Originally posted on my main blog (maiawasthere.worpress.com).

I’ve lived in Japan for a good seven months already, which has given me a lot of time to notice things. Japan is known for being clean, welcoming, and quiet, which is very different from the culture we see in America. Because of that, I’ve noticed a few things that may seem small, but can be a big deal elsewhere.

1. Japan is all about personal space. It is also all about these little cars called K-cars (short for ‘compact car’?). In the States, you at least give the car ahead of you a good seven feet between you, but in Japan, if you can’t see the person in the car behind you, the better. You might have heard rumors that the police pray on foreigners who drive too close or stop too close to the car in front of them. This is not always true, unless it’s been a slow day, or they’re just looking for an excuse to pull you over. However, if you are too close to the car in front of you, you might notice a frowning face in the rear view mirror.

2. Another amazing thing that Japan has done, to parallel it’s obsession with personal space, is give a good amount of spacing between the crosswalk and the stop line at a stop light. You could argue that the people who striped the road decided to give that space to the bikes crossing, but they always end up crossing on the opposite side anyways. I have mixed feelings about this spacing. Whereas it makes me feel more safe as I’m crossing a busy intersection in Tokyo, it’s a pain in the ass at a stop sign, meaning you have to look in the mirrors or nose your car halfway out of the intersection just to see if there is a car coming or not.

3. Why not keep it going on the subject of cars? In the States, it is common for people to turn right, when it is clear, at a red light. In Japan, you must stop at a red light, and you are not allowed to turn. I mean, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road, so making a right turn would be pretty dangerous in this situation. The only exception is when you are in the middle of an intersection, the light turns red, and you are going too fast to stop. Another thing to keep in mind, you must always have your blinker on every time you turn. This seems pretty obvious, but if a policeman catches you, you could get a pretty hefty fine for not signaling. This also goes for one way roads. Look for signs or striping on the road. I would advise to look out for the popo, but surprisingly Japan is lacking in them in the rural areas.

4. Speeding in Japan seems to be no big deal. Like I just said, the police are severely lacking in rural areas. You can tell when there is a policeman around, because people will be driving closer to the speed limit than usual. If not, expect a good 70-80 KPH on a city road, and 90-110 on the freeway. Of course, if you convert these speeds to MPH, they would only reach to about 70, so that’s about the normal speed on a freeway. Most of the times, the roads are not marked with the speed. If they are, they are marked on the road instead of a sign. When not marked, use your best judgement, or just go the same speed as the car in front of you.

5. This might not seem like a big deal in the States, but it is somewhat of a lifesaver for the driver. Japan has some conveniently timed traffic lights. For the first couple of week after I moved here, I had no clue about this little trick. You know how you can tell that a light is about to turn green because the light on the crossroad just turned red? Well, in Japan, the crosswalk sign will start to blink a total of 6-8 times before turning red. After it is red for at least two seconds, the traffic light turns yellow, and then red. Some crosswalk signs will have a countdown. This is extremely handy for the driver, because it gives you a heads up that the light is about to turn red. So the next time you approach the light, look to the crosswalk signs to see if you should speed up or slow down.

6. I’m no stranger to getting strange looks as I walk down the street, drinking a bottle of water. Of course, you want to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to feel awkward about it. Unless your drink has a straw in it, meaning that it is meant to be drunk while mobile, then you better save your sip for a break in the shade. For some reason, the Japanese believe that drinking out of a water bottle, can, or anything else without a straw, is a safety hazard while walking. I was once drinking out of a water bottle while walking down the street in the town that I live, and an elderly lady stopped me and told me to stop. To go off of these facts, lord forbid you eat while you’re walking, you might as well go to the nearest shrine and pray. Eating while you are walking, driving, or just sitting on the public transportation, will give you strange looks from everyone. It’s not a law that you can’t do it, but to the Japanese, it is highly disliked. However, there is a loophole around this, just park it and eat it. Lord knows how many people park in front of a convenience store just to buy snacks and eat them all in their car right there and then.

7. Shopping in Japan is definitely not cheaper than in the States. It may seem cheaper because more zeros in JPY equivalent to less zeros in USD, but if you actually calculate the costs plus tax, it ends up being the same. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Instead, I’ve here to talk about the customer service. Here’s the scenario, you walk into UNIQLO and are instantly bombarded with “IRASSHAIMASE”. You are walking around the store, and everyone you meet who works at the store, “IRASSHAIMASE”. You’re kind of confused, and at this point, you just want to buy your shit and get out. You approach the register and the worker scans your items. The worker notices that you are carrying another bag, full of clothes that you just bought at H&M. The worker points to your bag and asks if you would like to put that bag inside a bigger bag. You say “fuck yeah,” pay, and walk out of UNIQLO with only one bag. A proud and successful shopper.

8. As an assistant English instructor in a Japanese junior high school, I am no stranger to the strange and awkward things that Japanese students do on a day to day basis. One thing I noticed is how quiet and timid the students are. You were probably expecting me to say that they are rowdy, but the discipline that these kids have are amazing. Everything seems to have a purpose, and everything seems so robotic. From the first day, students know where to sit, what to do during morning announcements, how to act, how to respond, what to say when they enter the teacher’s room. The only time they seem like normal kids is during lunch. After a while, it starts to get boring, but I’m sure that the teachers in America would love these kids.

9. You know those moments where someone does something awesome and you can’t help but to clap wildly and shout the occasional “Woo!”? Well, in Japan, you don’t do that. If someone does something awesome, you just sit, or stand, in your place and clap softly. I’m an instructor to about two-hundred students, and I can still hear cars driving by as they all clap in unison. The Japanese are known for not being loud, so the quieter the better. Even when they talk, it’s so quiet. There are times when I can’t even hear them, and they are talking at regular speaking volume. If you’re a foreigner and try talking to someone, they might just avoid you altogether.

10. This last one is for all those people who just love a good umbrella. Japan, and just Asia in general, are umbrella enthusiast. It's not like in Thailand, how if a single drop of rain hits your head, you're doomed for life, but it is more of a protector, a shield if anything. The Japanese always take it one step ahead when it comes to ominous clouds. One dark cloud in the sky and it's off to get the umbrella time! Sure, rain jackets exist, but it's just not the practical thing for them. The Japanese are also avid umbrella users when it comes to protecting their skin against the sun. Maybe not a full on rain umbrella, but cute and frilly umbrellas are mostly used by young children and older women in the summer. If you're not an umbrella person, there are always those UV protectant sleeves.


All in all, Japan is home to a timid and sometimes intimidating culture. Sure, you could say that about any culture, even America’s, but compared to all the other countries that I have visited, Japan’s culture suits me the best. All of the habits listed above seemed like a really big deal to me at first, but as I continued to adapt, I felt them getting smaller and smaller until they became imprinted into my everyday life.

For those who also live in Japan, if you can think of any other small things that could be considered a big deal in America, please comment below. What do you think of the list? Are these things that you could get used to if you were to move to Japan?

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Published by Maia Malanee