Oct 2, 2013

A Few Quirks about Living in Japan

Ever wonder how the Japanese culture is different and unique?


If you're sick, or worried about becoming sick, you wear a mask over your face. A lot of people wear them when preparing food, too. When I first arrived all the white masks jarred me, but it's so common I don't notice it anymore.

Want Another Drink?

You don't pour a drink into your own glass, you always pour for others. If someone offers to pour you a drink, even if your cup is full, you should drink some of it so there is room for the other person to top it up. It's a part of the Japanese mindset that your happiness is derived from other's - if everyone around you is having a good time, you are.

A Big No-No: You Can't Say "No!"

Saying iie ("no") directly is considered rude. You have to use softer phrases when turning someone down. For example, if someone offers you a drink, you say "kekko, desu," as in, "thanks, I've had enough."

The Food

Some food found in Japan is just... weird. Why do they combine flavors that were never meant to be combined? Case in point: strawberry-topping on movie popcorn. Mayonnaise is also so popular it's put over nearly everything.

At a restaurant, there is usually only one menu per table. The waiter/waitress comes after you press a button on the table, letting them know you're ready. If there's no button, you simply shout, "sumimasen!" (excuse me!). They record your order in digital menu gadgets. It's so efficient!!


The average Japanese car comes in two sizes: yellow-plates (small, cube-shaped vehicles) and white-plates (an average American sedan). My car is a yellow-plate.

When parking, you back-up into your spot so you are facing out.

Gas stations have a full-service option (where have you been all my life??!!). That's going to be a life-saver come wintertime.

Show Me the Yen

When paying for something, you put the money on a small tray in front of the cashier - you don't hand money directly to someone.

French Culture

It's everywhere. Is it because it's the type of culture the Japanese wish they had? In a land of restraint and passive-aggressive conformity, the French characteristics of individual art, decadence, and fantastic food sounds pretty appealing.

There is a Character for EVERYTHING

From Wakutama-kun the onsen egg to your toilet paper, everything in Japan has a mascot. It's a part of the "cute culture." The problem is, the characters are not a representation of the history or item they represent. Seeing a cute figure of a castle in no way gives you the accurate background that the site was once an outpost in war, etc.

And so much more...

Of course there's more about Japan that makes it unique, but I have trouble bringing them to mind because they are now my everyday life. I was sitting with Mr. C at a beautiful restaurant with large lanterns and tatami mats. We ordered in Japanese from the kanji-only menu, then clapped our hands as we said itadakimasu ("thanks for the meal") before eating our udon at tables too low for our knees.

I remarked how amazing it was that this was our new normal. He looked at me confused and asked, "What's not normal about it?" We have become "Japonized." It's come to the point all these wonderful and frustrating quirks are now a part of me, and I know I'll miss Japan when I eventually leave.


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