Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Why I Like Japan Reason #1: Punctuality
Reason #1: Punctuality
Since I can't remember when, I have lived my life under this maxim: If you're not 10 minutes early, you're late. I hate being late. I would rather be an hour early than 5 minutes late. When I have an appointment, whether that be personal or professional, I will figure out the time it will take to get there down to the minute in order to arrive on time. And not only on time, but comfortably early so that I do not arrive flustered and out of sorts.
However, given the society that we live in, I have never expected others to behave the same way. Americans aren't as lax about punctuality as, say, Indonesians, but they're willing to arrive 10 minutes late and expect that most people will let it go. Time is money, sure, but what's a few bucks here and there?
In high school, I had a girlfriend who absolutely took advantage of my punctuality. I would invariably arrive 10 minutes early. An hour or so later we would finally leave. In between, I would sit on the couch, watch TV and get glared at by her grandfather while she talked on the phone, put on her makeup, listened to records, etc. I was a pushover, it's true, but she could have at least made an effort.
It wasn't until spending time in Japan that I realized that I didn't have to be the only one on time. Although I always resented it when people were (grievously) late, I tried to let it go. I'm the weird one, I thought. Others aren't beholden to the same neurotic compulsions.
Oh, but they are, I learned. An entire country is. You can literally set your watch to the arrival and departure of trains in Japan. The conductors use stopwatches, and the bullet train will usually arrive within seconds of its posted arrival time. And it's not just trains. Set an appointment and get there 10 minutes early, and your friend will already be there. I can't stress how wonderful a thing this is: they will already be there.
I once had a Japanese girlfriend who ended up being a few minutes late meeting me. I saw her coming towards me from down the street, running. She was actually running to keep me from waiting any longer. It was embarrassing but also it made me feel good, that I was worth being on time for so much that she felt she needed to run to make up for being late.
All those times I thought I was ignoring the tardiness of my friends and loved ones I was actually feeling disrespected. I cared enough about them to arrive early so I wouldn't keep them waiting. Why couldn't they do the same for me? Yes, traffic can be bad so anticipate it and leave early. Buses often don't run on schedule so catch an earlier bus. America doesn't work this way, but I do. And thankfully so does Japan.