These past two weeks, while riding on the train to and from work in Tokyo, I have been watching the loveliest TV commercial I have ever seen. (Commercials are shown on small screens throughout the carriages on many trains). Last night I tracked it down on Youtube and thought I would put it on my blog. I thought it illustrated much better than words an important difference between modern westerners and the Japanese.
A young man and woman go out for the evening. Maybe it is their first date, maybe they are work colleagues, we don’t know, but they clearly like each other’s company. They go to a downmarket izakaya (a Japanese bar) and in a shop look through old records together. Near 11pm the man notices the time and mentions to the girl that the last train will soon be going.
While they are waiting on opposite platforms for their respective trains the man wonders if he did the right thing in mentioning the time. By doing so he forced the girl into saying it was time to go home. He looks deflated and disappointed with himself. He was trying to do the right thing but ended up putting an end to a lovely evening.
Meanwhile on the other platform the girl is thinking that it really wasn’t necessary for her to catch the last train home. They were having fun together and she could have stayed out longer and caught the first train home in the morning.
Maybe if this were a western commercial it would be assumed that the couple would have sex but not so in Japan. Becoming a couple is quite a serious thing in Japan and sex is not the most important aspect of the relationship. Biologists tell us that the Japanese have a particularly low sex drive and I can’t help thinking this is one reason their society is so well ordered and free from male fights over women. And since couples assume they are in this for the long haul rather than just a one-night stand, choosing a partner whose company you enjoy and who you feel comfortable with becomes the overriding consideration. Choosing someone cool but unreliable, shallow and uncivilised might make sense for people who have only the short-term in mind but it’s a terrible tactic for the long term. After all, what could you possibly think to do to fill the time with a partner like Amy Winehouse or Mario Balotelli on a rainy Sunday afternoon?
You get an idea from this video of just how shy, self-conscious and nice many Japanese people are. There’s no arrogance, no egotism, no coolness. Just decency, lots of self doubt and a desire to be with a person you get on with. How old-fashioned and uncool is that?