Japan is a country unlike any other in the world.
Whether you are from the UK, the USA, Germany, Russia, China, or any other country, you are going to be in for a shock when you come to Japan.
My mission today is to prepare you for culture shock in Japan. First I will analyse exactly what makes Japanese culture unique.
I am going to give you some ‘cheat codes’ to hack Japan.
Then I will compare it to countries such as the UK, the USA, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Spain, and China.
Some countries will share commonalities with Japan in some areas, whilst other countries will experience a huge difference.
The negative effects of culture shock are more likely to occur in some expatriates but not others.
There’s also going to be lots of cool graphs that compare how these countries compare to Japan
in regards to things like Individualism, Masculinity, and Indulgence.
After that, I will give you some practical tips for assimilating with the culture.
We’ll talk about tipping (spoiler: never do it), masks, earthquakes, staring, and the toilet situation, among many others.
I will also give you a handy tip for getting around the city of Tokyo (a tip I desperately needed when I arrived in Japan).
Understanding the culture is the first hurdle to overcoming culture shock.
If I can show you how Japan’s culture differs from your own, I believe I will enhance the enjoyment of your trip 10000%.
Feel free to skip to the bits that most interest you or you can read it all the way through.
Let’s talk a bit about adjusting to a different culture.
Many sociological studies confirm that there are generally three phases of cultural adjustment. They are:
The Honeymoon Phase (e.g. Excitement and Confusion)
Oh, WOW! So many noises! Look at the lights! I don’t understand a word people are saying!
What is this food?! Oh, wow, it’s delicious! It’s beef tongue? No way!
Why are there so many coffee machines?! I’ve seen fifty in a row! What the heck?
That woman is pushing two dogs in a baby stroller!
And I’m the only person not wearing a mask! Is there a deadly virus outbreak?
Difficulty Accepting the Culture Phase (e.g. Homesickness and Culture Shock)
I’m sick of people staring at me. Why is everything in kanji? Why can’t I talk on the train? I want to go home.
Acknowledging the Requirements of the Culture (e.g. This Place is Normal)
Just another day. I think I’ll grab a bento from the konbini and then hit the izakaya after work.
The Honeymoon phase can be super short or super long. It depends on the individual.
Everything is so new, exciting, and exotic, and you want to learn everything about the country.
After a while though, maybe a few months, maybe a year, you can start to have difficulty accepting the culture.
This also can be super short or super long.
The people who suffer from this phase for a long time
usually are rejecting the culture.
They contest the country’s way of doing things and think about how things were done better in their country.
I met a lot of people who were in this phase.
They said that they started having difficulty after a year and many of them experienced difficulty for many years.
If you stop rejecting the culture and open your arms wide to it, you will come to accept it.
This means learning the language and adopting the traits considered appropriate by the country’s natives.
Sometimes a very interesting thing can happen when certain individuals return home.
They actually experience culture shock in their own country.
They become so enamoured with the way things are done in the new country that their own culture just doesn’t make sense anymore.
If you want to avoid culture shock,
think of yourself as a ‘Citizen of the World’
Being a citizen of the world means that you do not accept any one country’s ways as ‘the best’.
This means opening your mind to different perspectives and truly understanding other cultures.
This is a difficult but a valuable skill in this global world.
The ‘Citizen of the World’ can eat rice in a restaurant in the UK and use a fork.
Then they hop on a plane to Japan and hold the rice bowl in one hand and chopsticks in the other.
Then they can hop another plane to Thailand and make sure that they do not touch the rice bowl
and use a spoon to eat, lowering their head to the bowl.
Then the ‘Citizen of the World’ can hop yet another plane to India and use their hands to eat rice or scoop it up with naan bread.
The ‘Citizen of the World’ might find this challenging
but they accept the challenge with glee and enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of another.
This is the essence and fun of travelling. Someone who is not a ‘Citizen of the World’ might reject the different ways of doing this.
They might say ‘this is stupid. The correct way to eat rice is with….[whatever their country does]’.
This type of person is likely to experience severe and prolonged culture shock
and have difficulty adjusting to the way of life in another country.
