Saturday, February 13, 2010


This morning Tetsu and I were at the local department store just as they were opening their doors and we had to laugh when the whole arsenal of clerks and department store girls bowed to us as we made our way through the store. All the personnel stood at attention on either side of the main aisles and with hands clasped over their navels, bowed a proper 30 degree angle bow to each of their customers and formally welcomed us.

"Irrashaimase." 'Welcome (to our store)."

Sort of like being greeted by robots that were activated by motion sensors. No eye contact, modulated voices and plastic smiles from each and every one of them. Might they be mistaking me for the Queen? Should I bow back to them? Nod royally?

As we quickly walked to the book department I whispered to Tetsu,

"Would someone get angry if I took their picture?"

but he shushed me up and hurried us on. I don't know how long the clerks bowed to people. Probably only for the first couple minutes or until they needed to offer assistance to someone.

When I first came to Japan there were elevator girls and escalator girls in all the department stores but I think those jobs have faded from the Japanese employment scene. The escalator girl's job was to stand for hours at the bottom of an escalator with a dainty towel in her white gloved hand and wipe the escalator hand rail. She didn't really wipe, she just held the towel to the hand rail and bowed over and over and over to all the people who were so kind as to ride her escalator. I read somewhere that a Japanese escalator girl bowed 2500 times a day!

For awhile I thought that maybe being a Japanese escalator girl might be the most boring job in the world. Wrong. I decided that an even more boring job was being a Japanese elevator girl. I even knew someone who had this job for a few years before she married! A Japanese elevator girl just rode up and down in an elevator all day manning the elevator buttons with her white gloved hands.

"Ue ni mairimasu." "We are going up." and the gloved hand would gesture upwards.

"San-kai de gozaimasu." "We are on the third floor." and the gloved hand would brush tenderly over the elevator doors lightly holding them open while keeping a finger of the other hand on the elevator OPEN button.

I don't think the elevator girl experienced as much back pain doing her job (very difficult to make a 30 degree angle bow in such a tight space) and I suppose announcing each floor and elevator direction added variety to her life but being trapped in a crowded, dark elevator for hours on end in high heels, a tight skirt and a cute hat does not make it on the most popular jobs list.

I must say that being greeted by the department staff today brought a smile to my face and let me know that someone would be around if I needed them. (pictures from the Internet)

"Irrashaimase." "Welcome (to my blog)."

No comments: