Japan can be so behind the times

A couple of things of late has made me notice just how behind the times Japanese can be. It's not like I didn't already know, but sometimes, even Japan can shock one desensitized to shock.

The first event was at a restaurant the other day. Not long after sitting down at the counter, a smartly-dressed 20-something woman came in, sat near me, and (of course, this is Japan) lit up a cigarette. I'm used to inconsiderate smokers in any country, and so it wasn't shocking that she ignored the fact that I was a mere five feet to one side, and a toddler and his dad were five feet to the other, and that no one else in the entire restaurant was smoking. It was her legal right, and so to her, that made it right.

Anyway, I moved away and ignored her, until I heard someone congratulate her, to which she smiled, patted her belly, and said “about four months, now.” Now, I'm sure that a lot of people do stupid things when they're pregnant, such as smoke and drink and do drugs and have anonymous unprotected sex, but I normally don't mingle in the circles where such people might be, so I was genuinely shocked.

When she lit up again later, I had to ask how she could do something so dangerous for her own child, to which she smiled between puffs and said “not everyone believes that.” I wanted to cry for the poor kid, getting stuck with a mother who is not only inconsiderate, but shockingly stupid.

The other event had to do with an automotive test drive. Taking a test drive in America is pretty simple: just show a driver's licence, let them make a photocopy of it, and you're off. In Japan, it's even easier: just show up.

In initially shopping for a car a few years ago, we did a number of test drives, and was always in wonder how they just let me drive. Having just moved here, I don't even know whether we had a real phone yet. I know that I didn't have a Japanese driver's license yet, or even the alien registration card that would indicate I was here for a longer term than, say, a vacation.

We ran into the same thing the following year when looking for a second car. Often, they'd ask us for our contact information so that they could follow up later, but that's it. (Japanese car salesman can be very persistent; they'll travel all the way across town to drop additional sales literature into your mail slot the following day.)

So, fast forward to earlier this month when Fumie gets wind of an uber-cute car, a Peugeot 1007, and just had to try it.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 17mm — 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 500 — full exif & map
Fumie checking out a Peugeot 1007

Parking spaces can be really cramped in Japan, so the dual sliding doors are very appealing. Anyway, it turns out that they had a “24-hour test drive” kind of thing, where you can use the car for a day. That's a really excellent way to get to know a car, so we did it. The guy drove it from the dealership to our place (a 45-minute drive), the three of us drove around our area for a bit, then we dropped him off at a train station.

The shocking thing is that he knows nothing about us other than what we told him. He knows that we were waiting outside when he arrived at the address we gave him, and he knows that we respond when he addresses us with the name we told him, but that's it. He just let us drive off with a $20,000 car on the basis of a smile and a bow. This harks back to the time in America — a time I've heard of in countless country-music songs — where one's word and a handshake was all that was required in conducting business.

Yup, Japanese can sure be behind the times sometimes, in this case, for the better.

Car Epilogue

Fumie decided against getting the Peugeot because its funky “2-tronic” semi-automatic transmission really lurched when switching from first to second gear, and even I couldn't get it much smoother when trying in manual mode.

Then she heard about another cute car, a Lancia Musa. I'd never even heard of the maker, Lancia; it's apparently Fiat's higher-end brand. They're not officially sold in Japan, but some places import them. We took the occasion of seeing one today to take a pleasant drive two hours north through the mountains to the city of Fukui.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 20mm — 1/160 sec, f/6.3, ISO 250 — full exif & map
Fumie test driving a Lancia Musa

She also decided against this car, both because it also lurched a bit, and had a generally “cheap” feeling (not to mention not having sliding doors, and having the steering wheel on the wrong side). I was happy to hear this, because I think it's a bit pricy at $25,000.

When it comes to Peugeot and Lancia, Peugeot wins hands down in one category: kid appeal.

The Peugeot dealership in southern Kyoto had a nice little kid's area, and Anthony was more than happy to spend his time here while we looked at the cars.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 30mm — 1/160 sec, f/6.3, ISO 500 — full exif & mapnearby photos
Peugeot Kid's Area

In sad comparison, the Maserati dealer selling the Lancia had squat:

While waiting, Anthony didn't have much to do but to play with a sticker book we brought along, and lick the window glass.

All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

For health and safety-related issues I am no longer surprised by how far behind Japan is compared to Europe and in some ways the US. Examples include smoking in all its forms, drink-driving, non-use of child seats (only appearing over the past 3-4 years), almost total lack of organic produce despite much-touted societal interest in food, electrical sockets in “wet” areas like bathrooms etc. In that sense, Japan really is part of Asia!


(PS We had Peugeots in our family and they were sturdy and occasionally cute cars; my mother had a 205 for example. Still, when it came to getting my mother a new one I got her a Toyota Vitz – Yaris in Europe – diesel which has been fantastically economical and has never missed a beat. So I got a Vitz for my wife a couple of weeks ago.)

— comment by Dan on February 26th, 2007 at 10:38pm JST (17 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

It’s truly sad that the mother was doing such a thing, though if you asked American mothers in a similar situation you’d likely get a far less polite response.

I think calling it “behind the times” in her case may be a bit charitable. She’s not behind the times, she’s a selfish. . . well, I won’t say here in a polite environment. The only reason she “believes” that it does no harm is because it’s convenient for her to believe it. When I’m in Japan, I usually try to hide my “argumentative gaijin” character — but in this case, I’d bring it out, especially if my wife wasn’t around to embarrass. Maybe I’d send my wife off on an errand or something.

Most of the Japanese I know in America are quite good parents. But when they make errors, they’re startlingly bad ones, and for horrible “reasons”. I know several Japanese parents, for example, who make tv a primary component of their kids lives — even when the child is still using a high chair. Because it’s easier taking care of a quiet kid, or because the kid “likes it”.

— comment by Sam on February 28th, 2007 at 12:12am JST (17 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

At Y! a couple years ago, a Saab dealer brought in a bunch of cars to test drive. They took down our names for the test drive, but they didn’t check licenses or any sort of ID, and let us drive by ourselves. They didn’t even advise me about how long or how far i could drive the car.

— comment by Andrew S on March 7th, 2007 at 7:17pm JST (17 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Thought you ought to know that our local Peugeot dealer (Wales) also has an excellent and well-equipped kids’ play area. Could it be coincidence that their name is … Anthony Motors?!

— comment by Peter on October 2nd, 2007 at 1:47am JST (16 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink
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