Train Shame
A headphone incident brings unexpected revelations
By: Anna Kunnecke | Mar 18, 2010 | Issue: 834 | 23 Comments | 12,691 views
Train Shame
Anna Kunnecke is a life coach for renegades. She blogs daily at

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 chikan incidents). You’re thinking that somebody groped me, right?


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.



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  • James

    I was sat opposite a grumpy old lady on the train, listening to my iPod at normal volume, the woman glaring at me with utter disgust at the blasting music she could hear.
    This lasted a few minutes until she couldn’t stand it no more and stood up to tell me to turn it off.

    As she swooped in to get near enough to tell me off it was then she realised something horrifying – that the blasting music was coming from a Japanese guy with huge DJ-style headphones sitting next to me.

    She looked at the Japanese guy, then looked at me again, then sat down without saying anything.

    So I guess Japanese people can listen to music as loud as they want then?

  • undecideddragon

    The shame you felt at being a foreigner sticking out cuts both ways, too.

    Recently my girlfriend and I were in Japan – she’s Eurasian, but half Chinese. Even so, many people assumed she was half-Japanese. We were on the Yamanote line heading home from Shibuya and I had my back turned to an Eastern European man who was making obscene gestures at my girlfriend – licking his lips, miming a blowjob, generally being a giant sleazebag.

    As I say, I had my back turned and didn’t see any of this. All I knew was she got quiet, told me we had to get off the train, and led me off by the hand. I knew there was something wrong and I knew that guy had something to do with it so I glared at him as we got off and he looked away. It was only when we got on the platform that she told me what happened and I’ve never been more enraged in my entire life.

    She then told me that she was so concerned about being a foreigner causing a scene in Japan that she knew she couldn’t tell me – she knew I would attack the man, she knew I would in all likelihood be arrested for assault, but more than all of that she was conscious of not showing the whole train what they believe to be the worst characteristics of foreigners.

    If we had have been in Australia, she would have told me and things would have been different. She was scared of the man but she was even more scared of sticking out and feeling shame from people she didn’t know.

  • kevinmcgue

    A few days ago I was getting on the crowded Marunouchi line in the morning. A gentleman around 60 got on in front of me, and a guy in front of him, around 30, turned around and started yelling. Evidently he had been poked by the man’s briefcase. The older man apologized, saying “Sorry, but the train is crowded, so what can you do.” The younger man started yelling at the top of his lungs, poking the older man in the chest with his finger.

    If the older man had been a foreigner, you could say the younger man didn’t like him because he was a foreigner. Or you could say that he didn’t like him because he was old. Or that he didn’t like him because he was wearing a blue shirt. But none of these are valid explanations. The younger man was a jerk, and that is why he yelled at the older man. It really has nothing to do with the older man.

    This woman was singled out not because she is non-Japanese, and not because she is a woman, and not because she listens to the Dixie Chicks. She was singled out because she just happened to sit next to an uptight control freak who wants to dictate their conception of what constitutes good manners to everyone around them. If a young Japanese guy listening to DJ Krush had sat in that seat, he would have probably been treated the exact same way.

  • exchanger

    I agree totally with what kevinmcgue says above but I draw distinction with the elemental defeatism in the main article. It’s a defeatism that borders on the innane and disgusting sense of apologism that all foreigners feel as though they have to abide by in Japan.

    Being fluent in Japanese you were well within your rights to explain to the jerk of guy that there was no way that he could hear it. There is no point in being rude but why should you have to even contemplate that just because you are a foreigner should play any part in the exchange. This awkward relative of racism that alot of foreigners suffer through here isn’t acceptable. It definitely wouldn’t be acceptable in most of the countries from which we come so why should we feel as though it’s within the Japanese’s rights to essuage that it is acceptable here?

    I also the use of the word guest here as awkward once again. For those of us, who don’t live here permanently and do have a date set for our departure, it may indeed be a different matter, but for those who live here permanently, who call Japan home and who love Tokyo, why should we suffer, as internal as it may be, the use of the word ‘guest’? As a guest do we eventually become an unwelcome one? Because if so, we should make our excuses and leave and stop all the awkward apologizing.

  • karoshi

    This is what comes from us gaijins trying to speak Japanese. We sound like wimpy simpletons who can be ticked by any passing nutjob. Listen, people, speak English all the time and send out the message loud and clear that if you’re gonna park your tanks on my lawn you’re gonna have to do it in English. Result = only the nice Japanese will speak to you.

