Monday, 26 November 2007

Elevated Ettiquette

Once upon a magical economical time in Japan, known as the Bubble, money flowed like water and was spent in vast quantities on just about everything and anything. In that environment employing beautiful young women to do things for you was easily done and, given how rewarding it could be, also very popular. The immaculately uniformed and gloved elevator ladies were such an example. With the "collapse" of the Japanese economy, however, most of these charming ladies had to hand in (or would it be more apt to say hand out?) their gloves.

Nowadays a receptionist or security guard may step in to the elevator to push your floor's button before exiting the elevator and bowing you onto your journey. The rest of the time, however, you are left to push your own buttons. I have heard of ingenious places that set the elevator to stop at every floor, but that could take a while, especially since Japan has some tall buildings! Upon entering an elevator in Japan, however, you are likely to find that, with its wonderful ability to adapt itself, Japanese society has solved this potentially disastrous situation.

The solution to this dire problem is that one of the people on the elevator, normally a young woman, will take on the role of the elevator lady, minus the uniform and gloves! While she will not announce each floor and will rarely ask others which button to push, she will stand right by the elevator buttons, pushing and holding 'open door' while others are exiting or entering the elevator and then immediately press 'close door' once said exiting/entering has happened.

There does not seem to be a process for deciding who will take on this role, the passengers do not play a spontaneous game of janken (rock-paper-scissors, the game used in Japan to decide teams/roles/etc, equivalent to flipping a coin or reciting eeny-meeny-miny-moe). Becoming the elevator lady seems to be the role of whoever is standing beside the button panel.

As I mentioned, this is normally taken on by young women. I have also noticed, however, that when I am in an elevator with only men, one of them will step up and take the role. Wanting to show my comprehension of Japanese culture, as well as the fact that I can be just as submissive as any Japanese woman, I recently stepped up and pushed those buttons as if I had a pair of white gloves on - much to the apparent surprise and delight of the all-male elevator passengers. I don't intend to quit my day job and pursue a career as one of the last few elevator ladies, however, as much as a few 5 year-olds I know might want to!

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