Note: being a ‘Citizen of the World’ does not mean that you reject your own country.
It is important to be proud of where you come from,
bring your traditions with you to other countries and educate anyone who shows interest,
but, first and foremost, being a guest in another country means you should make every attempt
to do what is considered polite in that country.
Now, let’s have a quick look at Japan’s culture. Then we will compare it to a few others.
Then we will get into the little details and I will give you some valuable advice.
‘Culture is defined as the collective mental programming of the human mind
which distinguishes one group of people from another’
– Geert Hofstede
Geert Hofstede is a Dutch sociologist who devised the ‘Cultural Dimensions Theory’.
This theory basically says that each country in the world has its own unique ranking on 6 different dimensions.
These dimensions create the cultural framework that dictates how people act.
Hofstede has a great tool online where you can see the ranking of different countries
and compare them to each other to see how their cultures differ.
We have the cheat codes for the game of culture. Now let’s hack Japan!
If you are kind of nerdy like me, you might like to think about these rankings as cheat codes for a computer game.
Understanding these rankings will help you understand what cultural aspects will give you the most difficulty.
The 6 values are listed below.
You can skip past the definitions and go straight to the stuff about Japanese culture if you like.
- Power Distance –
The extent to which the less powerful members of institutions
and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally’.
- Individualism –
‘The degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members’.
- Masculinity –
‘The fundamental issue here is what motivates people,
wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine)’.
- Uncertainty Avoidance –
‘The way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known
– should we try to control the future or just let it happen?’
- Long Term Orientation –
‘How every society has to maintain some links with its own past
while dealing with the challenges of the present and future’.
- Indulgence –
‘The extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses’.
This is Japanese culture in a graph
Japan is practically a hierarchical society
The Power Distance score of 54 shows that societal position is very important in Japan.
In the workplace, the opinion of one’s superiors is of the utmost importance
but it is also important that decisions have group approval.
This goes hand-in-hand with Japan’s low ranking on the Individualism scale. Japan is a collectivist society.
Group harmony is more important than any one individual.
We can see this in the Japanese language:
[Sou desu ne]
This final particle ‘ne’ is extremely common and has the inflection of seeking approval.
In Japan, you will rarely receive a direct ‘no’.
If you make a request of someone and they wish to turn it down, they are likely to say ‘maybe’ or ‘it would be difficult’.
If you get this response, don’t push on seeking a ‘yes’. It will make the other person uncomfortable.
A personal example of group harmony in Japan:
I was crossing the street in Shirokane-Takanawa whilst the light was still red.
There were no cars around for miles, so I thought it would be safe to cross the road.
This is extremely common in England and other European countries. However, this is extremely uncommon in Japan.
Japanese people wait until the pedestrian light turns green
before crossing, even if there are no cars around.
But, here is what happened when I crossed the road at the wrong time:
A whole bunch of Japanese people started to cross the road too!
They saw that I was a 外人 [gaijin] or foreigner and that I clearly did not know the rules.
But they did not want me to feel alone when crossing the road.
My crossing the road at the wrong time threw out the harmony of the group
– Sorry, I didn’t know!
So the Japanese people crossed the road with me in order to restore the group harmony. How nice is that?
Face is extremely important in Japan – build other people up and tear yourself down.
This concept of ‘face’ is quite foreign to most westerners. It is very common in Asia and Japan is no exception.
In the English-speaking world, we understand ‘face’ through the concept ‘saving face’.
A great many behaviours and rituals are built around saving face in Japan.
In Japanese you can build other people up by lowering or humbling yourself through respectful language.
You can also humble yourself by rejecting compliments or denying your abilities.
If someone says you are good looking in Japan, an appropriate response is
‘no, no!’ いえいえ Be sure to give a compliment straight back to them.
Gift-giving is an extremely important ritual in Japan. Japanese has a phrase that accompanies the giving of gifts:
This basically means that you are giving them something unimportant.
Even if you are giving something expensive, always say that it is not very important or special.
Another area in which you are likely to see the importance of face is when you ask someone if they speak English.
