Nintai 忍耐 – Patience

Today I went to a kind of fete for the kindergarten my son will be attending from April next year.  We arrived at lunchtime and started to queue up for one of the many food stalls. We choose yakisoba and spent about 40 minutes in the queue.  About 10 people were cooking up a storm, but for some reason at some point they stopped serving the yakisoba and started to pack it away into boxes.  They started to whisper amongst themselves and look nervously out at the queue of 30-odd hungry parents standing in line.  For about 10 minutes, no food was given out and the queue was growing longer.  Suddenly, calculators were whipped out and a worried looking young lady was pushed out in to the queue to ask people how many portions they wanted.  Things were looking bad.  Sure enough, a few minutes later it was announced that they had ‘sold out’ and that we had effectively been queuing for 40 minutes for no reason.  Amazingly, no-one bawled them out for hording the food for staff (this is obviously what had happened to all the yakisoba they cooked and stashed in the boxes) and the queue just dispersed into other queues.  I thought to myself, in this way the cliche may be true that Japanese are patient. I cringe to think what would have happened if it occured in the UK.

On the whole I think its true that Japanese are quite patient, however on the other hand, I can think of a few examples of where Japanese are not patient at all.

Old ladies seem to never bother to queue up and just barge their way in where-ever they like.  I wonder if this is some kind of custom that I do not know about, because they are just so shameless about it.  Ironically you often hear the Chinese criticised by Japanese for bad manners in this way.

Another example is queuing to get on a train:

  • Train stops and doors open
  • 30 people try to get off train, but cannot because 30 people are standing in their way and trying to squeeze on as they get off (in order to get a seat)
  • Result: it takes twice as long as it should for people to get on/off the train, and it is stressful.

I can never understand why people do not simply stand to the side of the doors, let everyone get off, and then get on and take a seat.  This seems so much more civilised.  I punish the heathen when it is my turn to get off the train and I have my huge suitcase in tow – I take great pleasure in chopping peoples ankles or shins with it as they stand in my way.

A final one is driving manners.  It always stuns me how people are so aggressive here in protecting their space in the queue for the traffic light.  Some poor sod is trying to turn into the main road and no-one stops to let them in.  They prefer to be that 3 meters closer to the traffic light, let that guy just sit and wait another few minutes.

Hmm this is a becoming a bit of a ‘Japan-bashing’ post today so I’ll stop here, blame it on the terrible hayfever I had today, and move on to translation notes…

Translation Notes

Patience seems to be usually translated as ‘gaman’ but I normally feel unsatisfied by this.  Gaman seems to be more like ‘put up with’ or ‘endure’ where the object is quite unpleasant.  But I think patience also has a meaning of ‘to bide your time’, ‘wait for the right moment’ or ‘restrain yourself’ which perhaps is where Nintai is used.  The NIN in nintai seems to mean restraint.

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