Reliving Japanese Customs and Culture – Part 1

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Returning to my second home …

I had been living in Tokyo for 2 years on a working holiday visa until it ran out back in May 2018. Japanese customs and culture, I wondered if I would forget it all as I had to leave my life in Japan and returned home to Sydney. Yet, before I knew it, 6 months flew by and now here I was back in Tokyo again.

Even just after arriving at the airport, where I could still feel that strange aura that I felt when I first came to Tokyo! A few minutes later and I had started picking up on the cultural differences, and the way the Japanese do things differently (and ever so politely).

Why we’re here

So maybe you’re planning on coming here for the first time? I’m here to tell you why Japan is completely different. In fact, I might even help save you from that embarrassing moment? Or maybe you just want to be more culturally aware! Either way, read on and hopefully, I could be of some assistance!

The cultural experience pretty much starts once you get off your plane, you will be greeted by many of the Japanese staff bowing to you. Don’t misunderstand, you didn’t become royalty overnight. This is simply their way of saying hello and welcoming you to their country! Completely ignoring them isn’t rude at all either. You’re also welcome to return the greeting by doing a small bow back.

Escalators and Travelators are a thing

The next thing you’ll probably encounter is at an escalator, most likely along the flat platform travelators if you’re still in the airport. The polite thing to do here is to wait to the left-hand side like most people. The right-hand side is more like an express lane for people who don’t have a spare few seconds. You’ll be surprised how many of these people you can actually find in Tokyo, especially during rush (peak) hour. Kyoto also follows the same general custom. In Osaka however, the system is reversed, meaning that you stay to the right side, allowing the left side traffic to pass (or rush) by.

You managed to make it through immigration and customs, and you have arrived at the train station in one piece? Congratulations!

All aboard!

You’ll then notice straight lines being formed on the platform (the Japanese love to line up). Once the train arrives and the door opens, everyone in line will continue to stand there. They allow a few seconds for anyone getting off the train first. Then, once it’s clear, everyone will start to board.

One thing I cannot stress enough is to keep your phone on silent or vibration mode only when using any kind of public transport. This is due to the fact that it’s considered very rude if your phone makes any kind of ring or alert sound! Most trains and buses will usually make a point about this, with their general signage too.

This is not to say you cannot use your phone, just take care when scrolling through social media. Also, if you’re worried about auto video playback, use your earphones or headphones, just to play it safe.

Talking on your phone is also deemed incredibly rude. However, talking to your friend next to you is fine (not too loudly of course). This may seem a little strange at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly! I’ve also witnessed some Japanese people go off at others for talking on their phone, so I warn you now.

The life of convenience

Time to buy a snack from a convenience store? These places carry the true meaning of ‘convenience’. They pretty much have everything you could ever need in a small store no bigger than a 20m² floor. Yes, it’s quite small so therefore you may see different behaviour inside the store.

Obviously, stores in the main districts of Tokyo such as Shibuya, Shinjuku and the like could be a considerably different experience. These areas plus huge events like Summer festivals and Hanami. During these events everyone one will be going berserk inside the store too. However, outside these cases, most of the time there will be maybe 2-3 other customers in there with you. So, if you see someone browsing in an isle and you need to get past them, it’s incredibly rude to just graze past them. What most people will do is go down a completely different aisle, just in order to go around that person. Alternatively, if the store is full, a simple ‘sumimasen’ (Excuse me), will suffice as you juggle your way past.

The other thing about convenience stores is that most people will actually eat inside the store, where seating is provided. Either that or just outside the store. The Japanese also consider it extremely rude to be eating while walking outside. Hence, the garbage bins located outside most stores. Encouraging you to throw out your trash before leaving the store area.

And that’s just a summary of what to expect on your first day or so. In our second part, we will look at your next few days to a week while journeying through Japan.

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