A Space of One’s Own in Japan


A Space of One’s Own in Japan

Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt

I see it as a twilight genre between the night of confession and the daylight of criticism. The“I” with which I shall occupy myself will not be the “I” that relates back strictly to myself, but something else, some residue, that remains after all the other words I have uttered have flowed back into me, something that neither relates back nor flows back. As I pondered the nature of that “I,” I was driven to the conclusion that the “I” in question corresponded precisely with the physical space that I occupied. What I was seeking, in short, was a language of the body.
Yukio Mishima, Sun and Steel

Virginia Woolf requested merely only a room of one’s own. Turns out she was too demanding, as in Japan, our ambitions are more modest, here it appears that all we require is that little bit of the space-time continuum we currently occupy, with no further leg or elbow apparently being required.

Whether it be crowded trains to busy streets, from JR Shinjuku Station to Shibuya crossing; the former arguably one of the busiest train stations in the world, the latter the busiest commuter area, it is fair to say that that Japan has plenty of rising suns but little space.

One of my favourite films is ‘Lost in Translation’ and in that film, one my favourite scenes is when Charlotte, taking time out from karaoke, collapses into Bob’s shoulder. Exhausted from their singing, they take a time-out. Together alone, in a karaoke place in Tokyo, they relax in space that is their own, albeit temporarily.

Finding such a space in Japan, especially a quiet place is rare. People back in the country I hail from ask me about culture shock, is there anything that disturbs me about Japan, anything I find difficult to deal with, I usually answer in the negative, I have genuinely never really experienced culture shock, but if pushed, I give this response – Japanese people appear to understand space differently – or at very least, the notion of space is dealt with differently here in Japan. Absolutely you can fit yourself and a rather large suitcase in between the foot wide space in a queue at a convenience store, why wouldn’t you try to do that?

From busy trains to attendance levels akin to rock concerts during festivals and national holidays, Japan does seem to be a crowded place. Japan also seems to be a place that actually likes crowds, or at least, does not react to crowds as something to be avoided. Instead they seem to be regard as an inevitable part of everyday life.

When I first came to Japan a few years ago, and was living in Tokyo I remember seeing a sign that read ‘please be considerate to other passengers and sit close to each other’. That sign was something I loved about Japan when I first moved here. You think the train you want to take seems to be over-crowded? Nonsense, the Japanese people, it appears, laughs in the face of crowdedness and give the middle finger to the concept of not enough room. In Japan there are even people that well help squeeze you on to a train during busy hours, some of them even work for the train company, here there is no such thing as too full, there is always, at least on trains, room for one more.

As someone whom, back in Britain was denied access, on more than one occasion, to both buses and trains on the grounds that were ‘too many children and handicapped people’, one admires, for the most part, Japan’s attitude towards transport. As a physically encumbered man hoping to get back home on a busy train running late at night, I really appreciate it, here even during busy times, a disabled person, along with the pregnant or young is given ‘priority’, there are seats that are called just that ‘priority seats’, so it’s all good.

However, I am left wondering about following: I am sure they are all very kind people, but I doubt that the pregnant lady, the kindly old age pensioner nor the teenager, actually wanted to give up their seat for me, of course not, they are deserve the comfy chair. And I worry about the culture towards space here, there appears to be no maximum occupancy to a train, and if the train is obviously too full, well there’s an app for that, here no passenger will be left behind apparently, if need be we shall push you on to the train.


Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ (https://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com) and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt.