Home > Gaijin Chronicles > In Case Of Fire, Do Not Use Elevator

In Case Of Fire, Do Not Use Elevator

I know I said I didn’t want to write stuff focusing on pointing out the weird quirks of Japanese people…but this just happened today, so forgive me this sin.  Actually, if we’re talking about forgiving sins, I have a fairly long and extensive list of things that need to be forgiven, so can I just get a bye on this one then?  Great, thanks!

The Japanese and elevators.

When an elevator arrives, a Japanese person will go stand directly in front of the door, ready to pounce inside once the doors open.  This would be a perfectly fine thing to do, if they were the only person in the whole wide world.  A lot of Japanese behavior revolves around the idea that this person is the only person in the whole wide world.  Which is funny for a country of over 125 million, mostly crammed into tiny little spaces.  “Oh hey, the top of this escalator would be a PERFECT place to chat with my friends!  What?  People behind me on the escalator?  Huh?”

Ahem.  I digress.  Elevators.  So, Japanese people stand directly in front of the doors when its time to get on or off.  And I don’t get the rush, especially for getting on a elevator.  But whatever, the real humor comes from when an elevator arrives on a floor, and you have someone wanting to get on and off at the same time.  They’re both standing right in front of the doors, ready to leap out like an African tiger the second the door opens.  And while you think this is a recipe for disaster, just as both are in mid-pounce, suddenly the insta-brakes get applied and they stop.  Disaster averted.   Both offending parties offer an insincere quick bow of apology, and they’re off to rush to whatever it is that demanded getting onto or off of the elevator at Warp Factor 9.

This is how it works for two Japanese people.  Now factor in us Gaijin.  We, who glitch the system because we’re not a part of it.  Like Neo in the Matrix, except with 1000 times more expression, and we can’t fly.  At least, not yet anyway.  I’m working on that.

Imagine you are a Japanese person.  You are in perhaps a department store, and as the floor you want to go to is fairly high, you decide to take the elevator.  Being Japanese, you feel compelled to get on that elevator as quickly as possible.  For if you don’t, 13 first born sons will die, and God will kill all of the fish in the ocean, meaning no more delicious sushi.  The elevator comes down to the first floor, and as it arrives, you stand directly in front of the doors, for you are the only person on Earth, and there can’t possibly be anyone trying to leave the elevator.  Perish the thought!

The doors open, and you take your first pounce-step inside, but your Japanese Proximity Radar goes off.  Whoops, there was someone there after all, heh heh.  Better give them the stock bow apology, as they will do to you.  But wait, something is wrong.  As you look down to avoid eye contact, you expect your line of sight to end up somewhere around your new friend’s chest region.  Instead, you find yourself looking at his crotch.  What in the world?  In your surprise, the only thing you can do is look up, as high as you can, to see what you almost plowed headfirst into.

Hello large black man!

I imagine having a large black man suddenly be in your life would be a startling thing for anyone.  Being one myself, I can only guess at the feeling.  Since I don’t make it a habit of lunging in front of people (only on the weekends), I shouldn’t have to worry about how people would react to me suddenly being in their face.  I shouldn’t, but I live in Japan.  Where, if I try to exit an elevator normally, I will have a Japanese person throwing themselves into me as if the elevator contained 30 naked and horny virgins and the space behind the elevator was filled with 30 naked and horny Barbara Walters clones.  Everybody reacts.  The most basic reaction is to just say “Whoa!”, throw out a confused/bewildered apology, and scurry into the elevator.  Some people actually express their surprise in words, like “bikkuri shita!” which liberally translated into Japanese means “Oh shit!”.*  People who are with friends will contain their shock until after boarding the elevator, and as the doors close I can hear the conversation starting – “That scared the crap out of me!  I think I just lost 5 years off my life…”

*To all you Japanese linguists in training, yes, I know “bikkuri shita!” is literally “I was surprised!” but we don’t really say “I was surprised!” when we are surprised.  Although I would like to try narrating my physical activities and reactions more often, just to see how everyone around me reacts to it.  “I have to sneeze!”  “I am moderately annoyed at the speed at which these two girls in front of me are walking!”  “I just saw an attractive woman and now I feel blood rushing towards my penis!”

