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Punctuality in Japan

      On the night that Shinji and Hatsue agree to meet at the top of the village steps, Shinji leaves his home two hours early.  He positions himself at Yashiro Shrine, only steps away from the meeting point.  As the time nears, Shinji counts the eleven strokes of the clock.  At that instant, he moves to the top of the stairs in anticipation of Hatsue.  If Shinji had come even one minute late, Hatsue might have been offended.  Japanese culture emphasizes punctuality and deadlines.  

        What Americans consider being “fashionably late,” Japanese consider rebellious and egocentric.  Punctuality governs social interactions and preserves group harmony.  Without exception, individuals expect others to be on time.  A recent Tokyo survey reported that in Japan only five percent of women and four percent of men have wristwatches that are set inaccurately.  Researchers Robert Levine and Ellen Wolff rank Japan as the country with the best “punctuality concept.”  Survey results indicate that Japanese college students are late to class less than once per week, and teachers punish lateness by lowering grades.  Even among close friends or lovers, like Hatsue and Shinji, lateness is an insult in social settings.  Punctuality dominates many facets of Japanese life.  Average walking speed, accuracy of bank clocks, and post office efficiency are the highest in the world.  In business, although deadlines are important, they do not take precedence over relationship building.  

      Japanese deadlines are realistic because, once established, they are rarely broken.  They allow people enough time to build solid relationships and reach consensus.  During octopus season, the fishermen in the novel awaken at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning, taking breakfast at a leisurely pace and allowing sufficient time to get to the shore.  Lateness is seen as an insult to the boss, and, given the importance of relationships, it is something employees want to avoid.   In the context of Japanese culture, Shinji’s acute awareness of time is expected. 


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Wing Chung, Rita. Punctuality. Spring 1999. ESL 1411. 13 Oct. 2002