Pass me the tissues (whether I like it or not)

You want to get people to come to your new store in the competitive retail market of Tokyo, but what’s a cheap way to let commuters know you exist?  Pamphlets?  Please, no-one reads those.  The trick in Tokyo is add some utility to your ad by printing your pamphlet on a small pack of cellophane-wrapped tissues.

Then, recruit some people to hand them out to passers-by, hopefully driving up visitors to your beauty salon / pachinko parlour / restaurant.  People like this person:

While waiting for a connection at the train station, I watched this guy for about ten minutes prowling around the peak-hour throngs for marks.  There was something about his enthusiasm in the face of concentrated, fierce indifference which was inspiring and saddening at the same time.

It’s definitely not an easy game, and I even feel sorry for the people who do this to earn a few bucks.  Of course, you’re not the only one with free tissues on offer, and Tokyoites have become quite immune to proffered paper goodies.  The usual response is:

…being totally ignored.  No eye contact, no polite refusal, not even a subtle hand gesture or awkward half-smile and a whispered “Thanks, but…”.  An utter refusal to acknowledge that the person with their hand stretched out in front of you exists.

Of course, for hardened Tokyo dwellers, this attitude can prove hazardous overseas.  While in Sydney for a conference with a Japanese co-worker, we cut through the perfume section of a department store.  Following a couple of feet behind him, I watched him glide through the store, using his instilled technique of looking neither left nor right at the ladies politely offering him fragrance samples.  For his troubles, the back of his head experienced the fearsome radiation of a room-full of death stares.

To summarise: free tissues – advertising; Tokyoites – immune to free tissues featuring advertising; putting yourself into the shoes of a continually shunned tissue hander-outerer: kind of depressing.


One thought on “Pass me the tissues (whether I like it or not)

  1. I used to do the quick “no thanks”, but I’ve now apparently become part Japanese – no eye contact, no response, just go past. This was in retaliation to the “attempt handshake, start conversation” method that some hawkers decided was an awesome idea.

    Positioning yourself slightly behind and on the opposite side of another innocent pedestrian works pretty well too – they get the contact attempt, and usually the person-to-be-avoided can’t recover fast enough to try it with you.

    I wonder how much combined effort has been put into avoiding contact with people trying to sell/give you rubbish.

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