While walking home from the station last weekend, eyes glued to my mobile phone as is my own particular vice, I suddenly found myself enveloped by vast plumes of cigarette smoke. Looking ahead of me, a guy in a business suit walking in the same direction had lit up a cig and was merrily puffing away, obviously in need of a hit having just disembarked a train himself.

While I’m definitely one of the anti-smoking set, I have absolutely no problem with other people smoking if they want to- just so long as it doesn’t affect the people around them. For me, smoking is like farting; go ahead and enjoy your own, but please don’t share with everyone else.

Breaking into a little jog, I overtook the smoker- a man in his late fifties wearing a business suit- and, once again able to breathe freely, walked up-wind of him.

No sooner had I done so that a second man, a little older this time, emerged from a side street. He blew his nose noisily on a handkerchief and stuffed it into his coat pocket, at which point he coughed, sniffed and, with what sounded like a tremendous physical effort, spat something brown out onto the pavement just a few feet ahead of me.

Quite forgetting myself, I muttered “kitanai naa” (“man, that’s dirty…”) a little too loudly, but received little more than a quick, disinterested glance from the man as he passed by.

So when I came across an article over on NicoNico News titled “Senior Citizens Have Worse Manners Than Young People”, I couldn’t help but feel that it might be on to something…


When it comes to manners and social etiquette in Japan, the complaints being made are usually towards the younger generation. People listen to music too loudly on trains, apply make-up or style their hair, use mobile phones where they shouldn’t; the usual stuff.

But a recent survey suggests that younger people are becoming increasingly agitated by their elders’ manners, with many respondents listing numerous examples of instances where an older person has acted in a way that they considered rude or anti-social.

A total of 393 male My Navi News users responded to the multiple-choice internet survey asking “At what times do you feel that older people’s social conduct is worse than that of the younger generation?”

The results were as follows:

  • Spitting at the side of the street (34.4%)
  • Throwing cigarette butts on the ground in public spaces (25.7%)
  • Their way of grabbing seats on public transport (24.7%)
  • Using mobile phones in places like trains, buses and cafes (24.2%)

The top result, however, with a whopping 43.3% of respondents saying that they had witnessed the behaviour, was “older people embarking and disembarking public transport”, with many responders commenting that they often saw old people pushing forward or in some cases boarding a train or bus before passengers had even had a chance to get off- something that is considered a common courtesy in most countries and something of a golden rule as far as transport in Japan goes.

“I appreciate that older people want to sit down on public transport, but I wish they could respect the social rules more,” commented one man. “There are some old people who actually charge into trains just to grab a seat,” said another.

In Japan, there are designated priority seats available in every train carriage that are specially coloured and plastered with signs in Japanese and English alerting train users to the fact that the seats must be given up for elderly or disabled people or pregnant or expecting mothers. And for those whose language isn’t listed, there are clear cartoon images emphasising who the seats are mainly  intended for. Anyone can use the seats, but they are obliged to give them up should a “priority passenger” board the train.

Of course, these seats often fill up quickly, but the sight of a person standing to offer their (non-priority) seat to an elderly person on a crowded train is by no means uncommon, begging the question why so many older people are so quick to forget their manners and shove their way onto a train to grab a vacant seat.


“I see older people jumping onto trains before others have even had a chance to get off pretty much every day,” said a 25-year-old finance worker. “There are a lot of people in their forties and fifties who are entirely physically able but who don’t give up their seat to elderly people,” added another.

Meanwhile, the topic of older people using mobile phones on public transport, while only coming in fourth place on the list, clearly irked a number of internet users.

“When it comes to people talking on their phones on trains, older people are by far the worst. I often see them chatting away while everyone else is being quiet, and they always have the most ridiculously loud ring tones,” came the response from a 27-year-old electrical engineer. “There are a lot of people who make business calls on the train,” added another.

There might be more than a grain of truth to this…

More often than not, if a phone goes off on a train or bus, it belongs to a person of more advanced years. Everyone makes mistakes, and I’m sure we’ve all been caught out and forgotten to switch our phone to discrete or “manner” mode at some point when using public transport, but the worst offenders are those who, having let their phone ring once, put it back in their bag without switching the sound off, only for it to ring again moments later, or those older guys who actually take the call in order to say that they can’t take the call… Were we 20 minutes from the next station, passengers might be a little more forgiving, but when the average duration between stops in Tokyo is around two minutes, commuters are perhaps entitled to be annoyed when a fellow passenger can’t hold on a little while longer to take their call.

On the subject of those cigarette-butt flickers, the respondents to the survey were equally vocal.

“It’s almost as if, up until now, throwing your used cigarette onto the street was the correct thing to do,” sparked a 29-year-old engineer. A 31-year-old, meanwhile, simply can’t get over how blatantly some people discard their cigarettes, saying “It amazes me how they do it with such a blank look on their face.”

Many municipalities are introducing smoking bans on their streets, and have created dedicated smoking areas in front of station and bus stops. Of course, this often results in commuters having to walk alongside a small cornered-off area filled with smokers like some kind of warped human zoo, and avoiding their smoke isn’t always possible, but at least it helps stop people strolling through the crowded streets sharing their smoke like the guy I had the pleasure of meeting last weekend.

As well as hoping to cut down instances of smoke annoyance, many cities’ smoking bans were introduced both to cut down on the number of improperly disposed cigarettes, but also because of the danger carrying a lit cigarette in a crowded area can cause, as exhibited when a young girl lost the use of an eye when one man’s cigarette, held at waist height, accidentally found its way into her face…  


As for those dirty spitters, respondents had some pretty harsh things to say:

  • “It’s disgusting. I wish people wouldn’t do it.”
  • “When people do that, it really shows how little they care about their surroundings and keeping their town looking nice.”
  • “I wish they wouldn’t do it- it makes me feel physically sick.”
  • “When it comes to spitting in the street, it’s nearly always older people. The public street is not your home…”

We can’t help but agree; there are few sights and sounds more off-putting than someone bringing up a phlegmy one and spitting it on the street. Thank goodness people in Japan take their shoes off when they go indoors, right guys?

We’d never go so far as to argue that the younger generation is entirely without sin, and there are, of course, plenty of 40-plus folks out there who would be just as shocked at these displays of abhorrent behaviour, but perhaps it’s time that we saw a few more commercial and public service announcements aimed at a wider age group and not just the younger generation? After all, how can we hope to moan about “the youth of today” while the older generation are providing such an awful example?

We’ll leave you now with a public message from the Japan Advertising Council (or AC for short), which shot to infamy in March last year when nearly every other commercial was pulled from their air in light of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and calls for the public to “show their heart through their actions”.

Perhaps one day we’ll see a remake on the theme of “hey, old guy, stop spitting in the street” or “Easy, now, grandma, no need to push…”

Source: NicoNico News Title image: BigWOWO Cartoon by ハニログ