  • annedes

    give me a break!…….shame…hopelessness….huh? i would have had no problem telling the guy off…..and i’m a woman. i’m so tired of people talking about being blond and standing out…..all foreigners stand out, but i’m beginning to think that the ones who talk about it all the time are a bit screwy in the head.
    a bit of self-confidence goes a long way!

  • poruchan

    It’s a tough call. My wife once asked me to turn it down, and I got so damn annoyed. She was worried about the passengers. You can hear it? I put the plugs into my daughter’s ears and cranked it up. I did hear the faint tinkling of music. I was further annoyed. That bothers people?

    Depends on which side of the bed I wake up on. I’m afraid I could say, “Sumimasen” and turn it down on one day. On another day I may say “F**k off!”

    I suppose I hope my cooler side prevails …. still …. what is it about the ambient sound of the train and the shrieking announcements from the conductor that are so much better than the eclectic sounds of city life. Besides a special train for women perhaps there should be one for the anal retentive.

  • loren

    If this happens again, try turning the iPod completely off and putting the earphones back in your ears. If the neighboring passenger complains again, show them that it’s off and then ask them to bend over so you can shove in the iPod and give them an internal sound system.

  • thejapaneseisaac

    Unfortunately the comments of some of the people in the all empowering “comments section” are nothing more than evidence of foreigner ignorance about life in Japan. Annedes, you are sooooo missing the point it’s not just about self-confidence… it is about the delicate balance of self vs unit. Even people with heaps of self-confidence to spare are expected to submit to the larger establishment. A gaijin who has either grown up here, lived here long term or is married to a Japanese person should be able to understand this. Oh, and your unintelligent blabbering about “screwy in the head”… wow, someone has serious self-confidence issues if they aren’t able to read someone’s personal experience without insulting them. I mean, that’s borderline juvenile… then again I have no idea how old you are or if you passed 6th grade….but I digress.
    It is inevitable that long term gaijin residents either knowingly or subconsciously absorb (cultural osmosis of sorts) the wider standards and expectations of the majority around them. If you care about the Japanese you can’t help but care about what they think. The gaijins who don’t care what the collective majority think will in short order find themselves sick of Japan because they have encountered one too many conflicts without learning the real reasons why the conflict exists. The gaijins who stick around for years have inherited the culture sensitivity of the collective group. What is perhaps missing exactly what the author said. Acceptance of the fact that they are always going to stand out but not succumb to the victimization from any negative attention that may come their way. For every stupid jerk on the train there are infinitely more kind OR indifferent people who could care less and would not even contemplate making a fuss. Lastly, if someone wants to mess with you, mess right back with them. It doesn’t have to Japanese vs. Gaijin if you battle with your wits instead of your external appearance. Turn the ipod off but keep the headphones and gently sway to the music or tap your fingers as you smile happily. When he asks you to turn it down again, give him a big smile, even laugh and show him that the ipod is turned off, maybe even nudge the guy on the other side of you and get a witness!

  • Rodrigo Rodriguez

    From a positive perspective… I was squashed in a tightly packed train like a 500gram blue fin tuna in a 100gram tin can. Feeling discomfort and distressed I couldn’t help overhearing U2 blasting from an oba-san’s headphones. The cart was completely silent with U2 playing in the background, it helped to pass the time and the discomfort, I found it hilarious that the music was coming from an oba-san (around 80-90yrs old).

  • clearsky54

    Anna Kunnecke is a very good writer. But she makes two mistakes in her Train Shame article. One: The man who asked her to turn down her iPod was not in any remote way “a jerk for sure,” nor did he display any qualities reserved for a “jackass.” He had every right to ask her to turn down her iPod. He also has the right to “shame” the following: young women who insist on putting on their make-up, closet alcoholics who smuggle in their Chu-hi and surreptitiously drink them, young thugs who think the safety bars are their personal jungle gyms, and slobs who stuff their fat faces with their smelly lunches. There used to be manners in Japan–they’re aren’t anymore.

    Mistake two: She assumes that sound doesn’t leak out of her earphones. Trust me; it does. And I, like the man Anna so rudely calls a jerk, can hear it. There are so many “sound distractions” on public transportation in Japan that we do not need any others. Whether she was being “targeted” for her causing “trouble” because she’s a foreigner is, frankly, moot.

  • abhisri


    In your eagerness to catch author’s mistake, apparently you failed even at basic reading comprehension. Typical.

