The Japanese are not ones to leave anything to chance, particularly when it comes to courtesy and etiquette. The best-known example is the all-purpose Japanese gesture, the bow.

A bow is just a bow, you say? Well, think again. Depending on whether the intended meaning is greeting, deference, simple apology, or deep regret, the depth of a bow is precisely calibrated. And as any Japanese schoolkid knows, if a situation demands a full 45-degree bend, only the coarsest barbarian would settle for a mere 5, or even 30 degrees.

And then there are the white gloves. Your taxi driver wouldn’t dream of getting behind the wheel without a pair. Your train engineer may sport them too, as will the men tasked with stuffing you into your subway car when there doesn’t seem to be room for a single additional soul. And by the way, those gloves had better be spotless.

Now it’s your smile they’re after. Just in case you were silly enough to think smiling is a talent one is born with, a railway company in Tokyo is using state-of-the-art technology to ensure that its employees not only smile at customers, but smile properly.

Here’s how it works: A video camera captures an image of the employee’s face. The face appears on a screen, highlighted in a small frame. By measuring the curvature of the mouth, the system’s software determines whether the employee’s smile is sufficiently enthusiastic and grades it accordingly.

Low scorers, of course, are expected to put earnest effort into improving their smiles. And knowing the Japanese, they will.




DanBing has lived in one Asian country and traveled in various others, engaging in activities that ranged from teaching English to playing Irish music to researching articles to marrying. The best part was usually the food, though the marriage hasn’t been too bad either. But of all his many accomplishments he is perhaps proudest of his close–extremely close–association with the person who wrote The Devil’s Food Dictionary: A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies (