Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Please do it at home

I've talked before about the Japanese ability to do some strange things in public (like the guy in one of my classes tweezing is nose hairs!) There is also the girl with the bleach-blond hair who sits in the front seat right in front of the driver on the morning bus. When I get on she is already well into her make up routine, hair held back with huge clips, large folding mirror braced against the bag on her lap. She goes through her entire morning make-up routine, right down to eyelash curlers (which she is invariably using just as the bus makes a violent and rather sharp turn). It is actually quite impressive to note her control and how well made-up she looks when we all get off at the last stop!

One of the things I remember from my very first course on Japan, an introductory culture/history course I took as a first year undergrad, was the week we learned about uchi/soto and politeness. The professor was (in)famous for not actually teaching, so we didn't have a lecture, but I do remember the readings, from Joy Hendry's "Understanding Japanese Society." I haven't read the text for roughly a decade now, so forgive me if my memory is spotty, but Hendry makes a BIG deal about uchi/soto. When I arrived in Japan for my exchange six months later I was prepared for an uber-private country. Not somewhere you'd expect to see girls and women like my bus-mate. Or perhaps it makes sense after all. While these women may be out in public, they can close themselves off from the strangers around them and pretend they are in front of their bathroom mirror.

While the women may not have a problem poking, prodding, primping, and ppp...ppp... preening in public, however, there appear to be those that do have a problem with it. Enter the latest ad campaign from the Tokyo Metro system. It is a year-long campaign aiming to improve the "manners" of subway riders. The ads feature the Japanese tagline "家でやろう" (literally "let's do it at home") and the English line of "Please do it at home." So far three posters have been unveiled, one on sitting properly, one on not speaking on your cell phone while in the train, and one on, you guessed it, not applying make-up.

I travel by Tokyo Metro subway at least day a week, and the ads are prominently featured in the stations I use on a regular basis. Then I noticed they began showing up on a few blogs I read on a regular basis. I did a quick Google search and discovered they appeared prominently on a large number of Japan-related blogs in English and a HUGE number of Japanese blogs. (in English here, here, and here, and a few in Japanese just for fun here, here, here, and here)

I'm amused by the Green-Eyed Geisha's suggestions that the guy in glasses looking over make-up girl's shoulder, who also features with cell-phone girl, and is likely the same one looking at lounging seat boy too, should make an appearance later in the year in the poster against creepy men who feel up women on crowded trains.

The Japanese blogs are also quite inventive and amusing, especially with their suggestions for future posters: the stinky man who makes you feel sick, the old men who drink beer on the train, the kids playing portable video games, homeless people, old men who look at x-rated magazines... The last of the blogs, listed as that of a Waseda University research and ski aficionado, remarks that while the English is grammatically correct the poster confounds many foreigners. I'd say this particular foreigner is more amused than confounded!

The posters are undeniably visually appealing, the simple colouring stands out and the message is just as clear and simple. What I am less sure about is whether it will do any good. How likely is it that if the girl from my bus in the morning saw the poster she would say to herself "Wow, I hadn't realized I was being rude by putting on all my make-up on the bus every morning. From now on I'll put it on at home before I get on the bus, and spend the bus ride reading about world issues, and I'll be sure to give up my seat to one of the elderly passengers, and while I'm waiting for the bus to come I'll rescue kittens from trees and help the blind man across the road and... and..." Right so perhaps not tooo likely. Campaigns such as this one are fairly common in Japan, however, with train and bus companies urging better manners and more consideration for fellow travellers, public toilets urging you to help keep the area clean, and various other locations urging you to take your garbage home with you, not smoke while walking, not throw your cigarettes on the ground, not....

I wonder what Joy Hendry would have to say about this? Is it the reaction to a crisis, the break-down of the good 'ole Japanese politeness? Or is it an attempt at re-affirming social mores in a society that is slowly becoming less homogeneous? Or, since the posters so far have focused on bad habits of the younger generation, is it simply the age old refrain of the old to the young - "When I was your age I..."


  1. I bet that bus driver waits for the eyelash curlers to come out to make that 'violent and rather sharp turn'!

  2. Hi Sarah,
    I'm catching up on your blog posts for the past two months! This one helped me to understand why there is a strong counterculture of rebellious youth in Japan. I say, go make-up girl! (Not that I'm a fan of make-up, as you know...)
    And on your mention of other potential ad targets, I am wondering how a homeless person is supposed to respond to the message: 'Please do it at home.'
    As always, I'm more than amused!
    love and hugs,

  3. Hey I just wanted to say thank you for the link! And also that I am personally a big fan of all the random mirrors in the metro stations so that people can do a quick primp without even going into the washrooms during their commute. Actually I enjoy inwardly smiling to myself when I see them being used. I think if we had pit-stop mirrors at home there would be a lot of verbal abuse!

  4. Green-eyed Geisha:
    The mirrors amused me at first, and I would always shake my head at the women (and MEN!!) primping in full view. Recently, however, I've found myself shaking my head at something else - the fact that the mirrors are so low all I get is a good view of my shoulder...! Sigh!