clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

VIDEO: Japan is so much better than Americans at shopping lines

If you are an American, then odds are you are spending some significant chunk of today fighting your way through unpleasant, stressful, and chaotic shopping lines. Those shopping lines are bad year-round, of course, but there's something about Black Friday to really drive their horribleness home.

There's a better way. There's a better kind of line. And it's in Japan.

Watch this time-lapse video of patrons lining up at Comiket, a regular comic book festival in Tokyo, and just marvel at the order of it all. (They're lining up to enter the festival, one chunk of people at a time.) The experience looks easy, even downright pleasant, and most amazing of all appears entirely self-organized. I challenge you to find a single person cutting, lagging behind, or otherwise disrupting the — frankly beautiful — order of it all. Skip ahead to 2:10 to really see the line in action:

Obviously not every single line in Japan is going to be this orderly. But it is broadly true that line culture varies from city to city and country to country; it's a small but often fascinating expression of how people interact with public spaces. And it's true that Tokyo and Japan have earned reputations for line cultures rivaling even the British and German love of queuing.

To be clear, obviously it is not the case that any one group or culture is somehow innately better or worse at forming lines. Culture is in many ways just the expression of collectively shared rules and assumptions. And, in Japan, it's actually not difficult to find possible roots of this unusual predilection for formal and orderly lines: disaster preparedness education. Japanese students are drilled, and drilled heavily, from a very young age on how to prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis, which are common there. That preparedness necessarily includes a lot of being taught to form quick and orderly lines. And maybe that helps explain why, if you travel to Tokyo, you'll find lines to be generally much more on the efficient end of the spectrum.

If you're reading this in the United States on Black Friday, though, and if you should dare to venture to a shopping mall today, that contrast is going to be especially clear to you.

Go deeper:

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.