Most Japanese people, particularly authority figures like police, will say すこし [a little]
in response to the question, even if they can only say ‘hello’.
It is important to compliment people on their great English,
just like they will no doubt compliment you on your Japanese (even if you can only say ‘konnichiwa’). Another reason people say they speak English when they don’t is because they want to help you as much as they can.
‘No’ is a very harsh word and they don’t want to dismiss you.
Now let’s look at masculinity. Japan has a score of 95, which is very high.
Japan is one of the most masculine societies in the world.
This may shock you but it’s true. It’s just hard to see initially because Japan displays its masculinity in a very specific way.
Masculine cultures are those cultures driven by competition, highly motivated to succeed in business, and thirsty for success.
However, because Japan is a collectivist society, desire to succeed is rarely a personal or individual thing.
Japanese people want to succeed as part of a company.
They want their company to be the best. They want to deliver the best service.
They are proud of their boss. They are proud of their co-workers.
They will work long hours and fall asleep at their desks because they are driven to make their company the most successful.
The result of this is that Japan has one of the best service industries in the entire world.
The customer is God.
It is important to talk a bit about Japanese service because it is completely different to almost anywhere else in the world.
In the UK, the US, and Canada, good service involves having a smiling waiter/waitress
continuously checking up on you to make sure everything is okay.
Good service in these countries means that the menu, food, and bill are all promptly delivered before you even have to ask.
The problem is, if you go into a Japanese restaurant expecting this, you will be very shocked. Good service in Japan is like this:
- You enter the restaurant and are seated.
The waiter/waitress provides you with the menu, then leaves you alone.
- You either ring a bell/push a button on the table
and the waiter/waitress will come running over to take your order.
If there isn’t a button, shout すみませんand get their attention.
- The food will be delivered promptly and it will be delicious but they will leave you alone.
If you have a problem, call them over. They wish to leave you in privacy to enjoy your meal.
- Leave whenever you are ready. Stand up, walk to the counter, and pay the bill there.
Don’t tip. If the meal was good, say ごちそうさまでした.
Japan ranks high on the Uncertainty Avoidance scale.
Japan is one of the most uncertainty avoiding countries in the world.
Japan is constantly under threat from earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, and typhoons.
As such, Japan is also the most prepared country in response to these disasters.
Japanese people know what to do when disaster strikes.
The skyscrapers are built to be earthquake-resistant and withstand shocks from even the mightiest earthquakes.
They have every possible safety measure in place so as to protect them from natural disaster.
Japanese people like order and structure because disaster threatens at any moment.
The streets in Japan are the cleanest in the world. People are totally silent in the train.
People queue for everything. Manners are of the greatest importance.
In Japan, there is a sense of everyone working together just in case disaster strikes.
And trust me, if you are in trouble in Japan, someone will help you.
Japan also has a high score for Long Term Orientation.
This means that Japanese people see themselves as a small part on a longer timeframe.
The concept of one God is foreign to Japanese people.
Japanese people have an incredibly good moral compass but this is not guided by religion.
The main religions of Shinto and Buddhism have ritualistic and decorative significance
but Japanese people rarely give serious thought to an afterlife or the idea of one true God.
Japanese people see themselves as part of a long tradition
and do not put excessive importance on the events of any one individual.
On the final ranking, we can see that Japan scores low for indulgence.
Japan is a culture of restraint.
Societies with a restraint-based culture do not put much value in leisure time or indulging one’s desires.
Work takes the top priority in the lives of many Japanese people.
It is also not a good idea to show too much emotion, particularly negative emotion, in public.
Japanese people are generally stoic and have a life attitude of しょうがない when something bad happens.
Now let’s look at how Japan compares to other countries.
Japanese culture compared to American culture
There are some big differences here. One of the biggest differences is on the Individualism scale.
America is an individualist culture.
In America, the right of the individual is emphasised over the right of the group.
Competition in America is often between individuals rather than between groups.
Obviously there is heated competition between groups like sports teams but generally there is a ‘Me vs. You’ culture in the States.