However, the reaction I got today was fairly unique.  It was a girl, maybe in her early twenties.  Upon seeing me, she fell down.  And then cried.

Now, you have to understand the timing and order of events here.  If her Japanese Insta-Brakes™ had failed, and she’d plowed nose-first into me, and then fell down and started crying from the pain – well that would actually make sense.  That would be somewhat understandable.  But that’s not what happened.  The Insta-Brakes™ kicked in.  She stopped, went to do the apology bow, and was confused when there was a crotch where there should have been a chest.   She looked up.  She saw me.  She fell down.  And then she cried.  It was…surreal.

She had been with a friend, so her friend helped her up.  I went on about my way.  While many of you may want to scold me for not being a chivalrous gentleman and helping out a damsel in distress, please consider the following –

1.  If she hadn’t been rushing to get on the elevator, ignoring the fact that, hey, people might be getting off, this never would have happened.
2.  While surprise is understandable, falling down?  Seriously?
3.  And then, crying?  Because she fell down?  Because there was suddenly a black man in her life?

Maybe I just have no perspective, but would this be acceptable in any other situation?

Me:  (entering elevator in a rush)
Me:  (looks up)  Oh my God, a Mexican woman!  *falls down, crying*
Woman:  There, there.  I understand your surprise.  Here, you can cry on my sombrero.

And of course the 4th and most important reason –

4.  I’m married.

While I’m sure there was potential for some romance or even just kinky sex in the situation (“Oh, you fell down.  Why don’t I give you my number, and we can talk about it in my apartment later…”), I’m married, so I don’t care.  I have a wife who didn’t fall down and cry the first time she saw me.  I think that’s all a man can really ask for in life.  That, and back rubs every couple of days.  Yeah, that’d be good.

Maybe this isn’t exclusive to the Japanese?  I don’t remember Americans blindly rushing into elevators.  But then again, I’m from San Francisco.  We don’t really rush for much of anything.  However, if a large black man suddenly appears in front of you in SF, falling down and crying would probably be an appropriate response.  So I guess its all situational?


I had a few readers asking about a Paypal button, so I added one on the sidebar.  I have nothing to offer really so I can’t do a donation drive, but with a baby on the way, and no home computer, anything donated would be greatly appreciated, as always.

Categories: Gaijin Chronicles
  1. June 24, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Maybe you can send those who donate a purikura of you. We won’t fall down and cry when we see it. Promise!

    • Navi
      June 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

      I love this idea! XD

  2. Vivia
    June 24, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I know how this feels, I had a quite similar scenario here in Europe some days ago…

    So, I was in the elevator of my building, wanting to go down to the ground floor. The door isn’t automatic, and I always get a little surprised when I am about to open the door and it suddenly opens on its own. Okay, there’s obviously someone behind the door wanting to get in, but I can’t help this instant of surprise every time.

    This one instant of surprise was obviously enough for the person outside to walk in, blocking the exit for me. To think they wouldn’t notice me? They did and even said hello before walking in! And, when I realized what had just happened, I was already almost trapped inside the elevator and about to go back upstairs… I said “umm, excuse me, may I go out?” and the answer was “yeah sure”, squeezing themselves by the door so I could squeeze myself out.

    I agree, nothing can beat falling down and crying, but I ended up wondering the exact same thing you did… is it correct to just rush into the elevator without caring about people possibly being inside?

  3. Doc Hopper
    June 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    The same “sprint into a confined space” always would happen in the Tokyo Metro as well. Add the fact that the trains have windows, and this behavior becomes all the more baffling.

