Japanese Politeness: More than just saying “Thank You”
By Grace Buchele Mineta
On April 9, 2015
We all have different mannerisms. Most of the time we can agree that holding open the door for someone or helpful (non snarky) customer service is polite. We can also agree that cutting in line or throwing your trash on the street is rude. But many things seem to fall in that grey area, though, where it really depends on the country, person, and situation.
For instance, I think shoulder-checking someone (shoulder-checking is when two people bump into each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, on the street) without apologizing is very rude. But my husband thinks it’s polite to just not say anything when that happens – since drawing attention to the issue only makes it worse.
I think saying “thank you” to anyone who opens the door for you, regardless of the situation, is polite… but most of the time, I’m the only one saying “thank you” to the elevator lady, waitress, or security man. My husband thinks it’s odd to say “thank you” to someone who is only doing their job.
Politeness is a given in Japan. I can’t tell you why. It’s probably a nice mixture of tradition, the way of the samurai, and some history. You can find a dozen other articles online telling you why – in much better terms than I ever could. In fact, fellow GP writer Yumi’s Uchi, Soto, and Japanese Group Culture article is great for further reading.
What I’m trying to say is there are so many ways to be polite, aside from just saying “thank you.” Living in any large Japanese city is a great way to experience this systemic politeness. You see it every day.
The vast majority of the population in this country believes in conformity for the sake of harmonizing. And, when you have a society built on maintaining smooth, interpersonal relationships, politeness will be enforced.
What are your thoughts on politeness in Japan?