The country is Japan. The setting is a commuter train. The situations is a pregnant woman, wearing a badge telling people around her she is pregnant.
The reason for this is so other sitting passengers will stand up (if they can, due to the crowded train!), and let the pregnant women sit down.
But… why does she not just say she´s pregnant, or why do (typically men) not stand up out of themselves? Or people will eventually see she is pregnant!
Japanese Culture Explained:
Japan is a country with a collective society (score 46 on the Individualism dimension from Hofstede). One of the characteristics of collectivism is that your opinion is secondary to that of the group; in this case you do not claim your seat.
Second Japan is a very Masculine society (using Hofstede’s Masculinity dimension, Japan scores 95). One characteristic of high Masculinity is the limited role overlap between man and woman. Meaning that a man should do what a man should do, and a woman should do what a woman should do. In this case, the man should sit on the train, and therefore not the woman.
Last but not least Japan has a society “based” on the thinking of Confucius (in terms of Hofstede, Japan scores 80 on this 5th dimension). In Confucian thinking, everything should be done in “moderation”, no peaks, no excesses (if there are excesses, it is done under special circumstances, ritualized). In the train case, you do not make a fuss about not getting your seat, even if you´re pregnant.
You can watch the BBC video by following the link here!
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interesting to read your western interpretation of japanese behavior and linking to Hofstede dimensions. I think the women wears the badge so that she hopes she doesnt’ have to ask people each time to offer her their seat. Save some saliva. Asian men (not just Japanese) are simply not known for gallantry or chivlarous behavior unless they’ve had western exposure. So simply seeing a pregnant woman in distress is not going to automatically trigger the notion that this lady needs help. In general, we’re not good at showing kindness to strangers or talking to them when accosted on the streets or even giving them directions. Years of being coached by our parents to never speak to strangers wherever we are (and to mind our own business at all times), has left its mark even in adulthood. And because we are a collectivist society (family, friends most important), means that we don’t feel any obligation to help this pregnant woman because afterall, we don’t know her, she is a stranger.
I lived in Tokyo for a few years, and for a couple weeks I was on crutches, commuting back and forth to work on the train. Maybe I’m too Japanese (I’m actually American), but I never asked to sit down. It felt an uncomfortable thing to do. And actually, it was rare for somebody to give up their seat for me, which did surprise me a bit at the time. I think this is maybe better explained by the fact that Tokyo is a big, impersonal metropolis rather than a cultural thing. Still, I think what Christina said above holds true. There is a greater “keep to yourself” mentality. Pretty quickly after I was living in Asia I stopped offering my seat to women and the elderly. It usually resulted in more discomfort and confusion than actual help.
Thanks Bill for your comment.
Yes, Tokyo is a big city, but I’m not sure you can factor our culture very easily here…
It’s not only the case for Japan, it turns out. I currently live in London and pregnant women also wear badges if they’re pregnant and get a seat easily whenever anyone sees the badge. That makes social underground life so much easier 🙂
I wouldn’t necessarily link this trend to culture to be honest, I think it’s just the case of bigger cities managing commuters’ behaviours.
It’s still interesting to see your perspective on the topic and how it might link to culture. I can see how in Japan women might just not ask for a seat, while in the UK it would probably be more acceptable. Being from Poland, I feel that asking for a seat there is still a problem as well, despite of numerous social campaigns.