    However, at least I never made anyone cry. 😉

  4. Herm
    June 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Great stuff as always Az!
    I can vividly imagine the situation. Thanks for making me laugh very loud today 😉

  5. Nezumi
    June 25, 2010 at 2:42 am

    Wow Az!, glad to see you back. I got a bit of a shock when I saw some German guy(?) squatting on your domain. I’ll be interested to see where the Gaijin Chronicles takes you… I would happily donate, however I *always* seem to have troubles with PayPal… Any alternative methods? Maybe you should publish a nice book I can buy *nudge* *nudge*

  6. Tom
    June 25, 2010 at 4:17 am

    Noticed the PayPal button on the side and made my donation (said I would in another post).
    Anyway as for standing at the top of the escalator, I notice this all the time in America and it annoys the hell out of me. I don’t care if you need to stop and talk just don’t stop in the most inconvenient place you can find.

    The elevator thing I don’t really see that often here but I’m sure it happens.

  7. Joanne
    June 25, 2010 at 4:38 am

    I’m from SF and I see little old ladies and men each carrying several pink bags of groceries rushing to get on the bus all the time. No queuing or allowing passengers to get off from the bus first, every one of them just rushes to the door and nudges everyone aside.

  8. Anna
    June 25, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Why aren’t they lining up outside the elevator?

    June 25, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Always funny man!! you should try to publish a book.

  10. Jasel
    June 25, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Amazing lol. I have no idea how I’d react. I’d probably have just stood there with my mouth hanging open like “Are you serious?? Really?????”

  11. Ben
    June 25, 2010 at 8:20 am

    I was walking on the street around midnight last night and got a ‘bikkuri shita’ from an old lady who dropped her groceries when she saw me.

  12. Stephen
    June 25, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I’m in Australia, and this same sort of shit at elevator happens too. People don’t bow in apology though, they just look bewildered when someone else is there.

    Mind you, that happens everywhere, not just elevators. People just seem to be living in a world where they are the only ones around. Drives me nuts.

  13. Edd
    June 25, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Maybe she fell down and cried because you reminded her of an old black boyfriend she loved dearly. O.o

  14. Bkrep
    June 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    In Hong Kong, there are many elevator situations similar to what you have in Japan (falling down and crying at initial encounter aside). Some don’t just rush in/out, they close the door as fast as they can. So when you look at the buttons, you can tell that the close button is most frequently pressed while the open button’s like, brand new or something.

    And then there are these really awesome HK citizens, where they all line up in front of the elevators.

  15. Alexander
    June 26, 2010 at 12:04 am

    In Denmark, we are, in general, pretty aware that there might be other people using the elevator. 🙂

    The Standard Operating Procedure is to wait for the doors to open fully, before going in. We generally take it pretty slow/relaxed in this country 😉

  16. Bara
    June 26, 2010 at 3:14 am

    I’ve seen plenty of people behave as if they were denying the reality outside them and replacing it with their own internal “reality” designed for their comfort. Personally I feel that walking around denying the real situation is not only rude but a short step away from “bat-shit-crazy-land”. Too bad for me that my opinions can’t penetrate to those folks, but Az seems to have discovered that the “6-foot-Black-Man-in-an-Elevator” can work as a shock therapy (at least in Japan). So Az, be sure to bill them for their medical treatment accordingly.

    • June 26, 2010 at 11:15 am

      “shock therapy” Haha nice. So true though!! Glad to know I can offer psychological help to Japanese people with my meer presence. Now that’s power!

  17. Chloe
    June 26, 2010 at 4:36 am

    I’m pretty sure this applies to everything in NY. Not just elevators. Even in the much more relaxed upstate regions. If you are in a crowded area and are moving at the speed of slow then expect to get plowed. It’s particularly dangerous when it involves vehicles (“Oh, the light is yellow? IF I FLOOR IT I CAN MAKE IT.”) no wonder we have the worst drivers in the country. It also works in reverse outside the cities as well. Want to just get your milk and eggs and drive home? Here, stand in line for 10 minutes as the guy buying lottery tickets chats it up with the cashier.

  18. Captain Button
    June 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

    As a proper geek, I am now wondering if this means that there is a subtle cultural thing I am missing in the elevator confrontation scenes in “Neon Genesis Evangelion”.

  19. happygirl
    June 28, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Hi Az,

    Great post! I lol’d a few times and it’s good to have you back.

    Can’t wait until your next entry =)

  20. Justin
    June 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Be sure to send a thank you note to anyone who donates.

