Seat Cover on the Tokyo Metro

What: A Plastic Cover on a Dirty Seat

Where: Tozai line, Metro car

Translation: This seat is dirty so please other seats.

This was the first picture I took in Japan, and the more I learn about the culture the more I see this image as the anchor for all of my Japanese experiences. What does it say about a culture when they invest money into plastic covers that inform others that the seats are dirty? The more I think about it the more I understand that the purpose of the plastic seat cover was never to let the passengers know that the seat is dirty – passengers can see that it’s dirty. The purpose of the seat cover is to show the passengers that the Metro authority is aware that the seat is dirty. It’s not a promise that the seat will soon be clean, but merely that the Metro authority is not ignorant of the fact that sometimes seats on trains get dirty. I’m still not sure how much further I can explicate this phenomenon, and to the credit of the Metro authority this was the first and only time I saw the plastic seat cover, but it’s an image that comes to haunt me in my dreams because in a sense it plays up the stereotypical, polite Japan. If I was to stretch the metaphor: the plastic seat cover is a literal tatemae, while the (presumably) dirty seat underneath is the honne. I guess this really isn’t a scientific way of approaching anthropology, but I’ll take it.


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