Monday, May 24, 2010

Banned Beards

I see that the town of Isesaki in Gunma has decided to ban facial hair on their workers, due to complaints from some people who apparently found dealing with bearded men "unpleasant".

The ban coincides with the start of this season's "Cool Biz" campaign, when employees are allowed--encouraged, in fact--not to wear jackets and neckties. This makes it easier to set air conditioner temperatures higher, or turn them off entirely, to save energy costs and maybe have some effect on climate change and such phenomena as the "heat island effect" (Isesaki's not sufficiently urban to worry about that effect, though, I'd think).

I don't really see any logical connection between the beard ban and the Cool Biz campaign, but I had to laugh at the irony in the statement from the Isesaki City authorities: "public servants should look like public servants". Evidently coatless and tieless public servants are OK, but beards and mustaches don't fit the acceptable image.

I presume this means that a dozen or so of Japan's prime ministers, including Itō Hirobumi, who was Prime Minister four times, didn't look like public servants. Nor, say,  Saigō Tsugumichi (the younger brother of Saigō Takamori), who was an admiral and served as Navy Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs. Nor Ōkubo Toshimichi who is regarded as one of the founders of modern Japan, and who served as Minister of Finance.

Perhaps they, and the many other bearded and mustached politicians and civil servants and military men who have served Japan over the years, didn't fit the image of public servants held by whatever petty bureaucrat(s) came up with the idea of banning facial hair in Isesaki. I'd be willing to bet that any one of them did a great deal more for the citizens of Japan, though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fatal Distraction

A young woman was accidentally struck and killed by an arriving train at a train station in Nakano, Tokyo yesterday morning. She was hit in the head by the leading edge of the third carriage as the train was still slowing to its stop at the platform. I'm sorry to hear that someone lost her life, and I'm sure that her friends and family must be devastated. Unfortunately, my sympathy is somewhat tempered by the circumstances leading to her demise.

Witnesses at the scene agree that she was intent on using her mobile phone as she walked to the very edge of the platform, and she either didn't notice the arrival of the train at all, or else severely misjudged its speed and position relative to her.  She very clearly didn't heed the warning announcements about standing behind the yellow safety line. In fact, she wasn't hit by an oncoming train; she was hit by one that was already passing in front of her as she walked into it. Evidently she was so intent on whatever operation she was performing with her cellular phone that she was pretty much unaware of her dangerous situation. She perished not so much out of carelessness as out of fatal distraction.

One of the news programs reporting the incident had a staff member visit the area outside the station, to observe cell phone use there.  They reported that there were "too many people to count" walking while talking on cell phones, and counted at least 10 walking head down, intent on sending text messages, including some who set out to cross the intersection without stopping to check the traffic signals or look for oncoming traffic. They also interviewed several people, including an elderly woman who said she'd been walked into by oblivious people using cell phones, a young woman who admitted to having crossed streets several times without checking for lights or traffic while reading or sending messages, and a 30-ish "salariman" who said he'd nearly been hit a few times while engrossed in playing games on his phone while walking.

It's certainly easy to find pedestrians anywhere around Tokyo (and, I assume, throughout Japan) with most of their attention on their conversations or text messaging. It's quite common to find bicyclists and motorists, including people driving large trucks at high speeds, with most of their attention on their phones. Both while walking and while driving, I've frequently had to swerve or stop quickly in order to avoid people like this; it probably happens to me four or five times a week, on average.

It would be comforting to believe that the woman's death yesterday would at least serve as a lesson, or a warning, to people about letting the phone become so distracting that it presents a danger to themselves and those around them. I very much doubt that will happen though, since everyone seems to think that they are paying sufficient attention to their surroundings, and can successfully and safely "multitask"…it's other people who are oblivious.

I imagine that the young woman who died yesterday believed so, too, before her fatal distraction.