Sometimes I’m so shocked by people’s behaviour in Japan. Things like mopping the floor of the train and then sucking the ‘mop’ dry are just surprising, but other things can really hurt. On the Yamanote line train a couple of minutes ago, an old man who’d been a bit wobbly on his feet when he got on, fell out of his seat and onto the floor. I didn’t see this when it happened as he was a little way down the carriage, and I was looking the other way; when I did notice I assumed that the people all around him (literally all around him) were about to help – by the time I got there all would be OK, right?

Wrong. EVERYONE around the old man ignored him; in fact the woman whose feet he’d fallen at just backed off and looked the other way, leaving him to struggle up by himself, with nothing to hold onto. Once back in his seat, he bowed his head and apologised to all around him. In response, they looked the other way.

Lesson: if you’re going to feint or have a heart attack or come over all dizzy in public, make sure you’re not in Japan.

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but today was the most blatant example yet of the insular nature of Japanese society. Some say it’s a survival technique for city dwellers: with so little personal space they are forced to cast a curtain around themselves, to ignore people outside of their group, even if those people clearly need help, in order to deal with the daily assault upon the senses. Personally, I think it’s a very sad thing; I also feel very bad that I didn’t make my way down the carriage to help the chap, although I am comforted by the fact that this was not due to a lack of compassion, but rather due to my head miscalculating his need for my help and the (lack of) cooperativeness of others. Lesson learnt. Never again assume that someone in trouble in Japan will be helped by someone else.

I thought afterwards that if I had gone over to help, having helped him out. I would have scolded those around him for not caring – but thinking over this again, I don’t believe that would have been a good thing, as my words would have been spoken out of anger, and simply dismissed. Anyway, what right have I to tell other people how to live their lives? I can’t change the world. Perhaps if I’d not felt angry, I would have been able to prompt at least a couple of people into thinking about their seeming lack of compassion. Perhaps by saying something along the lines of “I know you don’t want to get involved in other people’s business, but it had been your elderly father who had fallen from his seat, would you wish that everyone around him would not try to help?”

Hhhm, there’s never a dull moment in this city.