to be just a bag or something. I think a lot of women don't check these things because they allow themselves to be shamed so easily. And sometimes they won't even say anything despite the fact that a simple "Stop it" in a loud voice would usually have shamed him enough to stop.

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Are foreigners really treated so badly?

I'm English, and looking into possibilities of moving to Japan in a few years, but reading articles like this in several sites, makes me start to wonder what treatment to expect.

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I don’t know… frankly speaking as a foreigner who visits Japan regularly, I have never had any problems with japanese manners. Maybe I look like “ don’t mess with me”, I don’t know. Oh, no, yes, I had a situation on Tokyo subway, I just looked in guy eyes and said “ sawaruna”, everything was finish in the same moment

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Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land

I don't think you've learnt much then.

Maybe the writer inadvertently had the music coming out of the ipod speaker itself and the headphones.....

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Maybe the writer inadvertently had the music coming out of the ipod speaker itself and the headphones.....

As explained before, Ipods don't have speakers. I wonder if she was squeaking along Dixie Chicks and didn't realize it. lol

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Sometimes people here need to be told "No." and "Mind your own business."

And not infrequently they are told exactly this.

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As well as さわるな, another good phrase for men would be 「おれにふれるな!」

Or you could take after Kokubo the snowboarder with 「チッ,うるせーな」

Of course be a little careful. I've seen old guys drag girls off trains and off to the station master kicking and screaming because they were talking on their phones on the train.

As explained before, Ipods don't have speakers.

They do if they are a second generation iPod touch, which must be one of the more popular models right now. Still, I think it's unlikely this was the case.

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StrangerinaStrangeLand-I don't think you've learnt much then. Maybe the writer inadvertently had the music coming out of the ipod speaker itself and the headphones.....

I've learned that I don't have to try and be Japanese. I've learned that just because I'm a foreigner doesn't mean any random Japanese person can tell me do this or don't do that. I've learned that there are limits to the amount of assimilation I shoul try and achieve. I've learned that it's ok to keep my own culture even though I live in Japan. I've learned how to say "It's none of your business what I'm doing" in Japanese. I've learned many things in my time here.

What have you learned, how to bow properly and express appreciation for being allowed to exist in this country? Have you learned that in Japan the Japanese are always right? Something like that? Can you eat raw fish? Hashi de jouzu?

Whatever dude, there are limits to how Japanesey you have to behave. That's something you need to learn. Also, I assumed you learned how to read before you disturbed the national harmony by coming here. The article clearly says she turned the volume down so far she couldn't here it with her earphones in, so the guy was just being a stupid busybody and there are plenty of those about. If you haven't learned that much, you haven't learned anything.

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Elarys asked: Are foreigners really treated so badly?

No. Its just that every country has at least a few idiots who will dream up any excuse to pick on anyone, especially if they are not their own size or larger. Anything is game with them whether its gender, race, nationality, handicaps, or minor infractions of ettiquette. Never let such idiots paint the other 99 percent of the population.

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No. Its just that every country has at least a few idiots who will dream up any excuse to pick on anyone, especially if they are not their own size or larger

Agreed, and if telling someone to turn their music down is as bad as it gets here then Japan is a very good place to be indeed.

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Perspective at 12:19, I disagree with your comments of "stupid rules" and "miserable life." It is true that some Japanese have forgotten the "Edo manners" based on consideration for others. However, being a gaijin does not give you the right to do whatever you want on the trains. I commend people who actually speak up to point out bad behavior. I usually give people who use their phones a good glare. That shuts them up.

Well, Bicultural, you can disagree all you want. Do you dispute that Japanese society is just chock full of rules and obligations that control just about every facet of life? And often not in a positive way? Every society has its definition of proper manners and correct social behavior, the Japanese take it to a higher level. You can argue the point all day whether this is a source fo their greatest strength or a cause of unhappiness. Necessary because it keeps people who live practically on top of each other from killing each other, or excessive when children are taught from birth to live their lives according to what the neighbors might think? You think about that and how anyone that deviates, in the slightest, from "norms" of appearance, speech or thought is treated here, and get back to me.

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Obviously, the people riding the Saikyo line - one I have ridden many times myself - have a much better taste in music than the author of this story. The freakin' Dixie Chicks! She's lucky she didn't get tossed off at the station.

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Country music hurts my ears too, even if it's muted.

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Do you dispute that Japanese society is just chock full of rules and obligations that control just about every facet of life?

Yes, but these rules are totally ignored unless rigorously enforced. And because there's no enforceable law which, for example, compels one to give up one's seat to a heavily pregnant woman, nobody does it. It's a herd mentality. It's ok to be rude / pig-ignorant / break the law if everyone else is doing the same, because you attract no individual shame. Shame, not individual morality or guilt, rules in Japan.

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Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land

Why on earth would you need to say in Japanese "It's none of your business what I'm doing"? What situation? That you need to say that tells me you must do things that attract people's attention and makes them wonder what the hell you are doing!

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stranger: I agree. I think in order to fit into a shame-based society like Japan there is a certain amount of bending I am willing to do. But I am not going to do something that goes against my core values. Here, it's all about the image you project and assuming that everyone else feels the same way as you. I still don't totally get it cause I would rather act according to what I feel is right and wrong rather than muddle through all the unspoken rules.

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Are you seriously asking me that?

Your reading comprehension isn’t your only weak point, it seems. Imagination is clearly lacking, as well. Let me see if I can help you. Try to imagine a situation where you would say, “It’s none of your business what I’m doing.” Then, imagine that scenario takes place in Japan.

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I think guys like the one on the train are often eikaiwa bandits or are just yanking the chains of foreigners. A lot of them wouldn't say anything to another Japanese person. I also often feel the same way, that they always see it as my fault if anything happens between me and a Japanese person.

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@HeyLars You're quite right. I am 6'5", 220lbs, white, been here for 10 years and speak Japanese fluently. I very rarely get this kind of blatant bullying. There will always be bullies, wherever you go. We should be grateful they hardly ever get violent, unlike in some other countries.

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As a foreigner, when we are signaled out, we feel it's because of who we are. When, upon further reflection, we see that even Japanese are signaled out for the same behavior. We probably just miss it because we're self-absorbed in our protective, "It's o.k., she's just a foreigner. We'll let it pass," bubble. I get away with so much because of this bubble. Why do you think Japanese are so uptight and then obnoxious when they get drunk and can finally let loose? They were raised under all the social rules and あかん's and だめ and stand up, sit down. They've learned to toe the line and stare straight ahead and not cause a scene. Although some/many do. To take it further, have you ever been descriminated against or felt signaled out because of your foreigness and thought about how it must feel for foreigners back "home?" It's much easier to be foreign here than in most places. Much easier.

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have you ever been descriminated against or felt signaled out because of your foreigness and thought about how it must feel for foreigners back "home?"

Actually, when I was discriminated against for housing, I thought about actual citizens in my home country that are discriminated against. The only difference being that America has anti-racial discrimination laws and Japan doesn't.

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im withya yourock! Id love to take the train with you! A dude on the train punched me for standing too close to him (which I wasn't) a while back- that guy got f'd up bigstyle! I think he expected me to just take it or there is no way he would have been that audacious. "just try me"- yep I know exactly where you are coming from!! Come and push my buttons, punks!!

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I would have turned the iphone off and kept the earphones in... that would be a great test.

Also would have made a fool out of the man.

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Carry around a Japanese paper at all times, either reading or faking deep absorption if you don't. Works like a charm at keeping the idiots amazed -- and you don't even have to forego the ipod. Good luck! :)

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