  21. Darkrider
    June 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    This is rather inconsiderate behavior for a country that values politeness and consideration of others so heavily.

    • silentplummet
      June 30, 2010 at 4:59 am

      You don’t understand. When Japanese people say things like “we value politeness” and “we always consider the other people’s feelings” there is a little tiny asterisk, and if you read the fine print it says (to other Japanese people only).

      • September 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

        I don’t know about that. I mean, I see Japanese people being rude to other Japanese people all the time. People assume I’m Japanese and they’re rude to me.

        I think it’s a different kind of rudeness from what you’d expect in, say, America. American rudeness is a little more upfront and confrontational, whereas Japanese rudeness is them doing whatever the hell they feel like and completely ignoring you when you react to them.

  22. July 1, 2010 at 2:34 am

    First time commentor, first time reader. This would be all the more funny if it wasn’t happening back here in the “States” too. I work at an international company and we have people from Japane, China, Poland, England, Brasil etc etc etc and having traveled a lot, I can excuse something that seems impolite from a person of another nationality, but I’m seeing the same behavior in native born Americans. When waiting for an elevator to arrive, I ALWAYS stand off to the side to allow the people in the elevator a clear, and QUICK, path off. And usually the last person off will hold the door long enough for the first person on to take over that job until everyone else is on. Doesn’t seem to happen much anymore.

    Now I’m on the elevator and ready to exit. I just know there will be some impatient person on the other side so I gird my loins and prepare for the head-on collision. Luckily, in my line of work I have medium-large equipment I need to roll around with me. As the door opens I get a glimpse of multiple people and to my surprise they are all trying to get on at the same time. But wait! I’m in the way so they attempt to go around me. But wait! They almost trip on my equipment. So one person says “Hey, that’s a safety hazard.” And I reply; “Not only is your rushing on to an elevator a safety hazard, it’s plain rude too.” And I go my merry way.

    Funny, I never get tired of teaching that lesson.

  23. Wrinkledlion X
    July 16, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Last time I ran into a large black man in San Francisco, it was a seven-foot-tall transvestite with dreads. I suppose that does warrant crying.

    • PowerThatIs
      July 19, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      Hey! Tim’s a nice guy! Lol!

  24. Jim
    July 22, 2010 at 6:33 am

    are there any handicap people in japan?

    • July 23, 2010 at 8:42 am

      Yes, but you rarely see them. They seem to cart them off to special schools and hospitals telling them that the “real world” doesn’t accept them and aren’t willing to help. A lot of buildings aren’t wheelchair accessible, but all the streets do have those yellow bumpy tiles so visually impaired people can get around.

  25. August 23, 2010 at 4:57 am

    I can’t stop laughing. I don’t know what I’d do at a reaction such as that.

  26. TommyA
    August 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

    “Woman: There, there. I understand your surprise. Here, you can cry on my sombrero.”

    My LOLs for the morning. Thanks!

  27. Azharul
    August 29, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    hahaha! I have had almost the same kinda thing happen to me, I was in foshan, in china, im bangali (kinda indian) and have a slightly stocky build, so while i was walking around a department store, i went to stop at a shop, the shop keeper was doing something, she looked up, shook…pause…put both hands to her heart… takes a big breath, and screams, not just this, gets up, and runs away to a shop 4 shops down, while stil holding her heart and screaming! im just like O_O W..T..F! same reaction as Az, i didnt wanna help her, she ran away from me!

  28. August 31, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve had almost the EXACT SAME THING happen to me in the countryside of Niigata. I’m not a large black man though, I’m a small Japanese-American girl, a stealth gaijin if you will. My boyfriend (who is Japanese) and I were walking down some stairs at a countryside train station, and in front of us was this high school couple. They were walking reeeeally slowly, and of course they were holding hands and didn’t bother to stay to one side of the stairs to let people behind them go past.

    My boyfriend said something, and I replied in English. The girl in front heard us, suddenly stopped, whipped around, saw us seemingly Japanese people speaking the devil’s tongue of English, sat down, and didn’t move. My boyfriend tripped over her and I had to grab and pull him back. Meanwhile, the girl started crying from the shock, even though my boyfriend didn’t fall on her or anything.

