Afraid to Enter

by

Behavior of visitors to the Board of Education office is very peculiar. First you may wonder what kind of visitors we get. My initial expectation would be that school administrators and the occasional parent would come in; however, in Japan the Board of Ed. handles all sorts of public education, sports activities, and so on. As a result, we get all manner of visitors from meeting hall and exercise facilities, insurance companies, sports equipment salespeople, people planning events, etc.,

When people arrive at our office they often make a timid knock at the door, and stand a little back in the hall; where it is almost impossible to make them out through the reflection in the window. Customarily, the secretaries and I will call out to them with a loud, “Konnichiwa!” (or, “Ohaiyou Gozaimasu”; depending on the time) in hopes that they will enter. Occasionally our coaxing voices and looks are not enough, and one of the secretaries will go to the hall, interrogate them about their business, and force them to come inside and go about it.

A few months into my position here, I asked what they were afraid of and got a clear answer. (No, it wasn’t because a foreigner was in here.) Most public offices are set-up with a counter that separates the public area from the public workers’ area. Behind the counter are islands of desks, and nobody should go there unless they have a desk there. Normal procedure is to: approach the counter; wait to be addressed; state your business; wait for the appropriate staff to be summoned; complete your business. At very large or formal offices you have to approach the proper section of the counter.

Our office is one room with one long island of desks and no counter. Our lack of counter frightens people into their timid behavior. There are some offices that general public has no business being in, so they have no counter. Our office may appear to some as falling in that category.

Once we get them past the sill, everything changes. Guests are offered chairs and coffee or green tea, depending on the time of day. While we are serious about getting the work done, there is a tremendous amount of joviality. People who appear in our office regularly find it very inviting; and, I have the suspicion that a few guests hunt for a reason to be here.

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