I wrote this paper in my class “Introduction to Japanese Society” and even though it is largely negative, the professor gave me 10 out of 10 points, so I thought might as well post it here. Shocks me how German I am sometimes.
On the picture you see three of the guards on the parking lot of J Mart on Tōhachi Dōro. That day I counted 7 guards there, on another day 6, so I assume this situation was not exceptional. They guide vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians on and from the parking lot. There is a specifically marked walkway for pedestrians and cyclists and then there are two entrances for cars which are marked by signs and pylons as well. The guards have flashing vests and a flashing stick, they wear a uniform with a cap which resembles a policeman’s uniform.
The thought that immediately came to my mind when I saw this, was that it was extremely unnecessary and inefficient to have this many guards for one parking lot. There is a traffic code that regulates who has the right of way and there are ample signs for each traffic participant. Employing this unnecessary number of guards would therefore not only be unresourceful, but also hinder the natural flowing of traffic. Even more, this sight makes me think of the constant controlling and patronizing of the public, one is subjected to in Japan.
Obviously, I can only compare these impressions to the countries I have lived in, which are Germany and India. To see any private guards in the public in Germany is extremely rare, and in the cases there are some, they would not be wearing uniforms of this military style but rather some simple black overalls. In India it is far more common, also for the guards to wear uniforms. Even though I have never seen in India guards so abundantly employed for the simple task of guiding cars on a parking lot, they would mostly only be employed if there is actually something to guard.
Why I feel that this situation is a portrayal of inefficiency in the Japanese society is not happening in a vacuum, I have had some other experiences where sometimes it really disturbs me to see this display of unresourcefulness or illogic, seen from my German point of view. Things as paper sizes or the opening directions of cupboard doors not being normed and regulated, unnecessary formal and inefficient dorm meetings or ceremonies are so small in reality, but they make things unnecessary difficult. Even though it is apparently very beloved to Germans and Indians alike, to categorize and norm things as well as to make work processes more efficient and effective, my secret observation is that this stems from the desire to make things easier in the long turn. There is an ironic saying in German which goes: “Why make it easy, when you can make it difficult”, that I am often reminded of these days.
Discussing my views with some Japanese friends, and also reflecting on my inevitably biased view of these events, I am aware that there are many ways to interpret this situation. As to my experience, my Indian friends did not equate the presence of private guards in the public with inefficiency of work distribution or patronizing of the public sphere, but rather with the feeling of reassurance that there was someone of authority present, who would watch out for everything to go its right way. My Japanese roommate did not think of the employment of seven guards at once as a waste of resources, but as giving retired elderly men the opportunity of working and therefore self-reliance. It could also be interpreted as a relieving sense of safety at the presence of an authoritative figure caring for the well-being of all road users, and the uniforms could be interpreted as simply being used for easy detectability and not as to claim authority. So in conclusion, this difference of perception not only shows how our upbringing in a particular culture forms how we evaluate one and the same situation so that we might end up seeing something completely different from the other, but as well how we will judge the same phenomenon to mean something completely different in our specific view of the society around us.