Workplaces have hierarchies but these are in place for convenience and do not imply any difference in rights between individuals.
In America, you can speak to your boss and coworkers in a much more casual way than you could in Japan.
Many American workers are on first name terms with their bosses. In Japan, this could get you fired.
America also ranks highly on the masculine scale but this masculinity manifests itself in a different way from Japan.
This masculinity is all about the drive and success of the individual.
Americans love stories of individual success.
Japanese love stories of group success.
This can be seen in American movies. One of the most popular plot types is the ‘rise and fall’.
This type of movie shows the success of the individual primarily with less emphasis on the group.
Check out Scorsese or Tarantino movies if you want to see great examples of this type of movie.
America ranks low on the Uncertainty Avoidance.
America is not as prepared for disaster as Japan is (although this has changed in recent years)
and this translates to Americans generally being more open-minded about new ideas, practices, and ways of doing things.
America is also low on Long Term Orientation in stark contrast with Japan.
This can be seen in the American culture’s strong religious identity,
strong morals on what is good and what is evil,
and the individual’s need to experience results ASAP rather than on a long timeline.
Finally, America is a culture of Indulgence rather than a culture of restraint.
America has a work hard, play hard attitude. Work like a dog and drink on the weekends.
Japanese do drink hard but they often do this in a business context
(drinking with coworkers and the boss is a ritual integral to your future and position in the company).
America also has a lenient attitude towards certain drugs, like cannabis,
whereas Japanese people usually don’t even understand what drugs are
(except that they are bad).
Americans might find themselves prone to culture shock as many Japanese values
and practices are completely opposite to their way of life and what they know.
Next up: the UK.
Japanese culture compared to British culture
Just like America, Britain has a lot of cultural assumptions that differ from those of Japan.
Britain is slightly lower down on the Power Distance ranking than America.
Basically, hierarchy in England is not so important.
Sure, the country still has the royal family but there is no inherent belief that royalty is somehow better than everyone else.
Brits believe in fair play. They believe in the power of the individual and the irrelevance of background.
The UK sits quite close to America in regards to rankings like Individualism, Masculinity,
and Indulgence but it’s a bit lower on the Uncertainty Avoidance scale.
The UK doesn’t really have natural disasters.
Many Brits are happy to go with the flow and are comfortable in unstructured situations.
The British expatriate faces some of the same dangers as the American expatriate when moving to Japan.
But there are a few areas in which I believe that Brits are more similar to Japanese than Americans.
One of these areas is the British self-effacing attitude.
Brits knock themselves and their accomplishments down,
just like the Japanese.
Obviously things aren’t so clear cut in this respect.
Japanese are quick to humble themselves as individuals
but they would never speak disparagingly about their boss or coworkers.
In fact, quite the opposite. They will be proud of their company and its achievements.
British people knock themselves down, mostly when being humorous,
but they are also happy to knock others down (this is often done endearingly)
and they certainly aren’t averse to complaining about their workplace if it bothers them.
Next one: Russia/Россия.
Japanese culture compared to Russian culture
We can see in the Power Distance ranking that power in Russia is distributed extremely unequally.
This is a country where status is important and equality is not.
Russia is quite similar to Japan in that it is a collectivist society.
Who you know is extremely important in Russia.
How Russians treat their friends differs enormously from how they treat strangers.
Russians can be the the greatest friends in the world but the rudest strangers in the world.
Russians distrust people they do not know.
As such, a Russian expatriate will not have as much to adapt to
in regards to the team atmosphere in Japan as an American would have.
Russia is a feminine society in the sense that they expect authority figures to have modest lifestyles.
If you compare the salary of a Russian doctor to a Japanese doctor the difference will be huge.
Russia has much in common with Japan in regards to Uncertainty Avoidance.
Because of this, Russians will likely feel at home with the detailed planning that takes place in Japanese workplaces.
The takeaways from this graph is that a Russian is less likely to feel culture shock,
or will feel it with less intensity, than someone from the UK or the US.
Japanese culture compared to French culture
The French cultural framework is quite similar
to the Japanese cultural framework.
