Well, What’s It Like?: Cultural Observations

Two weeks in Japan and I’ve still only talked about myself. What about the actual country I’m in, infinitely more interesting than the musings of an utterly insignificant dude from LA? Well, here’s a list of various rules, behaviors, and attitudes I’ve witnessed and experienced in all my times here. It is in no particular order, and I will try to offer explanations where I can. If you like it and find it interesting, I’ll make more of these.

A delay certificate proving that my train was 20 minutes behind. 0 stars on Yelp!!

1. Punctuality is no joke. Trains are pretty much always on time to the minute. They’re so well known for reliability that, if your train is delayed, you can get a certificate to prove that yes, this is why you were late. Notice how in the above, you could even get one for a 10-minute delay.

2. Indoor smoking is still very much a thing. Even Wendy’ses have a smoking section (top left). Many small restaurants don’t even have non-smoking sections, they’re just smoking. Yet, Japan is #2 in the world for life expectancy. Secondhand smoke kills? Looks like it needs to step up the pace in Japan!

A message from the staff of Tsukuda Nojo when they heard I was from the US: “only your table had an exotic feeling and it was so charming.”

3. You don’t tip. Exceptional service comes only from the goodness of the staff’s hearts, and there’s plenty to go around. I’ve heard that they will chase you down should you leave a tip because they think you accidentally overpaid.

4. It’s very clean, even though public trashcans are almost non-existent. You can find trash cans only at malls, train stations, and inside convenience stores. Bathrooms often don’t have any, and there are pretty much zero anywhere on the street. Many people (including me) carry trash with them all day to dispose at home. Teachers even take their trash home from school.

5. It’s a very safe country. Of course, crime happens, but it seems very rare. Kids still walk home from school in the dark (though this is moreso in the countryside than the city). A taxi rear-ending a bus (no injuries) once made the news in Osaka because I guess there wasn’t anything else scandalous that day.


6. You bow a lot. You do it when meeting someone, to say hello, thank you, sorry, excuse me, to show respect, and more. Drivers sometimes bow to each other from inside their cars, which is honestly hilarious. There’s even deer at Nara Park who will bow to you! They do it only in exchange for treats, though.

7. Omiyage (souvenirs) are an expectation. If you go on a trip somewhere, especially an extended one, you are expected to buy souvenirs for everyone in your workplace. Something small, like individually wrapped cookies special to that region, for example, is fine. But you better do it!

8. Nomihodai (all you can drink) is more common than all you can eat. For under $20 per person at places like izakaya (a kind of casual restaurant) and karaoke bars, you can have all you can drink ALCOHOL for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Meanwhile buffets are pretty darn scarce.

9. There’s beer vending machines. They inexplicably don’t require any ID or age verification to use.

10. Vending machines are also everywhere. Nearly every suburban neighborhood has one, even if there are no stores, markets, restaurants, offices, etc. etc. nearby. Not beer though, sorry!

11. The address system is incredibly convoluted and bizarre. A typical address looks like this: Osaka City, Minami-Ibaraki Futamicho 661-99-4-301. Aside from major city roads, streets do not have names. Instead, cities and towns are divided into blocks, which are further subdivided into individual buildings. Buildings are usually numbered in the order they were CONSTRUCTED, so there’s no logical progression. Three buildings next to each other could be 661, then 802, and 47. Maps are still used a lot here, and GPS is even more of a godsend than it already is.

11. Being obsessed with anime, manga, or hentai are viewed the same way here as the rest of the world does. Old men dressing in schoolgirl uniforms (go to Shinjuku for that) and being a tentacle porn enthusiast are not celebrated here. The rest of society still sees such people as nerdy, or losers. That being said, you may see the occasional salaryman reading manga on the train but this is pretty rare.

12. Unwritten rules pervade all areas of life. Stand to one side for escalators, the other side is for walking. When you pay at a store, there is a little tray next to the register that you put your cash and change on (as in, you don’t hand it to them). You give and receive gifts with two hands. You exit the train in the middle, while you wait to enter it on either side of the door. You take your shoes off at someone’s house and face them outwards. You don’t leave chopsticks stuck standing up in your food or pass food directly chopstick to chopstick. You don’t blow your nose in public. When you’re in the elevator, you should control the doors if you’re the one standing next to the buttons. You don’t eat while walking or on the train.

These are just some of the millions of things that make Japanese society so utterly fascinating to people like you and me.

In my next post, I’ll delve more into the nitty-gritty, the little things about living in Japanese society.

5 thoughts on “Well, What’s It Like?: Cultural Observations

  1. people do Indeed read manga in Japan,now being an Otakus is completelly different thing.nowdays most people play games on their phone though,back in the 1990s manga was really huge.

    Now anime is completelly different beast,hardly anyone watch those outside of the animated films.


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