Searching for courtesy in Korea

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Searching for courtesy in Korea


I have been living in Tokyo for three months now, and I use the elevators in my apartment and office at least eight times a day. But whenever I get in the elevator, I have acquired a habit of looking around as the door opens. I get self-conscious if there is a Japanese rider because, sometimes, overly courteous Japanese manners make me feel uncomfortable. When a fellow rider has to get off on the same floor, they will not exit immediately. Instead, they stand close to the wall and hold the “open” button. We spend three, four seconds giving way to each other. After experiencing these awkward moments several times, I realized it was better to thank the person and get off first.

Japanese people are courteous and considerate all the time. My apartment security guard stands by the door every morning and greets each resident. He would say “Good morning” and “How are you doing?” to most people. You frequently hear people saying, “Excuse me” and “Thank you” in subways, restaurants and saunas. At a movie theater, the audience stays seated until the closing credits roll. No one gets up and exits the theater before the light comes on, showing courtesy to the filmmakers and consideration to other audience members.

Nowadays, the omotenashi movement is spreading in Japan as it prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “Omotenashi” means sincere and generous hospitality that comes from the heart rather than from fulfilling certain actions. At the IOC session in Buenos Aires in September 2013, newscaster Christel Takigawa emphasized the word and brought her hands together. Her presentation on Japanese hospitality contributed to winning the bid to host the Olympics in Japan.

A recent article in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun suggested that people should learn Korean-style omotenashi especially because of the friendly hospitality Korean volunteers showed during the Incheon Asian Games. After every match, Koreans gave a big round of applause and cheered for all athletes, regardless of the results of the game and nationality of the participants. However, at the judo award ceremony, Korean and Japanese athletes had their arms around each other’s shoulders, but Japanese cameramen shouted, “Let’s take pictures of Japanese athletes only.” The article criticized them for their disrespectful attitude.

But is Korean-style hospitality worth emulating? Earlier this month, a message board on the Chinese portal site Baidu had an interesting debate. Under the question, “Where should I go to study abroad, Korea or Japan?” many Chinese people shared their opinions. Some argued, “Korea is better,” while others claimed, “Japanese education is the best in Asia. But one person wrote, “Japanese are courteous, but Koreans look down on the Chinese.” I wanted to deny the accusation, but the scathing remark makes me reconsider our attitude.

*The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 18, Page 34

by LEE JEONG-HEON


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