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Passive Aggressiveness in Japan and Active Aggression in America

by Ewa Nowogorski

Japanese people are not allowed to show their anger outwardly, and if they do they might be treated as a crazy, uncontrollable person. In America, seeing people become outwardly aggressive with each other is a very common sight, and it might even be considered strange to see people try to show aggression in a passive way. I don’t think Americans can read between the lines like that.

But back to Japan, passive aggression is a common way to show dissatisfaction with something or someone, whether it be with words, actions, or signs. I’d like to focus on signs in particular, the ones that try to send a message without directly talking about their message. You will see them everywhere; on the streets, in public bathrooms, in restaurants, on trains, etc.

It has been proven that people become very defensive when confronted with a wrong-doing directly. Most famously is the anti-smoking campaign launched in America in the early 2000s, which directly attacked smokers with smoking’s harmful effects. It was not well received, and it actually angered smokers rather than convincing them to quit. Japanese people are the same, and they might react aggressively when confronted aggressively. The classic example is your neighborhood uncle getting furious when you try to tell him to pick up his cigarette butt or to not smoke in a non-smoking area.

But people like to keep the peace, so direct confrontations don’t work. Instead, signs are usually cleverly and sometimes comically created to send a message and guilt-trip offenders into stopping their bad acts. There was once a large subway stair-way sign created in an attempt to stop people from using their phones while walking. In big print, the sign said “It’s dangerous, walking and using a smart phone.” And in very small print at the bottom, it also said, “the persons concerned probably won’t notice this sign anyways.” It made quite the news.

But through repetitive and constant enforcement, a stigma starts to develop, created by the people who actually do follow the rules. They judge those who don’t and those people who fail to stop their bad habits eventually get outcast form society, forcing them to change in a strange roundabout way. But hey, whatever works. And I personally like these creative signs. I wouldn’t mind a job creating these signs.

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