Friday, 8 October 2010

Japan & the Parable of the Bad Son

My father-in-law Stan Harris went to Japan recently to visit his son Bryce, daughter-in-law Megumi and her family. 

There he learned the lesson that sometimes you need to follow local customs, or you might make your son look bad…

Bryce and I visited a lot of temples in Kyoto, including the Gold and Silver Temples, and also an Imperial Palace, which is rarely used now but still gave a good indication of how royalty lived.

Japanese people were very helpful and friendly; one woman chased after us after giving us directions and invited us to come and see her 130 year old home.

Her husband was a University professor who had travelled overseas, and she was quite fluent in English. Her home had a very small yard but it was beautiful inside. There was one room dedicated to a shrine for the ancestors. 

Train travel

We did quite a bit of travelling by train and found it a good way to get around. We had no difficulty whatsoever with their card system. However, we boarded one train which was crowded and seats were few in our carriage.

Bryce was carrying a fair sized backpack, so I told him to sit down at the vacant seat nearby. He instead told me to take the seat.

I’m in my early 70s, but I felt fine and could swing on one of the straps hanging down from above. I told him to sit down, as he was the one carrying the heavy item. 

Bad son

Bryce said he couldn’t - that if he sat down and left me standing, he would be seen to be a bad son.

He explained that Japanese trains have marked seats and areas intended for people who needed to sit down while travelling. This covered people who had different types of difficulties in standing for long periods, including older people.

If he were seen to sit while I stood he would be a “bad son”.

The rules

On looking around from then on I noticed at times specific seats would have signs near them advising that they were set aside for that purpose. On occasion, floor areas were painted a different colour to signify the same thing.

People who didn't meet the seating criteria could use the seats if they were vacant. However, they were supposed to stand and offer their seat if someone who met the criteria got on board and there were no seats available for them.

From then on my grey headed old body sat down on the trains when we travelled.