M is for Mendokusai

Got to wake up early tomorrow morning? Mendokusai! Relaxing at home but the TV remote is on the other side of the living room? Mendokusai! Went shopping but forgot something, so you need to turn around and walk the three feet back into the shop to buy it? Mendokusai!

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Mendokusai (面倒くさい) means ‘bothersome’. Or, if you don’t live in a Charles Dickens novel, it means ‘Pain in the ass.’

“Why is there no ass-pain app? Mendokusai!”

Nobody enjoys doing tiresome tasks or things which breaks one’s cozy and comfortable zen zone. The concept of ‘Mendokusai’ is definitely not exclusive to Japan. As a Brit the magic of making a smashing cuppa tea is almost outweighed by the mendokusai-ness of having to get off of the sofa in order to make it. Almost.

But mendokusai is fascinating because, far more than just being a word, it actually ring fences an important concept: the idea that the Japanese, more than any other nation on earth, love comfort and convenience, are constantly searching for ways to make their lifestyle more stress free and simple, and any exertion is seen as ‘mendokusai’.

A gross overgeneralization for sure, but the concept is there, albeit difficult to really notice unless you’ve lived in Japan for a while. The most obvious example is how there are vending machines absolutely EVERYWHERE. I mean, how wants to deal with the mendokusai of having to walk an extra fifty metres to the convenience store? I mean, sure convenience stores are also littered about the place (I have three within 3 minutes walk of where I live), but…well compared to the vending machine its mendokusai. Think of what I could do with those saved 2 minutes! My sofa isn’t going to sit on itself!

“Mission accompli-zzzz….”

Any staircase that is over ten steps long usually has an escalator running next to it. Fair enough, you might think – not everybody is up for nor physically able to scale flights of stairs on the metro – but again it’s the extent to which mendokusai is avoided that is eye-opening. Put it this way: I know of an escalator in the Tokyo Metro Asakusa station that covers a flight of about eight steps. The stairs are empty. The escalator regularly has a queue going some 15-people deep. And of those fifteen people, nearly all of them are quite clearly physically able to handle right steps. I’ll repeat that: EIGHT. STEPS. You’d think there was some allergy to attaining Gravitational Potential Energy or something (and if you got that joke, well played).

In these cases, the all-enveloping sense of avoiding mendokusai doesn’t really hit you until you return to your home country and realize you how convenient living in Japan is by comparison. The London Underground? When I took my in-laws there last year, I was stunned by the number of bloody steps we had to climb. Not literally bloody steps mind: London is only 20% like an Agatha Christie novel these days. But still.

Oh, and in supermarkets in Japan, they have little tables set up behind the tills where you can take your shopping and take your sweet time packing it up. I didn’t realize how wonderful this was until I revisited a supermarket in the UK and had to awkwardly stuff my bags at the end of the conveyor belt while the cashier glowered at me for holding up the queue. WHY DOESN’T THE UK HAVE THOSE TABLES?! MENDOKUSAI!


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