Japan: The Gold Standard for Mobile Manners

Except for this guy, apparently…

I took this photo Tuesday evening in the ANA Lounge at Haneda Airport while waiting for my flight home. To be fair, it’s entirely possible that the subject of the photo doesn’t read Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean. And perhaps if I had put the sign within his field of view instead of hoarding it for my photo opp I might not have had to endure half of his conversation for twenty minutes. But that’s not my point—my point here is that indiscretions like this really stand out in Japan, because the mobile manners of Japanese people are generally very good.

Fans of Top Gear might remember this episode where Richard Hammond is shushed on the Shinkansen for taking a call on speaker phone:

(If the time stamp didn’t work scrub ahead to 5 minutes and 2 seconds…)

There are signs all over bullet trains—in English—asking people not to use their mobile phones, which reasonable people understand to mean to not use them for voice calls, and certainly not voice calls using your phone’s loudspeaker. It may seem harsh, but I was able to enjoy a two-hour train ride to Kyoto and back on a crowded train that to my North American ears seemed nearly silent.

So what do Japanese people do when they want to call someone in a public or shared space? They seek somewhere to make their call that’s away from other people so as to not disturb them. Crazy, I know… In the case of my airport lounge at Haneda there is a defined area specifically for people to make voice calls. Conversely, at a transit lounge in Vancouver the girlfriend and I had to seek out the only tiny corner where people were asked not to use their phones.

As the jet lag wanes I will gradually become reaccustomed to walking down the street surrounded by people yelling into their phones, at their smartwatches, at Google, Siri, at each other and at no one in particular. If you live in a big city all this is perfectly normal—unless that city happens to be in Japan. If you ever want to give your ears a break, to hear what good mobile manners sounds like, you should check it out!

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