    Permit me to enlighten you. It is perfectly fine for someone to ask for music volume to be lowered and that in itself doesn’t makes the person a jerk.

    But when she had lowered the volume so low that she HERSELF could not hear the music, the guy was a first class jackass and a total loser to harass her a second time.

    Do explain to us how the music leaks out of earphones, when it is turned so low that even the person wearing them cannot hear it? I take it that you have some super-sensitive ears that probably pick up music even if the device in question is switched off?

    And since you seem to think it is fine to harass a foreigner for music even though volume is so low, they themselves cannot hear it, I guess that makes you a jackass too.

    In your self-righteous rant against the bad-manners(a few of which I might point are almost exclusively practiced by locals. I have to yet see a foreigner girl applying make up in train or a foreigner guy drinking wine in train for example), the point flow right over your head. Whoosh! Her point was that if the guy was still harassing her even though she had lowered volume so low that she herself couldn’t hear it, the jackass was harassing her solely for being a foreigner.

    You are pretty rude yourself, and stupid to boot since you didn’t even understand the story. Epic fail.

  • blondeintokyo

    When I first read this, I thought the author might have been exaggerating. It’s perfectly plausible that the man would have reacted the same if she had been a Japanese person.

    Then I had a similar experience of my own, and now I’m not quite so sure. I got on my usual train to go to work in the morning, and there was an older, grumpy looking man sitting in the seat in front of me. He started staring at me, giving me dirty looks and making these disapproving grunting noises. That’s happened to me before, so I just ignored him like I always ignore rude people. I got my iPod out of my bag, and put in my earbuds. I had just bought it, so hadn’t yet figured out the controls. I was fiddling with it, trying to figure out how to adjust the settings, when the man said to me in Japanese, “It’s too loud”. Since I hadn’t even turned on the music yet, I heard him perfectly well. I decided to just ignore him- I thought, why should I even acknowledge him? He perfectly well knew he couldn’t hear anything from my earphones- he was just trying to find any excuse he could so that he’d have the chance to chastise me. A couple of minutes later, we reached the station and people started getting off the train. He stood up, poked me in the arm, and said it again. “It’s too loud! You should turn down the volume!” That time, I responded, “It’s not even turned on- you KNOW you can’t hear anything.” I let him in front of me so that he would get off the train first (never turn your back on a crazy person) and waited until he was well ahead of me before I got off the train. There was one woman who was kind of smiling at me. I think everyone on the train knew he was just trying to make trouble, and I’m sure that man knew he had just made a major ass of himself.

    Was it because I was a foreigner? A woman? Who knows…all I know is that all this man wanted was to find a reason to hassle me. He just used the iPod as an opportunity to express his disapproval at my very existence.

    I was deeply satisfied to see the shocked look on his face when I talked back to him in Japanese. I’m sure he didn’t expect that at all.

  • clearsky54

    Dear Abhisri:

    I have carefully considered what you said. I re-read the article. If Anna had in fact turned down the volume to the point that she herself could not hear it, then indeed it would seem bizarre that the man was asking her to continue to turn it down.

    However, based on the article which you claim you read, the way in which he asked her to do so could not define him as a “first class jackass” or a “total loser.” Also, he could not be said to be “harassing” her. As she herself describes it, he asked her in a very polite way to turn it down.

    It may be that he did not like anyone to be listening to music on the train. You are making the assumption that he was “harassing” her for “being a foreigner.” One, he wasn’t “harassing” her; but he may have been “targeting” her because she was a foreigner. Nonetheless, that is your assumption. But assuming you are right, it still doesn’t make him a “jackass,” nor does it make me one for commenting on it.

    As for my ears, yes, they are super-sensitive. And I find it astonishing that people who posted comments on this article are so incredibly self-involved and selfish as to think that the music leaking out of their earphones, no matter how low, would not bother others. It is bad enough that we are crushed inside a tin can listening to the screaming announcements of the conductor as we approach the next station (and even if they are recorded announcements, they are too loud); in addition to that, we have to endure (or, let me take you out of the equation) — I have to endure constant assaults on my ears from stupid, inconsiderate jerks who think it’s their “right” to play their music as loud as they please. My greatest hope is that they go deaf — maybe they are going deaf, and that’s why they have to play it so loud.

    I can see from your letter that you and I could never possibly see eye-to-eye on anything. I did not fail at “basic reading comprehension.” I understood it in my way and you understood it in yours. What’s “typical” about it? Typical for who or what?

