After one particularly controversial Japanese blog post last week, Japanese Twitter was blazing up 炎上 with tweets of anger and support. The topic? Trains. The controversy? "The reason I don't give up my seat on the train."
The argument wasn't as simple as the title lets on. Let's start with the whole idea of giving up your seat. Of course, there's "priority seating," and you absolutely should give up your seat to any elderly, pregnant, baby-carrying, or injured people. Nobody's debating that. But, this blog post talks about all seats, not just priority seating, which really puts us in quite the gray area. Do you have to give up your (regular) seat to a pregnant lady? No. Should you? Probably. Will you? Maybe not. It becomes a judgement call, and if you don't make the right one, you'll surely be judged by others. There are two points that the blogger (we'll call him by his id: Kangaetakekka) makes:
- Why I don't always give up my seat to someone on the train.
- Why people shouldn't think badly about others who don't give up their seats.
While this immediately sounds like some proper S-Class douchebaggery it actually does get a little more complicated than the two points let on. Kangaetakekka has reasons for why he feels this way, and of course many others on the intertubes had words of support and/or words of anger for all of his feels. I'd like to be able to say "oh man, what a jackass!" and then call it a day, but even I can't bring myself to do that, at least not at 100%. I really do understand where he's coming from. Let's go through some of his reasoning. I'll add my own opinions and thoughts along the way.
"Why I Don't Give Up My Seat"
So you don't demonize Kangaetakekka too much right of the bat, I should mention that he does give up his seat to people a lot of the time. He's not saying that he never gives up his seat on principle, or anything like that.
- Of course, when I'm in a good mood and feeling strong, I will often give up my seat for people.
There you have it. Starting off with a positive note for you guys! Let's now refocus onto how this topic came up in the first place. He didn't just think it up out of the blue (presumably while sitting down on the train). The thought came to light when his pregnant friend was talking to him about how she was surprised at how often people don't give up their seats for her. It made Kangaetakekka think for a moment:
- My friend is pregnant and her stomach is clearly big, but she hasn't been given a seat as many times as she expected.
- She is young and healthy so it's not hard for her to keep standing up, but I'll try to write about what we talked about.
Let's analyze this. To anyone who looked, they could tell that she was pregnant. Why didn't more people give up their seats for her? Kangaetakekka has some theories. He has three reasons for why people wouldn't give up their seat for his friend.
1. People May Not Have Realized She Was Pregnant
While you could tell she was pregnant if you looked, not everyone would notice a pregnant girl on the train, especially if it's crowded, I imagine.
- It's embarrassing, but I'd never really considered that there could be a pregnant women on a train until she told me.
- I don't really care about other people's stomachs, though I instantly notice girls with big boobs. I assume that most people don't notice pregnant women.
Big boobs comment aside, I have to be honest with myself and agree with him. Pregnant people on the train don't really cross my mind either. I'll notice people with babies. I'll notice people who are injured. I'll definitely notice and even look out for the elderly so I can offer them my seat, because, you know, they deserve it. But, pregnant ladies are a group I don't think of too often, especially on the train, and especially in Japan. Plus (this is my addition), wouldn't you be worried about accidentally thinking someone's pregnant then it turns out she wasn't? I'm ashamed to say that I wouldn't give up my seat for this fear alone, especially if it's 100% obvious the lady is pregnant. If someone was obviously pregnant, and I noticed them, I'd certainly offer my seat. Chances are not great that I would notice someone though, which is brought up in point number two.
2. When You Are Sitting, You Have Less Interest In People Around You
When you sit down on a train, what's the first thing you do? That's right, pull out something to do. You've won! You've got a seat! It's time to enjoy it and read some manga / catch up with your friends on LINE. What happens when you do this? You suddenly lose interest in the world around you. You notice fewer things and you simply become less aware. It's not like it's really your fault, at least not on purpose, but this is point number two of Kangaetakekka.
- Second, when I am sitting, I have less interests in other people than when I am standing.
- While sleeping, reading or on my smart phone, I wouldn't notice a big belly even if it's right in front of me.
This, I think, is so true. Unless you're actively looking around, these sitting-things are going to distract you from noticing someone, even if they're right in front of you (and especially if they're not right next to you). Plus the way that Japanese people ignore everything around them on the train is nothing short of incredible. Even if a pregnant lady's stomach is inches from a Japanese train passenger's face, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't notice (or pretended not to notice) them there. It's not that you're being a bad person. It's just that you don't notice things like this once you've sat down. I'm guilty of this as well as I get sucked into things the moment I focus in.
3. People Put In Great Efforts To Get A Seat
This is definitely the most controversial point. Kangaetakekka is saying that he often puts in a lot of effort to get a seat, so why should he have to give it up?
- I don't push people away and get a seat, but I chose a house that's near a station that's easy to get seats from and choose trains that are comparatively easier to find seats on.
- I even sometimes wait for another train.
- Therefore, after putting in all that effort, I feel irritated giving up my seat to someone who just got on the train.
You can tell this is a bit of a sensitive point for him. He puts in a lot of effort, even purposefully living near a station that will allow him to get a seat more easily, to get a seat. When you work that hard for something, and you make that kind of investment, of course you're not going to want to give up your seat. It might not be the "correct" thing to do, but I see where he's coming from here.
