The day before yesterday, a cable T.V. representative came to our apartment to look at our configuration and decide whether or not they could give us a free upgrade with more channels at a lower monthly rate. During the time the representative was here, we wanted to look into the possibility of getting fully-integrated telephone, internet, and cable T.V. services. Such a package would allow us to get a broadband upgrade and wireless connectivity and pay about $15 less a month than we do now from combined services. It sounds like a pretty good deal but there were complications to be considered that required more clarity of communication than we felt could be had with just my husband and I talking to the cable rep.
Since our landlord was responsible for this proposed change and he has to approve of any alterations to the apartment (such as holes knocked in walls to allow cables to be ran into the apartment), we wanted to be sure of all the details so we asked him to come over and interface with the cable representative. Because we had so many questions and the cable rep. had to keep calling someone else to answer them, the entire meeting took an hour and a half. Our landlord patiently sat on our bedroom floor dealing with technical questions that I'm sure baffled him (he's not a geek) and did his best to help us get it all ironed out for the duration.
At the end of all of this, he apologized to us for the inconvenience. To be honest, given some of our past interactions, I'd be surprised if he didn't give us a gift as that seems to be the pattern when he helps us and we put him out.
I get the feeling that our landlord is a rare jewel in the landscape of Japanese landlords with foreign tenants. I'm sure he must have been anxious to go back to his house (next door to us) and get back to whatever he was up to when we dragged him over to our apartment but he was polite, patient and had the air of someone who was pleased to be helping at all times. In the 18 years we've been his tenants, he has never once conveyed the idea that we're the least bit stupid because we are foreigners and don't know certain points about Japanese culture.
In fact, I'm nearly certain that his wife has silently cleaned up any garbage-related faux pas we've made in the past by squirreling away anything we've inappropriately put out and dealing with it herself at the appropriate time and in the correct manner. I'm nearly certain I once saw her carrying off recyclable cardboard we put out at the wrong time at one point. Rather than come knocking on our door and lecturing us, they spare us the embarrassment and just take care of it though I'm guessing we'd get a polite and meticulously-written note of advice if we did it on a regular basis.
This whole experience reinforces something that I've observed more than once about the general character of Japanese people which you rarely see in the United States. That is that Japanese people, by and large, will mask their impatience or discomfort if they feel displaying it will make the person they are with feel uncomfortable. It's something that some western people mistake for the Japanese being neurotic doormats or not asserting their needs for fear of upsetting the social applecart. It's not about a lack of emotional fortitude but about courtesy and consideration and it takes a great deal more strength of character to hold back on displaying negative emotions than to show them. While there are certainly a lot of Japanese people who fail to hold back and behave rather childishly and are confrontational, as a general rule, most are going to put your feelings above their own.