BlogTV responds to the first ever request from a viewer. A correspondent in Japan drew my attention to a recent story he saw on FujiTV, and indeed, my TiVo captured the story. This story (5min25sec, English and Japanese subtitles) is about a McDonalds that caters specifically to elderly customers, and has some interesting observations about language usage in older vs. younger Japanese speakers.
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Japan’s commercial culture is a youth-oriented culture, and corporate institutions like McDonalds primarily target young customers. But the Tokyo district of Sugamo is hangout for the elderly, and of course the Sugamo McDonalds must adapt.
Our first linguistic challenge comes from the interviews with the elderly customers. Demosthenes is said to have cured his stutter by practicing speaking with pebbles in his mouth. Here we face the opposite task, we must challenge our listening comprehension abilities by trying to understand old folks talking with a mouth full of Big Mac. I always like to observe the speech patterns and mannerisms of the extremely elderly, but I can’t decide if the 92 year old woman is discreetly covering her mouth when she smiles, or pushing her dentures back in.
A nearby shrine attracts the elderly people to Sugamo, and we briefly see the ceremonial cleansing of the temple’s statue with water, the figure is Jizo, the wise bodhisattva that protects the weak and innocent. The attendance at this McDonalds doubles on the days of temple observances, which by tradition are days of the month ending in the number 4 (the 4th, 14th, and 24th).
But none of this is within McDonald’s control, their clientele is a gift from the Gods. What McDonald’s is primarily concerned with is how to sell burgers to these customers most profitably. And we should observe closely, the simple transaction at a cash register is one of the most ritualized interactions in Japan. In such ritualized situations, any deviation from standard routine may cause confusion or even panic. This store has anticipated the quirks of their customers and adapted the process for them. For example, older customers are less familiar with English loanwords like chikin nagetsu so the menu substitutes the conventional Japanese word tori niku (chicken, literally “bird meat”). Drink sizes are not Large, Regular and Small, but the traditional dai, chuu, shou system. A magnifier is available so customers with failing eyesight can read the menu, it goes by the interesting name of mushi megane, literally “insect eyeglasses.” In English it is called a Fresnel Lens, apparently the circular ridges of the flat lens evoke the multiple lenses of an insect’s compound eyes.
There is an old saying in Japan, “okyaku-sama wa kami-sama,” the customer is God. So clerks must be particularly attentive to the everchanging needs of even the most demanding customers. One woman tests the patience of a clerk by changing her order even after it is rung up, she admonishes the clerk to listen more closely. Even a forgetful God that cannot remember an order issued moments ago, must be obeyed strictly.
The story closes with more interviews, everyone is happy and full of hamburgers. A woman in a rakish hat expresses her gratitude for being allowed to rest and relax here, she bows deeply with her hands clasped together as if in prayer, and smiles.