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When in Japan, Avoid Clipboards

JAPAN | Wednesday, 24 February 2016 | Views [157]

After two hours of class on Wednesday, were were set loose on the world to work on our project. Since we're in the data collection stage, this meant finding willing volunteers (read: gullible victims) and giving them a survey and interview. So Dan and I grabbed the clipboards we'd been loaned for the month and headed out.

Yamaguchi-sensei had given us several suggestions for places to find people. The OGU campus. The street. The Super. The train station.

First of all, OGU is on their spring break. So even if we did find a student who looked Japanese, there was a decent chance they'd actually be an exchange student.

Secondly, it was cold outside. Not extremely cold, but chilly enough I didn't want to be standing in one place outside, let alone make other people stand outside to take a survey and interview.

Thirdly, Dan wanted to get lunch. So off to the Super we went. To put it very generously, it didn't go well.

Depending on where you enter, it's possible that you'll see tables and a small cafe right away. I let Dan keep walking and went to ask two people who were sitting alone if they had time to help me. They both said no, giving excuses that I didn't catch. Only one of them sounded like they were giving a real excuse.

Well, that was depressing. I waited for Dan to get rejected by someone looking at tomatoes, and then we reconferred. As might be expected, people who were out shopping for groceries weren't terribly receptive to suddenly being given questions on high school or religion.

And it was definitely the clipboards that were scaring people away. Dan and I both had enough experience asking Japanese strangers for help that we knew we would have been much better received without them. Without clipboards, we would have been the poor foreigners who probably needed help reading the packaging on something. With clipboards, we were annoying and nosy foreigners, and most people didn't even wait to hear our pitch.

It's not just Japan. Generally, clipboards have that effect on people. Legal pads too. If you need to talk to scholarship candidates, you wouldn't use a legal pad or clipboard unless you want to freak them out.

After getting 12 refusals and 1 acceptance, (Dan asked 10 people, I asked 3) we headed back. Dan at least had a survey to show for it. I just had the whimper that people were mean and fake crying to fall back on.

On the way back, we met Suzuki-sensei headed out with the second years. Dan complained to her that Japanese people were rude, and she asked where we'd gone. She then tried to claim that was the problem, since of course people were going to be rude in the Super. We should do what they were doing and go to the train station. Also, Dan looked scary.

I later learned that people were no nicer in the train station, and Suzuki-sensei and her two students had in fact been forced to leave. I'm not sure if there's any sort of moral I'm supposed to draw from this.

Just before we got back to the OGU campus, Dan found someone who agreed to take a survey. I wandered off (without ever discussing it, Dan and I had come to the understanding that if one person left, even mid-sentence, to talk to a Japanese person, the other would keep walking to seem as non-threatening as possible) and tried to pass enough time that I could credibly show up in tears about how mean everyone was.

And then I saw a Japanese girl who was just playing on her phone. I have to admit that my first thought was not “she looks nice and non-busy. Maybe she'll let me give her a survey and interview.” It was “when she rejects me, I'll have *such* a strong case for how mean people are. I mean, she's really not doing anything else right now.” But she didn't say no. She said yes! So I could stop thinking sad thoughts and instead ask her questions.

I went up to Yamaguchi-sensei with one survey, one interview, and an explanation of how mean everyone was. She didn't seem surprised at all by my findings, but was disappointed my interview notes were kind of sparse. Given it had been obvious from the time we'd started the interview that the girl wanted to be talking to me only slightly more than everyone else, she'd just been more polite, I'd decided not to push her. So yes, I had the bare minimum of answers there. If I ever meet anyone wearing a sign that says “ask me questions! Ask me questions!” Then yes, I will grill them during the interview. (Assuming they also remember high school pretty well, and like literature.)  Until then, I'll take what I can get.

Tags: literature, proejct, survey

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