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Visitors to Japan are often perplexed or amused by some of its weird and wonderful customs: endless bowing and kneeling, slapping a face mask on at the first sign of a sniffle, the seemingly never-ending cycle of obligation-based gift giving. Then there are the differences between Japanese homes and those in other countries (I for one am sitting on the floor as I write this, eating potato chips with chopsticks to keep my keyboard clean). But how do Japanese tourists feel about the customs and habits of countries they visit?
A Japanese pamphlet offering advice to people travelling to America has surfaced on the internet, and it’s now been translated into English for you. Let’s take a look at some of the things Japanese people thought were weird about America, starting with … some crazy thing called “dinner plates”!
It is common in Japan to eat from many little dishes as the meal progresses (however, you might well use the same chopsticks for every dish – even dessert – rather than get new cutlery with every course). Anyway, despite the ubiquity of supposedly-American fast food in Japan, it seems many people are grossed out by actual American food. As for the “flat taste” and “no such thing as cuisine,” well, as a Brit I’d say that sounds more like something people like to tell me about British food.
Japan has the lowest crime rate of any industrialised country. Therefore, compared to home, any foreign country could seem terrifyingly dangerous. Of course, Japan has its fair share of people whose clothes say “pay attention!” too:
Jaywalking isn’t illegal in Japan, but even if there are no cars around and there’s a long clear view of the empty road, most pedestrians will wait patiently for the little green man before crossing. And as for Americans keeping exactly to the speed limit? The pamphlet writer obviously hasn’t heard that in any one year, one in six Americans will get a speeding ticket. Driving manners vary enormously within a country, too, so I’d like to know in which city the writer thought the drivers were so wonderful.
Hmmm. People everywhere like to get drunk. Some folks – lots of folks – drink too much. And Japan has a working culture bolstered by nomi-nication (bonding at work drinking parties). Slightly more Japanese people smoke (26 percent, compared to 18 percent of people in the US), and you can smoke in all kinds of public places in Japan. Perhaps the writer was having a bad case of nicotine withdrawal when they wrote this.
Japan’s long working hours are infamous, with unpaid overtime often a social (or contractual) obligation. For many people, that’s probably not massively conducive to making leisure time on weekday evenings. Not everyone’s life is the same, though! As a matter of principle, I refuse to accept any statement that begins, “in (country name), we believe …”
In the last month I have been asked by Japanese people on three separate occasions how to use air quotes. I always tell them I “don’t know”.
The bit about covering your mouth when you laugh in Japan is totally true. But Japanese men don’t laugh?! I’d like to know if the writer of this travel advice booklet was male or female. If it’s a guy, he obviously needs to find some funnier friends.
Japan’s above-and-beyond customer service is legendary. It’s cool that the writer started to make small talk with strangers, though, instead of playing Angry Birds or pretending they got a text like everyone else does.
“America: land of limited choice”. I had no idea!! As you may know, Japan has the world’s highest ratio of vending machines to people, with one for every twenty-three citizens. They don’t all sell drinks though:
The stereotype of the shy Japanese student, afraid of speaking in case they make a mistake, is an enduring one. Of course, all stereotypes come from somewhere. But just as not all Japanese people are afraid to stick their necks out, not all Americans are up to try new things.
I’m not sure what kind of advice this is supposed to be anyway. Maybe the whole thing is a joke? Travel advice pamphlets don’t usually give information about the kinds of bowls people have in their houses, or one random hand gesture that’s not even used that much. So long as we keep in mind that this so-called travel advice is only one person’s opinion anyway, it’s a pretty entertaining read! It’s always fun to try and see things from someone else’s perspective (almost always, anyway).