Japan is noted for its fastidious attention to manners. Books, magazines and even DS games offer instruction on the ins and outs of manners' minutia. Even with this almost Victorian attention to politeness, the country's recently seen a rash of faux pas that can be best described in one word: rude.
People put their foot in their mouth all the time, myself, you and that guy over there included. There's the right time and the wrong time. Then there are times that are just so awful that you don't need a book to tell you what's polite and what isn't.
Yesterday was an example of one of those awful days: An all night vigil was held for soccer star Naoki Matsuda, who unexpectedly passed away at the age of 34. Matsuda recently gave an interview for a PSP game released the same day he passed away and even appeared as a special in-game download.
Family, former teammates, and fans gathered to grieve, and around two thousand people showed up at Matsuda's wake. Fuji Network News, one of Japan's largest television networks, was on hand to cover the vigil, and the network's coverage has since raised ire in Japan.
After interview footage of soccer player Shunsuke Nakamura, the news cut to veteran Fuji reporter Yaeko Umezu gingerly chatting to staff off camera, saying "Nooooo way", and then smiling. She then began apologizing for her indiscretion as the news cut to footage of Matsuda's mother, dressed in black, meeting with weeping fans.
Online, many Japanese netizens are livid, saying what she did was unprofessional and wondering why she couldn't show more compassion. "Why are you smiling over somebody's misfortune?," wrote one netizen (via Livedoor News). "How deplorable, smiling while on stand-by during a wake."
Other, more jaded netizens, wrote things like, "Wow, she's cute."
The event brought back memories of when another reporter, this one for Nippon Television, arrived in Miyagi Prefecture days after the March 11 earthquake, surveyed the destruction and said, "This is so amusing/interesting..." That reporter didn't know he was on live television and criticized for being insensitive.
I'm willing to give both reporters the benefit of the doubt. In their defense, these reporters might be making some gallows humor, trying to bring levity to difficult situations, and moments like this, unfortunately caught on tape for the entire nation to see, are releases from tension. Or they could simply be insensitive remarks. I'm willing to wager it's the former.
Perhaps the Japanese internet is railed up and oversensitive. On August 7, a day after the country turned its attention to the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, a character on an AKB48 TV drama was spotted wearing a t-shirt that read "Little Boy." The name of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Adults in Japan who went to school and paid attention know "Little Boy", and almost anyone with a junior high school education would be able to read this. But, likewise, I'll give the producers of this TV show the benefit of the doubt—this is probably an unfortunate coincidence. However, it is an unfortunate coincident that pissed some off.
In Japanese culture, so much importance is placed on others—how what you do makes others feel. And the language itself, with its multiple layers of politeness, is a reflection of this obsession with showing the proper deference. Thus, events like these, however innocent they might be, are exacerbated and come off as even more deplorable.
People make mistakes. People say stupid things they don't mean. But sometimes they do it on television. In front of millions. While at a wake.