About Manner Mode

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The need for manners in Japan is always there, even at the crack of dawn. It starts when one of those huge, prehistoric bird-sized Tokyo crows lets out a hungry caw as it watches your neighbor rattle his garbage bin. The noise wakes you on your futon with the reminder of your duties on “burnable garbage” day.

You bitch and moan as you separate your burnables from non-burnables, and take great care to tie-up each garbage bag tightly and perfectly, because it all needs to fit into one small, cute bin.  Your space-saving, appearance-minded Japanese neighborhood would be aghast at the sight of a big, ugly American-sized garbage can.

Learning to make your garbage presentable is part of living here. This is the country known for symmetrical trash bag stacking, and you shudder when you recall the last time you failed to properly cram your garbage into the can in the perfectly-sealed, Japanese style. The Jurassic crows hunted down your slightly bulging top, tore it off and flung your garbage all over the street.

I sketch this scene just to illustrate something about the spirit of everyday Tokyo life. Perfection-seeking, inscrutable rules and exquisite manners surround you at every turn, keeping an overcrowded city humming and amazingly clean and livable.

But for an immigrant like me – who learned most of his casual-American-dude manners from an older brother who once tried to clean up vomit with Mom’s vacuum cleaner – regular Japanese manners are an untouchable ideal. The best I can do is conform to all the rules I can without losing it, and figure out the many subtle nuances that control everyday Japanese life.

The art of adhering to all of these nuances – most of which are both essential to survival AND completely unnatural to a red-blooded, freedom-loving Yankee  – while maintaining your sanity is what I call Manner Mode.

(Side note: Manner Mode is actually the term used in Japan for “silent mode” on mobile phones – it’s pronounced “manna-mo-doh” – it’s mostly associated with the idea of phone etiquette on trains).

Manner Moding takes a look at the unwritten, behind-the-scenes laws of life here, such as…

….Just how does the typical Japanese “salaryman” manage to hide his night-time spending from his wife, and how and why does his company conspire secretly to help him?

…How do you master the very necessary art of napping in public in Tokyo?

…What’s the “medical” use of the “Denki-buro”, a pool found in local public baths that has electric currents flowing through the water?

The truth is I spend huge chunks of my day pondering questions like these.  This blog is an exploration of the little life object-lessons essential to the Tokyo immigrant.

There are plenty of fine blogs written by Japan-lifers, freelancers or corporate expats about what’s wacky, or cool, about Japan, but that’s a different thing entirely. Manner Mode is about what it’s like to be dropped mid-life into Tokyo, and Japan Inc., as a white-collar, middle-aged immigrant.

It’s clear to me that these immigrant lessons reveal not only a lot of information about the society and culture of Japan, but the U.S. as well.

About the illustrations

Most of the stories on this site are based on real life, and the illustrations are my collaborations with the talented Japanese manga artist known as Rena Saiya⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇓


No doubt many of you will find they bring some much needed Japanese taste to my foreign, and often flat-out wrong, impressions.

– Mike Thuresson




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  1. 1
    JC Sagawa

    I love that you called yourself an immigrant and not an ex-pat as in this description as I was just reading an article that in a nutshell states that ex-pat is just a word white people have for themselves when they live/move abroad when they are in reality immigrants jut like everyone else. I am not sure I agree with this logic, but there you are.

    • 2
      Mike Thuresson

      Hi JC, of course I remember you. Thanks for the comments. I always thought “expat” referred to the corporate guys who get transferred by their companies to a foreign country – the Tokyo American Club crowd. If you bother to learn all the rules of taking out the garbage here, then I believe that makes you an immigrant!