|Swimming pool lanes, photo credit M Hooper /CC|
Being Australian, I instantly thought it was a shark alarm. But no, we weren't at the beach, we were in a public swimming pool. No sharks here. Just the same, everyone leapt out of the water with the same speed that I would if it really was Jaws poking around. As I often did in Japan, I followed my friends first, and only after the fact asked for an explanation.
"It's rest time," my friend Yuko explained. Obviously my expression turned a bit quizzical so she continued. "Every hour we get out of the pool and rest or stretch for ten minutes. It's good if you go over there," she pointed to a corner with a lifeguard leading some light exercises, "and do some stretching, but it's okay if you just sit down and rest."
"But we've only been swimming for a few minutes. We don't need a rest yet," I said.
I rarely would argue with something in Japan but Yuko was a good friend and I thought she might understand. Not really. "But it's rest time," she said. "We can get back in the pool in a few minutes."
Of course, I sat down on my towel and complied. That was the funny thing about Japan - I often just went along with the rules or the expectations, sometimes just because I didn't even know what was going on and just followed my Japanese friends, and sometimes because it seemed the appropriate and polite thing to do. If you'd told me ahead of time that I'd feel perfectly okay following along with things like this - and sometimes they were potentially much more annoying than a rest time at the swimming pool - I'd have said no way, I'm not a sheep, and I won't follow rules that don't make much sense. (The rest time thing is not completely dumb, but having to rest when you've just arrived isn't that smart, either.) But I did follow along, and I actually wouldn't go back and change it.
I found that there are a huge number of societal expectations in Japan, and I'm sure it's not just because of the cultural differences but also that Japanese members of society are expected to be more compliant in many ways in their culture. Here in the West we are almost encouraged to be different, and to argue against things we feel are wrong or can't agree with. In Japan, I felt that was discouraged, and of course that's not always a good thing - but it's not all bad, either.
|Me swimming at Shirahama Beach (no photos of the pool - not allowed, I guess!)|
But back to the article that inspired this post: remember the title was about giving up? I don't see my acceptance of these annoyances as giving up. There's a time to fight, and a time to accept. When you're travelling - and especially in a place as different as Japan - there might be more times you have to make the choice of whether this is a fight or accept moment. But it's not giving up.
What do you think? Fight or accept? Where do you draw the line?