I had errands to run on Wednesday, and my first stop was Akihabara. I’ve mentioned before that, despite signage, people on Tokyo escalators stand left and walk right. It’s not like I made it up; that’s just how it is. As I boarded the escalator on the right, I quickly noticed the guy ahead of me wasn’t walking, even though the area ahead of him was clear.
I cleared my throat. Nothing. Tried it again. No reaction. Finally, I gently tapped him on the shoulder. “‘Scuse me,” I said.*
“What is it?” he asked.
“Well,” I said politely, “this is the walking side.”
“No, it’s not. You’re not supposed to walk on the escalator, according to the signs on the wall,” he countered.
The next couple seconds consisted of the two of us arguing over what’s supposed to be vs. what is, while I attempted to move past him and he attempted to keep me from doing so. Finally, I managed to get around him as he pointedly asked, “Do you not understand Japanese?”
I looked back and retorted, “Are you not Japanese?”**
I’ve run into plenty of difficult people in Japan, but never anyone who went against the norm like that. Guessing his desire to obey enforce the rules greatly outweighed his desire to fit into society.
* This whole conversation was, of course, in Japanese.
** What I meant was, “Are you not Japanese, and therefore used to people doing this without being challenged?” Unfortunately, I’m not as quick with a pointed retort in Japanese as I am in English.