    Maybe foreign women do not put make-up on on the trains, and maybe foreign men do not drink wine on trains (you mean BEER, since most of the drunken clods that are drinking are too stupid to understand the fine qualities of wine), but… so what? There are plenty of loud-mouthed, stupid-ass foreigners on the train as well. I imagine you’re one of them. Typical.

    At any rate, I will agree that if Anna turned down the music so that no one else could possibly hear it except herself (and of course, how would any of us know that unless we were there), that the man’s actions were uncalled for. But nonetheless, it doesn’t make him a jerk or a jackass.

    The larger point (which I’m sure will go right over your head) is that people today in general on trains/subways in Japan have the manners of sloths. They eat whatever they want, drink whatever they want, talk as loud as they want, play their music as loud as they want, barf wherever they want, touch whoever they want, ad nauseam. I have seen it all — but there was a point in time where there was some level of civility. Now there isn’t any–on the train or in these posts. Sad comment on the “epic fail” of humanity.

  • abhisri


    Amusing. I was following you till your first paragraph. And then wham! After acknowledging that “it will indeed be bizarre, if the the was asking her to continue to turn it down when Anna herself couldn’t hear the music”, you went back to your previous nonsensical rant.

    Let us see again. Anna said the volume was so low that she herself could not hear it. And yet the man continued to harass her for something he couldn’t even hear. And yet from your point of view, the man was behaving completely normally and Anna was at fault. Which part of the story did you fail to understand, to arrive at this amazing conclusion?

    If the man was harassing her for no logical reason whatsoever, why does it not make him a jackass? Act like a jackass, be called a jackass. If your comprehension ability is still impaired, perhaps you should go through blondeintokyo’s story posted just above.

    And that paragraph about “so what if foreigners dont do xyz and only locals do it? I hatezzz them foreigners anyways” says all that we need to know about your ilk.

    Funny that someone gets harassed, and you are rude to extreme to the victim while justifying the actions of the harasser(merely because the harasser is your countryman while the victim is a foreigner. “I hate them foreigners” nonsense explains all about xenophobic losers like you). What are you planning to do for an encore? Defending rapists/chikans, I suppose? There is something hypocritical in your complaint about incivility on trains, when you are an extremely rude person yourself. To worry about the failures of humanity, you will have to become a member first, I am afraid.

    Oh. And if it was you trying that harassment stunt on me in train, you will be looking at harsh public humiliation. And possible jail time, if you escalated it any further after that. Not everyone is meek and nice like Anna. Some of us are rude right back in your face, and are able to give back in spades, as you have already found out.

  • clearsky54

    Dear Abhisiri,

    I understand what you are saying, but you don’t understand what I am saying. I am an American living in Japan. I don’t get your “xenophobic loser” comment. Talk about making judgments about people. Jesus!

    Yes, let us see again. I have reviewed the information and I think the man did not like the fact that she was listening to something on an iPod. We will never know if it was because she was a woman or because she was a foreigner.

    The fact is that people who listen to their iPod or talk on their phones or play little games on their little devices usually have no concern for others. These people think that it’s “okay” to do whatever the f*** they want on the train. They may indeed think they are listening to their iPods at low volume, but if the person next to them has to hear it at all, then the volume isn’t low enough. The problem is that people who listen to music on the train don’t get why it would bother anybody else if their choice of music is leaking out of their headphones. There is a disconnect between what is appropriate for them and what is appropriate for everybody else. The subway is not a private car; it is a public space. It is not a restaurant, despite the fact that stupid, rude pigs stuff their fat faces with whatever sh*t they picked up from Lawson’s; it is not an izakaya, despite the fact that some insufferable drunks think it’s okay to drink their beers or chu-hais at any of hour of the day or night, nor is it a toilet for stupid young women to do their faces or fix their split ends or curl their hair (yes, I’ve seen it). This is what the problem is. You are probably right that Anna was doing nothing wrong and she probably did make an effort to accommodate the man, despite the fact that he indeed was probably unreasonable and that she wasn’t offending anyone.

    But what bothered me about her article is that she had a righteous attitude about what she doing, one. Two, this is what she said:

    The guy “politely” tapped her on her shoulder. Okay; great start. Then she says that she hoped that she “wasn’t going to have to have the conversation about where we’re from and what our hobbies are.” Doesn’t that strike you as being just the slightest bit condescending and insulting? That sort of questioning hasn’t happened in 10 years, so she’s flattering herself if she thought the guy was going to strike up a conversation.

