Mixed messages about manners

Tokyo

For many years, reading manners posters has been one of my commuting pastimes. Others include reading books, sleeping, people watching and, when possible, scenery watching. Sometimes I even try to hold my breath from one station to the next as a kind of fitness check.

I’ve seen the manners posters change over the years and wondered who designs them? Who makes the decision to change the designs? Who writes the messages? The recent posters in my local subway call for a lot of “consideration”. The messages urge us to “consider” others while eating, listening to loud music, putting on makeup or stretching out one’s legs, or sleeping on the benches, etc. The meaning is to “consider” others before we do these things. But it strikes me as a leap of logic to think that mere consideration will suffice to bar the targeted behavior.

I often think, OK, I’ll think about others first, then go ahead with my snack, my music and my makeup anyway. Knowledge of a transgression is not an antidote by itself. It would be better if train companies just laid down the law and put up signs saying “don’t” do this or that and then enforce the rules. Offenders could be physically removed from trains by staff, turned over to police and charged with being a public nuisance.

I understand that might be too confrontational and extreme for Japanese sensibilities — not to mention too difficult and time-consuming — but it gets the message across better.

The most amusing sign I ever saw was of a young couple cuddling. Clearly visible behind them was a sign of a pregnant woman indicating that they were in a reserved seat. The message was, “Do it at home.”

I thought: “What are they being told to do at home?! Is the train company advocating premarital, juvenile sex?” I guessed so.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

grant piper