Jul 31, 2018

Japan's Curious Sense of Discretion

So I went to the Welcia (the drug store) yesterday to pick up a few necessities.  Among them was some feminine products I was stocking up for my wife.  I'm not one of those guys who gets embarrassed by picking those up in the shop--I mean, it's a normal thing that half the population of the world have to consider for most of their lives.  Besides, who the heck would give you a hard time for shopping for those things anyway?  I don't even know how you could begin to insult somebody for that.  

But that leads me to my thought for this blog, because take a look at these bags from the store:

Japan's Curious Sense of Discretion photo

You'll notice that one is blacked out.  That's the one that had the feminine products placed in it.  And I've seen stores use those types of bags for a number of different types of products (including the likes of pregnancy tests, from my wife's experience), though I am curious as to what the full list of "black bag items" would include (anybody out there know?).

So here's the thing I was thinking about this: the black bags actually draw attention.  If the store had simply placed the feminine products in a clear plastic bag, it's not like anyone would have been able to read the label through the translucent plastic anyway.  They basically would have had to get up close and stare.

But with the black bags, it invites curiosity.  People could see it and say, "Ooo...there goes Genkidesuka, I wonder what he bought that had to be put in a BLACK bag..."

But I suppose the black bags arrive at the intersection of two aspects of Japanese society: discretion and omotenashi.  The stores want to be discreet, so they offer something to that prevents people from seeing what you purchased.  But they also want to show that they are being discreet, so they offer something that's completely on the nose.  Those two things don't really go together though.  You can't be overly hospitable with your discretion, because then you're not being discreet anyway.

I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it.  But what about you all?

What do you think of the black bags?  Necessary?  Inviting curiosity?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).


  • edthethe

    on Jul 31

    Ok, so, until coming to Japan I was never embarrassed about buying tampons or condoms or pregnancy tests or such. But then I lived next door to the school I taught. This meant that if I went to the drug store, the whole school knew. There was a time where the nurse at school came to have a talk to me about my period because the students saw me picking up tampons and I guess she thought she was being polite. Those black bags became a godsend when I needed to buy things other than tampons.

  • genkidesuka

    on Jul 31

    @edthethe no way!!! That is ridiculous!!! Well jeez, now I get why they are necessary. Sheesh, I guess I should be glad that we’ve never had to deal with folks sticking their noses in our business like that!

  • edthethe

    on Jul 31

    @genkidesuka When you are a teacher, you become a role model and that means you have to live the life of a celebrity. Anything you do the kids will know about and the teachers will judge you for.