I do and have done similar things as well. Back in high school when I was living in Japan and had to ride the train every day, I knew which trains had fewer people on them. I'd shoot for those so I could get myself a seat, sometimes picking the slower trains over the express to guarantee my sitting luxury (even though it would take longer). I also knew which train cars would have less people on them, thus upping my seat-snatching-chances.
In crowded rush-hour trains, I'd search out less crowded lines to get on the train. If I didn't get a seat, I'd constantly be on the lookout for people looking like they were about to leave. When it comes to getting a seat on a Japanese train, it's a (very polite) dog-eat-dog-world out there, and you have to be at the top of your game if you want to be able to sit down sometimes.
So, I understand where he's coming from. Especially if you're in the city, it's brutal. And, it's not just a one-time thing. You do this five, six, maybe seven times a week, two+ times a day. You hone your craft and learn how to get a seat and you work hard for it. Then, someone who didn't do anything for it gets your seat? Great dishonor.
But, just because I understand all too well where he's coming from and how he's feeling, doesn't mean I don't think that you shouldn't give up your seat to someone who needs it. Plus, if you don't give up your seat you'll surely be judged by others, which is another one of Kangaetakekka's worries. While most Tofugu readers probably won't care about this whole "being judged" thing, it's a lot like how Irish Catholics are stereotypically supposed to feel huge amounts of guilt all the time. The Japanese have that voice of their mother in their head saying "What would the neighbors think?" / "What would others think?" Especially on trains, it feels like there's a +12 etiquette bonus that requires you to be on your best behavior. That's why there are so many posters inside the train teaching good train manners:
So, for those of you who are quick to judge those horrible sitting people on the train, Kangaetakekka has some words for you as well. Why you gotta hate on the sitters, man?
Sitters Gotta Sit, Haters Gotta Hate
Say you're one of the standers. Ugh, standing! You watch some punk twenty-something-year-old sit idly by as a pregnant lady stands in front of him, looking uncomfortable, in your mind about to give birth at any moment. "Wow, what a terrible person he is," you think, not even realizing how many times you've probably done something very similar on accident. People are quick to judge, and usually negatively. Kangaetakekka wants you to consider that maybe that person's not a bad person after all (though maybe they are, who knows, is it really your right to judge though?).
- My point is, people sitting aren't sitting on the train because they have bad personalities, there might have their own circumstances.
- A young working university student playing "Puzzle & Dragons" could be completely exhausted from his part-time job. A female office worker putting on make-up in the train could be getting teased at work.
- There are a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds riding the train, and they don't have enough room to consider other people in their mind.
This is where I start to feel like Kangaetakekka has had a previously bad experience with this which set him off to write this blog post. Maybe somebody scolded him. Maybe somebody on the train got angry at him. Whatever it was (or wasn't), I think he does have a bit of a point. People are too quick to judge other people without really knowing anything about that person. Humans are hard wired to judge the things around them in relation to themselves. We're all narcissists. You aren't going to (naturally) think "oh, that person probably had a rough day, they should keep their seat." That's like Dalai Lama level thinking. Instead, you and I are going to think: "wth, I want your seat, and if I can't have it, that old lady should have it instead." Survival of the fittest, man.
Kangaetakekka ends with one final sentence:
- Just don't expect it from other people. Isn't it enough to just feel good when you do good things?
Yeah, for sure. You should do good things when you can and feel good when you do it, not having to worry about what other people think. It'd be a much better world if everyone did just this. But, I also think there's a difference between what's right and doing what's right. I don't think anyone will ever be perfect, and it's inevitable that you'll do something wrong and it's inevitable that people will judge you… so to me, I just feel like everyone should try their best and not worry about who's judging you and how. The best you can do is the best you can do, right? I think this was partly Kangaetakekka's point as well.
Of course, a lot of the internet didn't agree, so they took to the Twitter streets to make their opinions heard. Tweet, tweet, tweet! ♬
The Internets Respond
Finding a seat on the train is something that almost all Japanese people experience. Fighting for seats, giving up seats, and watching people with seats is all a part of daily life. So, Kangaetakekka touched on a few nerves, I think. It's hard for someone who doesn't ride a crowded train all the time to understand why people would be getting so upset about this. But, people did get upset. If you search for the article you can see that a decent amount of people linked to and posted their opinions on the article, both for and against the evil / reasonable Kangaetakekka.
So there you have it. Both sides of the issue, or at least one side and some opinions from me. Especially for those of you who have ridden trains a lot, how do you feel about the topic? Should people give up their spots so readily? I'm guessing there will be some varying opinions here, and I'd love to hear from them.
Either way, I hope you got some interesting insight into the lives of many Japanese people. It's hard to ride the train. It's also not that simple. The dance you have to dance to get… and give… a seat is stressful, but it's one of the things you have to deal with if you're planning to live in Japan at any point. So, things like giving up your seat can mean a lot, even if it doesn't seem like it should to you. That being said, these are all opinions, man. Some are probably right and some are probably wrong. Many are probably neither. But that doesn't mean they aren't interesting.