    This is what the man said: “Please, turn down more a little. So many people on train. Bad manners.”

    That’s right; it’s bad manners to be wrapped up in your own precious little planet, living in your own tiny little world, ignoring the feelings or sensibilities of others.

    I get that she was probably not doing that; but he’s talking about a broader point. That point is lost on most everyone of a certain age and all manners on a train are a thing of the past. That is what I was commenting on.

    As far as your other comments, we’re from two different worlds, so, I won’t post anything after this, because I’m sure you will, and that way you can think that you “won,” because you got the “last word.” It won’t make any difference; you’re still wrong.

  • pollolo

    Sorry but I`m not sure being passive is the way to go. Not wanting to make a scene and the fact that you`re a foreigner are no excuses for not standing your ground.

    I`ve personally had a couple of incidents on the train and both times I didn`t hesitate to show the other person that I wasn`t just going to take it. In the last incident an old man (it always seems to be old men) kept giving me the eye and then turning his head while grunting. I waited long enough to make sure he actually had a problem with me and next time he did it I looked at him straight back in the eye with a “you got a f.. problem?” look on my face. Nedless to say he stopped bothering me.

  • abhisri


    Regards your being a non-Japanese, I will take your word for it. But as far as hating foreigners goes, you can give any xenophobic a run for his money anyways. Don’t sell yourself short.

    Regardless, if the guy, as per you, was an enlightened zen-master making a “broader point”, perhaps he should have opened up free-classes for same, instead of opting to harass a female. Not all of us appreciate free zen-style lessons in trains.

    Permit me to also point out that listening to music in train and buses is a rather common activity for Japanese girls and men. I have no idea where you have been living, but apparently since you dislike the idea of someone merely listening to music or playing games(I have zero idea what your problem with *that* is btw), you might wish to migrate to Tibet or Siberia perhaps, since both are a common and normal practice in the present Japanese culture now. Mind you, I have NEVER come across anyone commenting to a Japanese girl about the music being too loud. Even when it was. Make your own conclusions.

    Manners btw, is me not making you listen to my music, and you, therefore, leaving me alone.

    Oh, and regards the “where we are from and hobbies conversation”? Allow me to burst your bubble again. Have you realized lately, that you are NOT a female? Hope you did. (Or perhaps now, you will suddenly claim being a young foreigner female as well?) Because that is probably why you have never experienced it. Neither have I. My pretty wife, on the other hand, has it happen to her all the time. At times even when I am, but ten feet away, checking the route chart or something. “Are you from xyz? How long have you been here?”. Always the men, btw. Yes, they are hitting on her. If she is alone, it goes as far as “Would you like to have dinner with me?”. This, from total strangers, who just saw her 5 minutes ago! It doesn’t bothers us, since it doesn’t goes any further and is something we have become used to(Even though it is usually a complete breach of norm, where we come from).

    And that basically defines your problem. You have a completely chauvinistic attitude that refuses to even recognize the fact that the way young female foreigners experience Japan, may be somewhat different at times, to how you experience it. And if it didn’t happen to *you*, by your virtue of not being a female, then by god, it COULDN’T happen in 10 years to *anyone* of course! To hell with empathy!

    Unfortunately, those conversations do happen. Happened to me last week at the beach, when an Ojisan walked past us, backed up, kneels down to us, and while staring at my wife’s chest, asked HER “where you are from?”. I might have perhaps, even enjoyed the conversation, if it was not actually apparently taking place between him and my wife’s breasts. So unless some guy randomly walks up to me and asks ME where I am from(and yes THAT never happens), do excuse me and my wife for rolling our eyes when it happens to her for the umpteenth time. And yes we can tell, when someone is actually interested in talking to foreigners, and when they are just interested in her.

    But again, apparently you are least bit interested in listening to what the other person is saying or even acknowledging that others, being different from you in gender, race or age, may have experiences that differ slightly from yours. You have decided that things were better earlier(and damn even the locals for daring to change!) and only those things that you as a male experience, are the sole experiences possible. And by god, that is how it shall and must be!

    I wonder, who is more arrogant though? Anna for merely expressing how she felt? Or you for deciding that young females cannot possibly experience that differ from yours? I doubt that you care either ways. For you, it is more about who “won” the argument, even if it means excusing a very rude man as an enlightened zen-master making a “broad point on society” in a train, by harassing a young foreigner female. Being courteous and polite to females, apparently, is not a part of your upbringing or definition of “manners” though.