From the looks of the graph, a French expatriate in Japan
might experience less culture shock than an American expatriate.
French culture ranks similarly to Japan for Uncertainty Avoidance and Indulgence.
French people will value the structure and planning that is key to Japanese life.
They will value receiving extensive information, just like Russians, before a business interview.
French culture is also one more of restraint than indulgence.
Of course, the French often enjoy long lunches with wine and have a reputation for being passionate
but we need only look at French poetry, architecture,
and the layout of their public gardens to see that French people love order.
The French language itself is one of order and precision. French people take pride in uniform structure and cleanliness.
France has a feminine culture compared to Japan’s masculine culture.
We can see that French people take their social care and shared responsibilities very seriously
and a French expatriate in the Japanese workplace might be turned off by the intense sense of competition.
All in all, there are certain areas of Japanese life that a French person is likely to settle into very easily.
Japanese culture compared to German culture
Germany has extraordinary cultural similarities to Japan.
A German will feel very much at ease in Japan.
As we can see, Germans and Japanese share similar values in regards to
Long Term Orientation, Indulgence, and Uncertainty Avoidance.
A German will appreciate the orderly nature of Japan. They will also appreciate the great service they receive.
Germans are restrained, just like Japanese, and therefore
will fit in well to a Japanese work environment.
Likewise, a Japanese expatriate in Germany will be able to
assimilate themselves very well to the work environment.
Both cultures place a huge importance on punctuality. Germans will love the train systems in Japan.
However, it is my belief that Germans will love the train systems
but they also expect the train systems to be as orderly as they are.
A British expatriate in Japan is going to be more surprised at the train system
because the UK typically has bad punctuality in regards to public transport (particularly the London Underground).
Germany is a Masculine society like Japan but it has a different sense of success. Success is individually-driven and status is important.
This contrast might not be something the German expatriate likes about Japan.
Overall, it would seem that
Germans have less to prepare themselves for in terms of culture shock.
Japanese culture compared to Canadian culture
A lot that can be said about Canadian culture in relation to Japanese culture
will basically be a reiteration of the observations made for UK and US culture.
Canadians are more likely to suffer intense culture shock in Japan than Russians, French, or Germans.
Canadians value their free time, as much or more so than work.
A Canadian is unlikely to enjoy working in the Japanese work environment. Japanese workers often choose to stay at work all night than go home and play with their children.
A Canadian is much more likely to simply clock off from work and play ball with their kids.
Canada also has a highly individualist culture and a feminine culture.
The individual is of the utmost important but there is also great emphasis
on having social systems in place to look after those less fortunate.
The fact that most Japanese people do not share these values
might upset a Canadian in Japan and could be a lot to deal with.
Japanese culture compared to Australian culture
Once again, we’re going to see a lot of similarities here with the US, UK, and Canadian cultures.
An Aussie expatriate working in Japan is unlikely to enjoy the formality
that they are expected to use when speaking to their superiors.
In Australia, many workers will call their bosses ‘mate’, just like in the UK.
Do not call your boss ‘mate’ in Japan.
Australia ranks low on Long Term Orientation but Japan ranks high.
Australians believe in absolute truth, whereas in Japan,
the truth can change depending on the situation. This may be hard to adapt to.
Japanese culture compared to Spanish culture
Spain, like France, has a few cultural commonalities that should help the Spanish expatriate ease into Japanese life.
Spanish culture is one of restraint, almost as much as Japanese culture.
Despite a restrained attitude, Spanish people have a lower Long Term Orientation than Japan.
Spanish people don’t worry about tomorrow and they like to have relaxation time
specifically structured into the day (e.g. Siesta).
Spain is different from the majority of European countries because it is collectivist, just like Japan.
Spanish people place a lot of importance on teamwork and cooperation,
just like Japanese people, so there is not much to adjust to in that regard.
However, Japanese people don’t take siestas in the middle of the day (they usually sink into the bath late at night)
and are fuelled on coffee and very little sleep. Spanish people are unlikely to enjoy this part of Japanese culture.
