Japanese comedian calls out “bad manners” of Pokémon-playing friends, but not everyone thinks his take is the very best.

The Shinkansen bullet trains are the fastest trains in Japan, but ironically once most people get on, they’re going to be there for a while. Shinkansen tickets are more expensive than normal trains’, so they’re generally used for longer-haul travel. Tokyo-to-Osaka, for example, one of the most common Shinkansen trips, takes about two and a half hours.

Since passengers are going to have some time to kill, Shinkansen seats have trays built into their backs, like what you’d find on an airplane. However, this amenity, and how to use it, set off a manners debate recently when Japanese comedian Naoya Tajima was sitting in a Shinkansen window seat, with two Pokémon card game fans between him and the aisle.

“Sorry got a question for anyone who knows,” Tajima began his from-the-bullet-train tweet. “About how long does a Pokémon card game match last? I’m in the window seat on the Shinkansen, but the guys in the middle seat and aisle seat, who know each other, have spread out their cards on their tables and started playing. I can’t go to the bathroom! Feeling really pressured.”

Being a comedian by trade, that description sort of sounds like Tajima is playing up the awkwardness/unpleasantness of the situation for laughs. However, there wasn’t much that can be construed as humor in a follow-up tweet. When a commenter asked why he hadn’t booked an aisle seat, Tajima explained that he was traveling for work and hadn’t made the reservation himself. “Couldn’t be helped. Guess it was just bad luck that people with bad manners were sitting next to me. But I don’t think the victim in this case can be blamed, because the people with bad manners are 100 percent in the wrong.”

It’s worth pointing out that Tajima never mentions making any attempt whatsoever to communicate to the Pokémon players that he wanted to get past them and go to the bathroom, and so it might sound like an open-and-shut case of any discomfort he experienced being his own fault. However, there is a school of thought in Japan, and one that’s not all that uncommon, that it’s impolite to create a situation in which someone might have to ask you to alter your behavior to reduce their discomfort. For example, on commuter trains many people will refrain from putting their bag on the seat next to them, even if there are other empty seat on the train, so that someone who does want to sit in that particular spot doesn’t have to ask them to move their bag or, worse, remains standing because they don’t want to impose on the bag’s owner.

Because of that, Tajima’s tweet drew out commenters who shared in his exasperation, reacting with:

“Blocking off access to the aisle is just plain inconsiderate.”
“The Shinkansen really isn’t the place to be doing that sort of thing.”
“Really bad luck with those people sitting next to him. I feel sort for him.”
“I can’t believe some other commenters are saying what those two did was OK. Are they just sticking up for them because they’re card gamers too?”

On the other hand, as alluded to in the last comment, Shinkansen seats having fold-down tables is common knowledge, and the whole reason they’re there is so passengers can use them. Following that logic, there were plenty of people who were less than sympathetic with Tajima’s bathroom-related troubles.

“What they did wasn’t poor manners at all. People are free to use their tray however they want.”
“If you don’t say anything, they’ll probably just go on playing until they get to their destination. Just tell them, kindly and politely, that you want to get by and go to the bathroom.”.
“I think you could have solved your entire problem just by talking to them. You could have even swapped seats if it would have been easier for everyone.”
“Like, I could see the problem if you’d asked them to let you get by and they didn’t, but you didn’t say anything to them, and now you’re just bad-mouthing their manners?”

A recurring point of contention in the debate was whether or not using the tray to play card games poses any greater potential to inconvenience a stranger seatmate than, say, using the tray to work on a laptop or eat a meal. The “playing card games is OK” camp contended that since eating or working on the Shinkansen are commonly considered acceptable behaviors, playing Pokémon shouldn’t be open to any additional criticism. Those who disagreed said that a laptop is quicker and easier to fold up and put away than a card game array if someone wants to get by, and that it’s easier to predict how long it’s going to take someone to finish their meal than it is to envision how long a card battle is going to go on for, especially for someone who’s not into the hobby themselves.

Just like there’s no perfect Pokémon deck, there’s no absolute right or wrong answer to the manners debate. So what can you do? Well, aside from making sure to book an aisle seat for yourself if your bathroom access need and interpersonal interaction reluctance are as high as Tajima’s, probably the best thing to do is to remember these two Japanese phrases for your next Shinkansen trip, in case you feel the call of nature or it seems like the person next to you might.

Tootte mo ii desu ka? = Can I get by?
Toorimasu ka? = Do you want to get by?

▼ And here they are in written form, if you’re not confident in your pronunciation.

That way even if you and the person sitting next to you don’t share the same concept of what the unwritten rules of rail travel should be, you’ll have some communication cards to play.

Source: Twitter/@iden_taji
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