    We stepped over the girl and kept going. When we reached the end of the stairs, I looked back to see the girl was still there, still crying. Ugh.

    • January 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      “stealth gaijin”… I like that 🙂

  29. Lindus
    September 5, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I am sorry to say but this kind of rude behaviour is something I in particular have experienced in Asia, or by people of asian descent. My strategy when getting off escalators, elevators or vehicles, be they trains or buses, has always been the same however, if you don’t move out of my way, I will move you by walking straight ahead. If you’re in my way you will be pushed out of my way while you will be shamed by your behaviour as you will be pressed into other people standing around you. And believe me, this happens just as well in China, Nippon or in New York’s Chinatown. On the other hand, if you even try to get into an elevator or train before everyone has exited you will most probably receive a stern talking to by some of your fellow passengers. So I feel pity for the ones arriving in New York trying to do the same, they will get moved and lectured and think the local population is strange and rude 🙂

    With hopes Azrael keeps up the good work,

  30. September 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    I have a question… if you know that any Japanese person attempting to enter the elevator will necessarily pounce right through the center of the opening doors, couldn’t you just stand eight inches to one side of the center and step right past them every time? Just asking.

    Speaking of people lining up on both sides of an obstacle and trying to go at the same time, I know a guy who lived for a few years in Buenos Aires, and he claims that whenever there’s a train on the tracks across a road down there, the motor vehicle traffic that gets stopped on both sides lines up side-by-side with the cars just about touching one another, *right* behind the actual train, across all available lanes (including the ones that are supposed to be for going the other direction) and both shoulders (if there are shoulders). Then as soon as the train is gone, they all floor it and try to squeeze through the similarly arrayed cars on the other side of the tracks.

  31. irene
    September 20, 2010 at 12:27 am

    A friend linked me to your post on soushokukei vs nikushokukei. Nice read!

    Btw, the way you described the girl rushing into the elevator is pretty funny (but I’m sorry it became such a weird situation in the end). I live in Singapore, and people here rush everywhere ALL THE TIME. In the evening, when you’re all tired and just want to get from your train station back home safely, the last thing you need is some dude with bad BO standing in the middle of your path as the train door opens. But that’s how it’s like in Singapore.

    I don’t remember so many people rushing into elevators/trains/etc, but that could be me doing way too much comparison. It could very well be an Asian thing! 😡

  32. Andy
    October 4, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I feel a little bit sympathetic for people who rush into elevators, having had to be explicitly taught not to do that myself. I mean yeah, it’s a logical courtesy anyone can figure out, but like many others, I grew up in a place without a lot of tall buildings, so riding the elevator is kind of a novelty. If you’re not used to it, it’s easy just not to think about it at first. I think this is likely a common trait in people who’ve moved from a rural to an urban environment, a significant demographic in both the US and Japan.

    Falling down and crying, though, man. Maybe it was an over-conscientious politeness thing? Like, maybe she became distressed because she thought it was rude to show how distressed she was over being rude, which caused her to act more distressed, putting her through an infinite feedback loop of shame that escalated into falling down and crying. That’d make her like a politeness saint.

  33. Hymmis
    October 6, 2010 at 5:29 am

    Okay, let’s see if I understood this right… A crying woman, because she got surprised/scared by you, is on the floor in front of you and you just shrug it of and walk on? And the most important reason for that is because you’re married? How is that a reason at all?

    Now, I don’t have any experience of this situation (or even enough experience of being in a relationship/dating) to say for sure, but I’m certain I’d say “Are you alright? Sorry I scared you…” before I’d leave. Regardless if I had a girlfriend or not! That’s because I’m a nice guy and being considerate of the crying girl in front of me.

    I’ve read all of these blog posts for a couple of days now, and you seemed like a nice guy in the beginning, despite the rough times. So six years in Japan and marriage really changes you…

  34. Blayne Bradley
    April 18, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Biggie :
    “stealth gaijin”… I like that

    Thats just awesome.

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