Japanese culture compared to Chinese culture
The graph would suggest that Chinese people may have a harder time adapting to Japanese life, in many respects, than French or Germans.
China is collectivist, like Japan, but it is markedly more collectivist.
The Chinese expatriate in Japan might have trouble toning down their collectivist attitude
so as to move more towards Japan’s culture.
However, Chinese have great loyalty to whoever is in their group,
so if they are part of a work team, they are sure to get on well.
China is very low on the Uncertainty Avoidance compared to Japan, which is very high.
In China, following the rules is flexible and the rules, and exceptions to them, can change depending on the situation.
This is far from the case in Japan and Chinese people might have trouble understanding that the rules always apply.
A large plus for the Chinese expatriate in Japan is the shared kanji.
Of course, they have different readings and pronunciations
but the fact that Chinese people can understand most of the signs around them will help them to know what to do.
Now we’ve compared Japanese culture to a few different cultures from around the world,
let’s have a look at some general tips that you should know before you go to Japan.
Never Tip in Japan
Japan has some of the best service in the world but is not a tipping culture.
If you try to tip at a restaurant in Japan this is what will happen:
They will be confused. Very confused. If you leave your change behind, they will chase after you and give it back.
Japanese people take great pride in their work and they do not view tips as a reward for good work.
Tips are viewed as charity and it is seen as pitiable to accept extra money
for a service you should have already been providing.
If you want to show your gratitude for a good meal in Japan, you can bow,
say ありがとうございます or say ごちそうさまでした or おいしかったです.
Take Off Your Shoes
Before entering a Japanese person’s home, t
here is a little section right near the door that is lower than the rest of the floor.
This is called the 玄関 [genkan].
Take your shoes off here and put on the slippers that your host provides. I cannot stress how important this is.
Many Brits and Americans will not mind if their guest enters their house with their shoes on
but this is a grave social mistake in Japan.
There are also special slippers for when you wish to use the toilet. Make sure you use these too.
Also take your shoes off before entering temples and some traditional restaurants
(the kind with tatami) will ask you to take your shoes off at the door.
Tokyo is one of the busiest cities in the world with a high density population of 35 million people.
Despite that, it is also one of the cleanest cities in the world.
The Japanese word kirei-na means ‘beautiful’ but it is also used to mean ‘clean’.
Japanese people associate cleanliness with beauty. You will not see a shred of trash anywhere.
But you will also not see a trashcan anywhere. What’s going on here?
Well Japanese people simply take their trash with them.
They get rid of it when they go home or enter a restaurant.
There are trash receptacles as part of the same machine that dispenses coffee, tea, and snacks.
Most Japanese people will stop and stand next to these machines while they drink or eat
because it is seen as rude to do these things while walking
(the older generation thinks it’s on par with defecating while walking).
A quick heads up about smoking: it is illegal to walk and smoke at the same time in Japan.
There are designated public areas to smoke.
Many restaurants and cafes still have smoking (kitsuen seki) and non-smoking (kinen seki) sections.
Japanese people value their personal space and their quiet.
This goes back to Japan being a culture of restraint and group harmony.
Do not talk on your phone when you are on the subway, train, or bus.
You will get some very annoyed stares and will likely be told to turn it off.
Public transport is basically silent 95% of the time. Make sure you always keep a respectful tone whilst talking.
I would even suggest that you err on the side of too quiet, if you are unsure whether you are being too loud.
You will see this everywhere. This will be one of the first things you notice. And it will probably scare you.
Why the heck is everyone wearing masks? Is there an epidemic? The answer is no.
Masks have many functions in Japan. The first is general good hygiene.
When a Japanese person has a cold, they will put on a mask so that no one else gets it.
Many Japanese people will wear masks during cold season
or when they use public transport so as not to catch any germs.
There are other reasons that Japanese people wear masks.
One reason is kind of the same as why people in the West wear sunglasses even when it’s not sunny.
Some Japanese people think it looks cool or they wish to hide their faces.
Japan has earthquakes. A lot of earthquakes. 1,500 every year in fact. Many of these are just little tremors.
