Friday, December 10, 2010
Mind Your Manners
While on the subway last week with visiting friends from the US, I was struck by how well-mannered Tokyo passengers really are. When riding, they don't talk loudly, they don't eat food and they keep cell phone chatter to an absolute minimum. Yet sometimes one encounters a transgression. Recently while riding the Oedo Line, I gazed downward and discovered the toes pictured above. They belonged to a snoozing salariman who had slipped off his loafers to air his feet, revealing his toe-socks (yes! toe socks!) for all to see. But for the most part, subway riders are very mindful of their surroundings. They tend to turn inward and focus on their cell phones, ipods, pocket computer games or bunkoban paperback books. And, as a result, Tokyo subway cars are astonishingly quiet. Even the crowded ones.
Lest anyone forget their good comportment, the manner posters mounted monthly in stations and subway cars will keep them in line with gentle reminders of how to behave. I first noticed manner posters when we lived here in the late 80s/early 90s. At that time, the Tokyo Metro had engaged a rather brilliant graphic designer to produce a year's worth of posters, each one bearing a well-mannered and visually captivating message. My favorite depicted a subway interior loaded with open umbrellas of all different colors and patterns. One was crowned by a tiny frog (too cute for my taste but this is Japan). The message? Don't forget your umbrella on the train. I liked the posters so much that I began asking the station master in Yutenji if I could have them. This caused a lot of teeth sucking but sometimes I scored. On his suggestion, I eventually made my way to the source: subway headquarters in Ueno.
Much to my surprise, a very pleasant and very pregnant foreign woman of about my age greeted me upon my arrival. How she landed a job working for the Tokyo Metro is beyond my ken. But, be that as it may, my new friend was a great help. After hearing my quest, she disappeared for a moment only to return with a large roll of posters, all in mint condition and all for me. The following year, the subway commissioned a new designer. Since the new work did not speak to me, I put my collection to rest.
More recently, manner posters have begun to garner my attention again, though not enough to trigger my collecting instinct. Suspended from a subway car ceiling, this one admonishes riders to apply their make-up at home. On the face of it, the wielding of a mascara wand while commuting seems like a minor infraction. Yet to many in Japan it is construed as a private matter that, as the poster says, ought to be handled elsewhere. What a contrast to the CTA.