  • limosine

    These comments are the best I’ve read in months. I miss Japan.

  • johnnydinero

    James has it right, Kevinmcgue has it wrong. Unfortunately, foreigners are often held to a higher standard of behaviour vis-a-vis ‘the rules’ than Japanese would be in a similar situation. Boorish, rude behaviour by Japanese is most often ignored by other Japanese. Just think of incidents we’ve witnessed on trains and train platforms that are often beyond belief, which Japanese people entirely ignore. Yes, they’re aware because we’ve all heard Japanese people’s own train horror stories/annoyance tales. But they usually won’t SAY anything if the annoyance is Japanese. Sad but true. It could possibly be because we foreigners stick out that any transgression, even just the ‘perception’ of one (such as impossible-to-hear music being picked up by the man with the Labrador ears), draws Japanese people’s attention more, whether they look at you or not. But there is the constant expectation by the Japanese that we will break or ignore their social (and other) rules, and many quite blissfully try to ‘educate’ us about rules that they themselves may often ignore. They don’t notice when we conform, only when we don’t, but perhaps it is comforting for them to paint us all with the same brush, since it reinforces the often mistaken ideas that they’ve grown up believing.

    The only realistic solution that I see for the problem discussed in this article would have been to turn the iPod off, leave the earphones in place (not uncommon – I sometimes turn mine off and don’t bother to take out the earphones until arrival at my stop), and when asked again to turn down the volume, politely (but loudly enough so others can hear) tell him and show him that it was turned OFF, so please be quiet.

    On the other hand, it may have solved nothing. Some people just don’t get it.

  • Mark Flanigan

    Johnny Dinero makes a good point here:

    But there is the constant expectation by the Japanese that we will break or ignore their social (and other) rules, and many quite blissfully try to ‘educate’ us about rules that they themselves may often ignore. They don’t notice when we conform, only when we don’t, but perhaps it is comforting for them to paint us all with the same brush, since it reinforces the often mistaken ideas that they’ve grown up believing.

    I would agree that it is a rather complex set of factors involved. We are foreigners, so anything we say/do/fail to do in a social setting is automatically more obvious. Perhaps some Japanese have encountered foreigners in the past who have displayed some sort of rude or uninformed type of behavior in public. Then again, perhaps the old guy was being xenophobic (with a touch of mysogyny thrown in!)

    Either way, it can certainly be hard to fit it sometimes. I’ve sometimes had that “Lost in a crowd” feeling, where you seem to be the only square peg amongst the many round holes. Part of experience, desu ne?

  • dominic berry

    What to do…
    When he first taps you on the shoulder, accept his advice.
    But turn the music off completely.
    So now you’re above reproach.
    But bob your head up and down like you’re really enjoying it.
    Then when he taps you again, show him that the power is off.
    Ask him how it can be quieter than that.
    Then he can feel ashamed of HIMSELF.

  • Tatami53

    But see, I disagree. Why would you call him an “uptight control freak”? Why is it that if he felt her music was too loud that asking her to turn it down (or not listen to it at all) has anything to do with being an “uptight control freak”? I’m amazed at an any individual’s absolute inability to appreciate the fact that they are not the only person on earth. And what would your “conception of what constitutes as good manners”? Allowing her or anyone to listen to music at a “reasonable” volume? But, if that offends others in a crowded, contained space, why is it acceptable?

    The concept of good manners no longer exists. It’s every individual’s “interpretation” of what they are. Is it really asking so much to have people participate in quiet activities and not eat, listen to music, powder their faces, drink, and chat loudly while on a train? Apparently it is. People do not sense that they are offending others. They don’t get why their behavior is an irritant.

    One person I know thought it was okay to bring his hot coffee onto the train. When the train jolted to a stop and “a few drops” (his words) flew onto a young woman’s blouse, she berated him. He didn’t get what the big fuss was all about. That is the mentality of most people. We are so deep into our own private fantasylands that we forget there are others and that we should be mindful of them. But I am clear that this is an outdated way of thinking. I just felt compelled to respond to Mr. McGue’s comment because I cannot see anything about what the man in question did that would qualify him as an “uptight control freak.” Perhaps he wanted to maintain the “wa” that he remembers from another day and time. Sadly, though, that, along with good manners, being respectful and considerate, and anything else associated with having to acknowledge others, is long gone.