Many of these are moderate, enough to shake the room or wake you up but not knock anything off the wall.
Some of these are monstrous. The big ones are terrifying and can lead to tsunamis and other ill effects.
The good news is that Japan is the most well-equipped nation on earth to deal with earthquakes.
If you are ever going to experience a big earthquake, Japan is where you are safest.
The new buildings are built to withstand shocks even from a magnitude 9 earthquake.
You need to familiarise yourself with earthquake protocol and know where to go if an earthquake strikes.
You also need to register with your embassy
so your government can contact you and your family and even provide help if trouble strikes.
If you have a smartphone, it’s a good idea to get an app called Yurekuru.
This app will often be able to warn you ahead of time
(maybe a few seconds, maybe a minute) when an earthquake is about to occur.
This will at least give you some time to prepare and get yourself away from anything that could fall on you.
It is, however, quite unnerving to watch the countdown knowing that anything bigger than a 3 is coming.
If you are white or black you will get stared at. Sometimes even half-Japanese people get stared out.
This is most likely to occur with the older generation when you are in big cities.
In rural areas it will happen with everybody.
There is a misconception that these stares are racist or xenophobic.
That is not the case. Japanese people make up 98.5% of Japan’s population.
Many Japanese people (especially in rural areas) have never seen a foreigner in real life.
When Japanese people stare at you, they are doing so because they are curious. Insanely curious.
Do not feel offended.
There are a few things you can do in response. You can just ignore it or you can nod your head and smile.
This approach might not get a response because Japanese people are extremely shy.
They will be unsure about how to interact and may be worried because they cannot speak English.
Japanese children often stare at foreigners
and sometimes they will even work up the courage to say ‘hello’ in English.
If you respond back, they will likely laugh, hide their face in embarrassment,
or run away because they are too shy to continue the interaction.
Being a foreigner in Japan can often feel like being a minor celebrity.
There’s nothing you can do about this. Just enjoy the attention and be friendly.
Pasmo and Suica
These are the prepaid train and rail tickets that are popular in Japan.
Unless somebody specifically tells you about these,
you will probably end up buying single tickets until you figure it out yourself.
This can be costly and time-wasting.
Grab yourself a Pasmo and prepay whatever amount will see you
through the next few days, weeks, or months, and enjoy immensely effortless public transport.
Japan has the best toilets in the world. In houses and restaurants, that is.
These toilets will be electronic and you can open and close the lid by the push of a button.
These toilets will also talk to you (not extensively about philosophy or anything)
and can provide a multitude of functions (for example, water noises or music to mask bowel movements).
The main thing you should know is that these toilets have a button for a big flush,
which is indicated by the 大 symbol, and a button for a small flush, which is indicated by the 小 symbol.
You can probably guess the situation in which to use those buttons.
The second type of toilet you will encounter is the public toilet.
These can be difficult to get used to if you are coming from the West.
These are squat toilets.
Remember that the way you came in is often the way that you face, with the hood and hole in front of you.
Squat down and enjoy.
Don’t worry though! Most public places, like department stores, have the typical Western toilet.
This is a long article (about 6000 words) but it could be so much longer.
Discussing how cultures interact with each other is an extremely interesting topic and is definitely not one that can be completely covered in this article.
I hope this article serves as a way to give you some important tips and things to think about
and motivate you to learn more.
I also hope that this article helps you if you find yourself worried about culture shock.
You might even be experiencing culture shock right now.
It is completely normal and something that every traveller goes through in some capacity.
Just try to remind yourself why you are travelling in the first place and try to focus on a country’s good points.
Japan is most definitely a country that has a million things that make it amazing and unique
but sometimes travelling can make you miss home or feel confused. It’s all part of the experience.
But I believe if you are reading this article, you probably have a great interest in Japan
and therefore are unlikely to experience culture shock.
You are more likely to experience excitement and joy for what the culture brings.
I wish you the best of luck in your travels, wherever you go,
and hope that you are well on your way to becoming a ‘Citizen of the World’.
After all, isn’t that really the best citizenship of all?
– by Ben & Misa