Home > Pre-Japan > The bread man cometh…

The bread man cometh…

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Just when you think you are beginning to miss physical contact in Japan, you are uncomfortably reminded why at times, it can be less than pleasant. As many of you may know, Japan is not a very touchy culture. Instead of shaking hands, they bow. PDA (Public Displays of Affection) is generally not acceptable, all of which leads to a very hands off culture. We were warned by the JET program before coming here that you may have a difficult time adjusting to having no physical contact whatsoever while you are in Japan, unless you happen to meet a very close Japanese buddy, or stay in contact with the fellow foreigners, who are all used to touching and being touched. Though it is not something I necessarily struggle with, it is something I notice from time to time, where I’ll go all day without said physical contact.

Today, I did not have such an issue.

Our story begins, as many of them do, with the bread man. And not just any bread man, mind you, a bread man lacking much of the social etiquette most Japanese have been ingrained with since birth. He has recently begun showing up at one of my schools every Wednesday during recess and selling bread to the teachers. By the way, soliciting in the schools is entirely legal here so there are business people coming in all the time to hawk their wares. Anyway, today the bread man came…eth. He opened the door to the teacher’s room and said in a loud voice: “pan o katte kudasai!” “Please buy bread!” He favors this phrase, and it would not be the last time I would hear it today. He then proceeds to the Vice Principal’s desk to inform the Vice Principal that he should buy bread. He then went to ask the Principal, but was told the Principal was not there (he had gone ice skating.) No matter, he went and checked anyway, only to proclaim to our surprise that he was, in fact, not there. Then, he spotted me. I had been doing my best to appear busy so as not to appeal to his senses, but alas me being the only white guy in the room tends to really hurt my chances to blend in. He came over to me and, placing his arm around my shoulders in a vice like grip, said: “bureddo!” Having literally NO idea what he was saying, I told him so: “Wakarimasen” I told him. “bureddo! Bureddo!” he continued until it dawned on me that he was not actually speaking Japanese, he was speaking English! “bread!” he was saying. I kindly and/or awkwardly informed him that I did not need bread at this time, after which he moved on to the next teacher. He did not place them in a vice like bear hug, however.

Each time another teacher came back from class for the next 15 minutes of recess, he went over to them and exclaimed: “pan o katte kudasai!” “Please buy bread!” What’s fascinating about this whole process is that his sales technique is flawless. EVERYONE buys bread from him. My theory is that whatever social etiquette he is lacking actually works towards his ability as a bread salesman, because he’s so pushy, and the other teachers so polite, they can’t say no and simply buy bread just to get him off their backs. They swarm the bread table and buy up everything they can just so that they won’t have to hear: “pan o katte kudasai!” another time. In America, this guy would have been kindly told to go do all kinds of nasty things with his bread, but here it’s actually a brilliant business decision. I don’t think that’s why he’s doing it, but that’s how it turns out.

We can compare this story to yet another soliciting event I experienced at one of my smaller schools a few weeks ago. This time, sales people from the “Yakult company” came by to sell their various dairy products. In direct contrast to the bread man, they sold nothing. Here’s why: They came into the teacher’s room very politely, set up their wares at a spare table, and stood, silently, for 10 minutes. They never even announced who they were or what they were doing there. It could have been an art exhibit for all I know. They stood in absolute silence for 10 minutes, and when no one approached them, they left again, simply saying: “See you again next time!” Politeness factor: 100. Effectiveness factor: -5. Bread man; politeness factor: fail. Effectiveness factor: epic.


Categories: Pre-Japan
  1. February 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Awesome post, I’m surprised he doesn’t move into something with a little higher profit like cars or something. BTW, how much was he charging for bread?

  2. Matheus
    February 17, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I never figured that accosting people would be a legitimate business practice, but I guess it really is all about: location, location, location 😀

  3. Kate
    February 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

    yeahhh after he physically dragged me to the bread and the other teachers shouted at him he leaves me alone THANK GOD! but i see him about 3 times a week at the moment! despite this the teachers at my schools are not as polite as yours (they were 2 years ago) and the women just giggle at is PAN KATTE KUDASAIIIIIII SENSEI, PAN KATTE KUDASAI!! but when he gets right in their face they ‘politely’ tell him to go away… more often than not he does (after accosting everyone of course)!

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