17 January, 2013

Whose responsibility is that?

Today I was talking to two Americans, one who's been here for a number of years, the other's only been here a couple of years. Clearing snow came up in conversation and we realised that Japanese look at this task, like many other things, in a different way to other cultures.
For Karen who wondered about me not blogging
about snow. This photo is from the 4 years
we spent in Sapporo where lots of snow falls!
This is my husband clearing our parking space.

Our less acculturised friend said that in the States, if the snow fell and she didn't have a snow shovel, she just wouldn't shovel the snow. She was amazed to see people clearing snow with dust pans on Monday.

But both of us who've been here longer talked about how inconvenient that was to others.

There is a sense here that the road in front of your house is your responsibility. The road outside our house doubles as a path for many people to walk and ride on. There is no other place for people to walk. If we don't clear it of snow, the snow compresses and freezes overnight and becomes a dangerous place for people to walk, ride, and drive.

The Japanese live with many obligations, and those of us who live here try to figure them all out (we never do, of course). One overlying obligation is to not inconvenience other people. There are different ways you can inconvenience others, for example, to block their path, or take too long to do something, or cause them to have to do something that isn't their responsibility (like shovel ice in the front of your house). It's difficult because these obligations are all largely unspoken. The Japanese just know. We've had to learn, and are still learning.

The boundary as to what is your responsibility isn't always as easy to see as the road in front of your house.

For example, picking up someone else's bike when it falls down while parked outside a building doesn't seem to be other's responsibility, unless it is causing a problem for passersby. Whereas I'd naturally just go and pick it up, the Japanese don't. Do I understand? No. Life in Japan is one long learning (and wondering) experience.


Ken Rolph said...

I once lived in a place which was neat and respectably suburban. Everyone kept their gardens trim, from the back fence to the edge of the road. Like many Australian suburbs the space between your front fence and the road had a path and lots of grassed areas. One neighbour was particularly houseproud. She objected to the local kids riding down the hill off the path and leaving ruts in the grassed area.

Another neighbour pointed out to her that she couldn't really say anything. Her house ended at her front fence. The rest -- road, path and verge -- was technically the responsibility of the local council. The houseproud neighbour simply stopped mowing outside her front fence. Her obligations were limited to what she owned. Or else she was trying to get back at the other neighbours. Who knows.

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing the photo for me :)

And this post has been really interesting. Thank you, it's great to hear about the smaller details of your life in Japan.

Wendy said...

Thanks Ken and Karen.

Karen, I've been in Japan long enough to not necessarily notice the smaller details so much any more. Also, I've been blogging long enough to wonder, "Have I said this before?" I don't want to bore people with the mundane, but I guess some of it isn't mundane for those who haven't been here.

Ken, yes, I hadn't thought about the footpath maintenance aspect of Australia. I remember mowing ours as a kid. It never went as far as the road, though. But I guess this road is our footpath! And I guess we have the Japanese equivalent of your houseproud neighbour here, who sweeps her gutters every day, except if it is raining.