Tag Archives | japanese customs

The Remarkable Art Of Giving And Receiving Change In Japan

Oona McGee on the Japanese way of giving change:

This remarkable attention to customer service even extends to the handling of cash transactions in shops around the country. Akin to an art form, a simple payment to a store clerk in Japan will inevitably set off a series of steps and precise movements to satisfy the needs of both parties and respectively complete the exchange. Come with us as we take you through the steps of a simple transaction in Japan. The attention to detail and the clever reasons for it will surprise you.

11 differences between US and Japan

Update 7.7.2010 – Wow, I can’t believe this was promoted to one of the most popular articles. Why? Possibly the number in the title… I’m almost embarrassed by the contents. Not that anything is wrong, but the writing is not very good. But since some folks seem to be enjoying it, I’ll keep it around.

I get a lot of e-mails from people heading to Japan for the first time and looking for advice. My advice is normally “relax—everything will go much smoother than you think”. But I realize this doesn’t cut it for most people. So in an effort to address this a little, here’s a list of some of the biggest differences between Japan and the US. (note, altho these are numbered, the order is completely arbitrary and meaningless as I am coming up with these on the fly)

  1. Sniff. don’t blow. In the US it’s rude to constantly sniff when you have a runny nose. For God’s sake, just go blow already! But in Japan it is quite rude to blow your nose in public and sniffing is perfectly acceptable, and very common. No they aren’t trying to drive you crazy, the custom is just flipped from ours.

  2. Left side, please. In the US we drive on the right side of the road. In Japan, the left. No this isn’t because of the British. In old Japan, samurai walked on the left side of the road. They just continued to follow this when cars came in.

  3. Cute is in. Now everyone likes cute a little, but in the US we tend to pretend we don’t for fear of being sissy. Women are a little more open to it, but often not much. In Japan, tho, everyone embraces cuteness. Purses, bags, man-purses are all covered with stickers and stuffed animals, cell-phones have about a hundred and one cute anime characters or cartoon animals attached to them, car dashboards are home to so many stuffed animals one wonders how the driver can see, and Hello Kitty is everywhere (along with every other cute cartoon character of which a new one is created daily it seems like)

  4. People only eat fish and rice. Well… No, they eat just about everything we do in the US. If anything, they eat even more meat than we do. This one isn’t a difference at all, but we generally think it’s a major difference so I thought I would mention it. We have this image of Japan as basically vegetarian except for sushi. The reality is almost completely opposite. Meat is everywhere, even in white bread, and is more popular than fish. Also, the attitude is such that if you don\’t eat meat, you will get sick and die. Seriously. The general consensus is that vegetarians (not that any exist in Japan) are extremely unhealthy and in danger of malnutrition.

  5. Vending machines are everywhere. There are at least 10 vending machines on any given block, often more. In fact, with the birthrate now so low that the population is decreasing, analysts predict that vending machines will outnumber humans within 20 years. They are everywhere. In the city or the middle of nowhere, where you will find vending machines humming alone (fully stocked, mind) with no apparent power source just waiting for the lost traveler. They can contain: water, juice, pop, tea, coffee, beer, cigarettes, ramen, fresh fruit and vegetables, rice, porn, used high school girls’ panties (seriously! scary….), cute anime characters, cocoa, ipods, Korean slaves. No, just kidding on that last one. Maybe.

  6. School is 24/7. Kind of. School hours are about the same in Japan as in the US, 9 to 3 or thereabout, Monday to Friday. (tho this may be changing, as the government wants to add Sat school). But then students have club activity (basically required for everyone) for several hours after school, then most go to cram school (a kind of test prep school…  tests are important here) after that for a few hours until dark and also on Sat and Sun. So basically students are always in school. Yet you see them everywhere, roaming the city at every hour of the day. I have yet to figure out this paradox.

  7. No shoes in houses. Yeah, we all know this one. I wrote about it here if you want to read more. Exceptions are usually at work, department stores, and restaurants, tho even these might require you to take your shoes off if they are more traditional in nature.

  8. Girls avoid the sun like the plague. In the US, everyone wants to be tan. We lay outside cooking, we pay people to cook us, we even buy lotion that makes our skin look more cooked. In Japan, it’s completely opposite, at least for the ladies. Some don’t care and some do actively seek tans, but the vast majority always carry parasols (sun umbrellas), wear hats, wear long gloves that cover the hand and arm, wear long pants (or a long dress), and put on tons of sunscreen anyways, just in case some slips thru. White, pale skin is definitely the ideal that everyone strives for. An amusing side of this is that in the winter women tend to wear less clothes than in the summer. Shorts in the winter, long pants in the summer…. Only in Japan.

  9. Slurp that soup! Slurping is rude in the US; but rather expected here. Weird, eh? More here.

  10. Smoking is everywhere. Y’know that memo the West got a number of years ago that smoking is bad for you? Yeah, Japan missed it. Something like 148% of the population here smokes, constantly, and everywhere. I think Starbucks is about the only smoke-free area in the entire country. This is thankfully changing, but changing at a snails pace.

  11. Drinking is everywhere. In the US, drinking is of course popular, but there is something of a stigma attached to it. Here, nope. Everyone drinks, constantly, even more than they smoke, which is also constantly, so to do this they have to break the laws of physics, but.. well, Japanese are good at math. Beer has displaced sake as the drink of choice, but it is all good to the average Japanese guy. Men are considered weak and untrustworthy if they don’t drink, and can actually lose their boss’s favor and lose out on promotions if they don’t drink with him. This leads to some men who actually don’t drink faking it. They replace beer with tea while their boss isn’t looking, drink it quickly and then act drunk. Often their boss is too drunk to notice anything is amiss so it works.

That’s all for now. To all you expats who keep finding this site, be sure to add any in the comments if I missed anything important (which is likely).


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