Generation gap

Some adults complain about the manners of youth in Japan, but many young people are very considerate.


In Japan some older adults complain about how young people these days are inconsiderate or rude in public. Many such complaints are related to appearance, for example, boys in baggy pants or girls in extremely short skirts. Some young women even put on makeup while riding trains or subways. When they do, many older people are surprised or curious, and some are offended.

Last week on a morning subway a young women sat down beside me, reached into her handbag, and took out her makeup kit. As she was working on her eye shadow, she noticed that quite a few older people were watching her. She looked angry, as if all of us were invading her privacy by looking at her in a very public place.

Some surprises are more pleasant. Last night I had to stand on a crowded commuter train. I didn’t care, though, because I had something to read and plenty of space around me. A young woman in a black suit was sitting in a nearby seat, reading a book. She looked like a college student returning home from an exhausting day of job interviews.

After a few minutes, she looked up. When she saw my face, she bounded out of her seat. She didn’t say anything, but she shyly gestured for me to sit. I declined, saying that I was fine, and I told her to take it easy. So she sat back down, and her face turned red with embarrassment. Later, as I got off the train, I thanked her for being so considerate. She didn’t make eye contact with me, but I could see that she was smiling. There are many young Japanese women like her. Many are shy, but they’re brave enough to show kindness to strangers.

When I got home, I looked at myself in a mirror. I’m only 60, and I feel middle-aged, but my beard is completely white. I guess I look really old to young people. In fact, some of my students jokingly call me Grandpa, and I know they respect my age and experience. But last night I was stunned when a young person offered to give me her seat out of respect for the elderly.

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