In The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Ruth Benedict describes the Japanese life course as a great arc. Children and grandparents are as free as they will ever be to react spontaneously and express their feelings. It is in the long center of the arc that the burdens and repressions of adulthood are heaviest. Yesterday, I posted an album to my Facebook Page with the title SOFT Tsukushikai Hanami 2012. Here we see Japanese elders at play at one of the most playful events in the Japanese ceremonial calendar, the hanami or cherry-blossom viewing. Here we are in a park filled with blossoming cherry trees. Our mats are on the ground. There's food to eat, lots to drink, and songs to be sung. In these respects, seen from a distance, this group resembles the many other similar groups with whom the space in the park is shared. The one noticeable difference is that the members are older than average.

In our immediate vicinity there are groups composed of young families with children. I speculate that the wives know each other from shared kindergarten or PTA activities. Other groups are composed of individuals who appear to be singles in their early twenties. I speculate that they are classmates or workmates. Our group is three groups. The largest is the men who make up the Soft Tsukushikai. Except for me, the members once played together on our condominium local government association's softball team. Now we turn out to lend a hand at community events like the annual mochi-pounding described in a blog earlier this year. Three wives of members have joined us. My wife is missing, still in the States helping with the grandkids. At the opposite end of the mat from the wives sit a group of men who are not from our condominium. They take cooking classes for men with the man in the white jacket who sits beside them and can be seen horsing around with them in some of the photos. A sign that times are changing, they were the ones who prepared the bento box lunches. The wives just came along to be sociable and drink. One of the wives (see if you can guess which one) will be running in the Hawai'i Marathon. 

I am curious. When my fellow anthropologists here look at these photos, what else do you see?

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Comment by John McCreery on April 17, 2012 at 6:20am

A shout out to Francine, who correctly suggested that the photo link was set to friends only. It has now been reset to public to make the photos accessible to everyone.

Comment by John McCreery on April 16, 2012 at 7:16am

Please try the following link. If it works for you, I will edit the blog accordingly.

I still think that cities vs suburbs is a bit simplistic. When I was a commuter focused on getting to and from work every day, rush hour determined the types of oblivious groups and the individuals annoyed by them. Now that I'm a partner in a small business and traveling at different times of day, I notice striking differences, specific both to time and to place, where place is on a smaller scale that city or suburb.

For instance, my usual route when walking to Yokohama Station takes me down a long flight of stairs from the top of the hill where our office sits to the bottom where the local elementary school is located. If I head out just after 3:00 p.m., the stairs are clogged with elementary school kids who have just got out of school. Ten minutes either way, the stairs are empty. Midday at the station is when I am most likely to find my path blocked by groups of elderly ladies, but I can usually swerve around them since the halls are not crowded with rush hour mobs. All bets are off on weekends when families and friends go out to shop, which seems to be Japan's favorite contact sport. 

Comment by Francine Barone on April 16, 2012 at 6:55am

This is following a tangent now, but since FB is giving me an error when I try to view the page, I'll just go with it. Location is a factor, too. City dwellers have to be purposefully oblivious, taking in just enough of their surrounds to be safe and goal-oriented, and filtering out the rest. Dodging traffic and crowds and puddles and creeps while keeping an eye on Starbucks. Plus, 'normal' walking speed is affected by locale. City dwellers walk fast, suburbanites can saunter (if they leave their cars) and few people rush in a village. As for the composition of the "blockers" to the "blocked", it reminds me of the popular study of traffic that shows people feel like they're always stuck in gridlock because probabilistically they spend more time being passed than they do passing other cars. Same with hating to be slowed down by oblivious pedestrians, but not noticing when you impede others. For people who walk at a slow to average pace, they probably spend more time blocking other people than getting blocked. Speed walkers spend a disproportionate amount of time having their path blocked and getting aggravated (which no doubt counteracts the heart healthy benefit of a brisk walking pace with high blood pressure). I think a fairly universal rule is that mothers with pushchairs are the most aggressive and the most oblivious at the same time. Maybe it's evolutionary. The fun part is watching the faces of the annoyed as they stare down the oblivious, who, of course, never realize it.

Comment by John McCreery on April 16, 2012 at 4:48am

I wonder if we couldn't do a bit more in a sociological way with these observations. What I seem to have noticed as that members of groups are absorbed in interaction with each other they become oblivious to those around them. This behavior contrasts with that of individuals pursuing other goals, who are likely to be annoyed with the oblivious, who are seen as in the way of getting to those goals. If these general principles are valid, it then the composition of oblivious groups and that of the population of individuals whose way is being blocked becomes an interesting question. School, shopping and rush hour schedules can result in different mixes. 

Comment by Keith Hart on April 14, 2012 at 12:26pm

I notice that spring is not here yet and would guess its the one in the middle with the hat. But your remark about the relative freedom of the old and the young coincided with an observation made by my young daughter yesterday.

I am obsessed with pedestrian behaviour, mainly because I like to walk fast. Only two groups walk faster and with more purpose than me -- young French women and young African men (individuals not groups). Mothers use push chairs like battering rams to demand right of way. Teenagers out of school clog up the sidewalk in crowds, indifferent to the world, but in a slightly aggressive way. The way most French people make room for each other on narrow sidewalks is subtle and graceful. Not so the elders, especially in numbers. Well, I guess they move slowly anyway, but they lack the public awareness shown by most adults. After we had been held up by three old people who seemed to be in their own world, my daughter said "It's the same for the old and the young -- they don't care about the rest of us. They think they own the sidewalk." She meant the ados (adolescents) and she is young enough to resent them as much as I do.


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