I had dinner at a restaurant in Tokyo station this evening. Next to me was this family, a father with two small daughters and their grandparents. The children, being children, made a little mess on the table and spilled a little food on the floor. Very minor really, not more than a few drops; a very small mess considering their age and the fact they were slurping Ramen.
Before leaving, the grandfather took some paper tissues and wiped the table clean. He then got on his knees and cleaned the floor as well. On the way out, he apologized to the staff and bowed.
This may sound a little excessive to some. In many countries, customers see it as part of the staff’s job to clean up after their mess, even if it’s a big mess they leave behind. But the culture in Japan is such that causing inconvenience to the other, even to service staff, is to be avoided as much as possible. That, coupled with the Japanese superior sensibility about cleanliness, made this elderly man’s behavior seem natural to all present. Nobody saw it as something out of the ordinary. In fact, had the family left the small mess behind, people may have (inwardly, of course) raised an eyebrow.
(This is a post in the series “Why Japan is the Closest Place to Paradise“)