Kyudo Notebook: Traffic

Well, the taikai didn’t go so well for me. Next! My friend Y won her division, though, which was very impressive given that she was competing with the teachers. Also she seemed much happier with her shooting. Omedetou!

Just a quick note about something I’d wondered before, though. Especially at these taikai it’s common for people to be leaving the shajo at the same time that others are entering, so occasionally there’s a bit of a traffic jam. Who has the right of way? I happened to be standing near S先生 when this happened once today so I asked her. It turns out that the people entering have the right of way. People leaving should wait.

There’s a similar question of who goes first when two people from different teams are approaching the exit at the same time. Maybe I’ll ask about that one next time! Details, details, but when you’re in that situation it’s good to know.

On the other hand I suspect that even in the first case, an allowance has to be made for the people involved. A student should probably wait for his teacher, a young person for someone much older, etc, regardless. It might not be completely correct under the rules but I don’t think anyone could fault you for that sort of courtesy.

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6 Responses to Kyudo Notebook: Traffic

  1. ceterum censeo says:

    I never had the situation of traffic jams at the dojo so there is not much I can say about that.
    Still, I’ll bounce a little anecdote off you to see if this matches your experience…
    I once confounded a japanese student of mine (university not dojo) by holding a door open for her.
    She was puzzled by it apparently so I explained how it was considered polite to open doors for people. She explained that in Japan if you open a door then to walk through it yourself. The concept of opening doors for others out of respect was new to her. Never quite worked out if this was her or japanese culture as a whole but the upshot of my telling her was that I had a bunch of japanese girls dutifully holding open doors for me all over the place.
    I ten had to have another conversation about courtesy between ladies and gentlemen…

    Anyway, it still amuses me when I think about it and it also reminds me that our standards of what is proper and polite are by no means universal or even logical…

  2. karamatsu says:

    Ha! Now if I go somewhere and find women opening doors for me I’ll know who taught them. I’ve always wondered about the power a teacher might have to tell students that absolutely anything was normal/expected/polite (

    I do hold open doors for people sometimes when I’m going through ahead of them. Sometimes it leads to awkward moments, like I’ll hold it open for an obaachan, but then eight more people line up behind her and go through while I… well… just stand there, holding the door, wondering if they think it’s my job. But usually people seem to appreciate it, and on rare occasions someone will do the same for me. Maybe they were your students, too! I do suspect, especially with obasan, that there is some awkwardness on their side… like I’ve involuntarily debited their giri account and now they don’t know what to do.

    At the same time, at least out here in inaka-ville, people will often go way out of their way to help an older person who seems to be struggling, or to help a stranger. People are much more willing to help someone they may never meet again than someone with whom it could involve them in a tangle of obligations. I think that’s probably true everywhere, but maybe just more acute here.

    My favourite moment of Japanese cultural dissonance came when I was talking to a friend at some station in Tokyo. I pointed out how, although the signs above and on the staircase to the platform clearly marked the “up” and “down” sides, people were doing exactly the opposite: going up the “down” side and down the “up.” To my mind this was an example of how people were oblivious to guidelines intended to make life in a crowded place go more smoothly, but her reply, which still crystallizes much of Japanese ethics for me was, “Sometimes the signs are wrong.”

    I still get a little shiver of weirdness just thinking about that…

  3. ceterum censeo says:

    Maybe I should write a japanese to english phrase book…
    it could include advice on courtesy… : )

    The Monty Python clip always puts me in mind of “how to be an alien?” by George Mikes. Hysterically funny…. A hungarian immigrant’s experience in England… A lot of them arrived in the UK during WWII, a second wave came during the failed 1956 hungarian revolution, that is what the sketch refers to actually, I think.
    We first came across Mikes’ book on the shelves for a furnished house we were renting. We mentioned it to my wife’s grandfather who was also hungarian, turns out Mikes was great friend.
    He also wrote one on Japan, he was married to a japanese lady… may be worth checking out ; )

    Surreal moment, your story about the signs…
    We always think of the japanese people as being very obedient to authority. Maybe this shows they are not so much just following orders but following others. Working harmoniously within the group seems paramount and if a pattern of behavior has established itself that is what you follow. You don’t follow a sign that tells you to go against the group – that would be wrong…

    As for opening doors etc…
    there is a difference between courtesy and attentiveness.
    Attentiveness is saving someone a struggle by offering assistance but before you are asked to.
    That is a gesture that is appreciated anywhere.
    Courtesy is a little different I feel.
    A lady may have no need of having doors opened for her… you do it as a favour not because they need it. As my japanese Student anecdote illustrates, a lady opening a door for a male teacher (avoiding carefully the word gentleman)… to us seems wrong somehow. Why? Because normally the stronger person offers courtesy. We do not offer courtesy for rank, we do not hold doors open for our boss for example.
    We offer courtesy to the old (in case they have need of it) and particularly the “frail” (who generally don’t need it at all).
    It is a double edged gesture… out of courtesy we forgo a privilege we could insist on… so who is above and who below…? There is a hierarchy in courtesy.
    Many women here now object to being offered gestures of courtesy as they find there is something demeaning about it.
    You now have to assess first whether a lady expects it or will think you a complete twit for opening a door… Germany is becoming a social minefield too…

    I guess the point in my anecdote, which seems to be borne out also in your experience, is that there are cultural differences. The way society works is different, hierarchy exists everywhere but where and how we express it varies.
    It was absolutely logical to my poor students that they should open doors for me, their teacher… but they got it completely the wrong way round.

    In the dojo…?
    Is it only about who has most need to pass through the door first?
    Is it about simple logistics getting people in and out without getting bows under feet…?
    Or is it about rank, strength etc?

    That was what I was wondering…
    would be very interesting to know how it works and what the principle behind it is.

  4. karamatsu says:

    I suspect the principle is to preserve the harmony of the group coming in, since they’ll be all synchronized, breathing and moving together, while the person leaving is, at that point, on their own. Given that it probably wouldn’t be so good for someone coming in to stop, even out of courtesy, because it would break group harmony. So maybe I was wrong, though I imagine it’s a time/place/occasion thing. So complicated! If I have a chance I’ll ask.

  5. Kiyoaki says:

    Here is onother perspective (just to cloud the issue):

    It seems to me that the person leaving should have precedence in all cases.

    First off no can always determine, who is of a higher status. Also, whether someone is part of a group or not is also a problematic question, which isn’t always easy to determine.

    The ‘logic’ behind ‘egress’ before ‘ingress’, is that it creates space for those entering, whereas, if one were to give precedence to those entering, perhaps a traffic jam would ensue because the spce never empties. Admittedly, that may not be the Japanese logic, but as Emily Post and Judith Manners have often said, courtesy is often based upon practicality.


  6. karamatsu says:

    Yes, it is interesting to think about! Kind of like the trains in Tokyo, eh? If you try to get on before people have gotten off, there will be no space! But in the dojo I guess that problem is avoided since a group wouldn’t enter until the preceding group was just about done. Kind of funny to imagine us all piling up out there, though!

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