Every country has its own unique social norms, and half the fun of traveling is discovering what they are. For example, did you know that in many parts of the world like Egypt, Sudan and Bangladesh, straight men hold hands as they walk down the street?
Japan has a few interesting ones too. Some of them will have you nodding your head in approval while others will leave you scratching your head. Let’s take a look at a few shall we?
1. Short skirts are cool, but put those boobs away
Credit: Tokyo Fashion via Pinterest
If you walk around any major city in Japan, you might notice that many of the girls are wearing really short skirts. In more conservative countries that might get you a few disapproving looks, but here, showing off your legs is perfectly normal.
I mean, they even have TV programs dedicated to measuring the average skirt length of high school girls in different cities, man.
The interesting thing is, while sporting a skirt that barely tickles the bottom of your butt is cool here, showing off your cleavage is most definitely not.
Why they think cleavage is evil, I have no idea. I’ll need to get back to you after I do some INTENSIVE RESEARCH.
2. Mask up and roll out
Credit: Tokyo Fashion
After admiring all those short skirts, you might look up and be surprised to see a masked face. Don’t worry, you’re not in some horror movie where the hot chick is actually a monster trying to lure you in close enough to sample your neck.
The Japanese wear masks on the train, in the streets, in the office – everywhere. Girls wear them to cover their faces when they don’t have makeup on, sick people wear them to avoid spreading their germs, and some even wear them as a fashion accessory.
I used to think it was strange, but now it feels completely natural to slap on a mask whenever I’m sick or to avoid getting the flu from someone sneezing in my face on the trains. Plus, I get to pretend I’m Optimus Prime.
3. Don’t blow it
So, you’re on a crowded train and your nose is runny. What do you do? In Japan, anything but blow your nose. The only socially acceptable thing to do is to suck that snot back up. Gravity not cooperating? Fight back! Sniff. SNIIIIFFFF. SNIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFF.
Suck it in until you can get to the nearest toilet or private area to release the Kraken. God help you if your nose is runny AND stuffed. I’ve seen people sniffling desperately to hold it in, only to have defeat drip down their noses, mocking them with every salty lick. This is where masks come in really handy.
4. Slurp slurp slurp
When I was a kid my parents used to stop me if I slurped my noodles because it’s bad manners. Maybe it’s the same in your country too. But surprise! In Japan, slurping is perfectly acceptable. In fact, slurping is the only proper way to eat ramen.
But I’ve seen some people who take the slurping thing too far. Soup and ramen is fine, but once I had this salaryman sitting at the counter right next to me at lunch, and he was literally slurping everything – his miso soup, his rice, his salad, and even his freaking fried chicken. He washed it all down at the end with a big, long slurp of water.
5. There’s no need to reply
Credit: Japan Times
Japanese service is legendary (and you don’t even have to wait for it). The salespeople greet you as you enter the shop, and enthusiastically thank you on your way out, even if you didn’t buy anything.
I’ve seen tourists make abrupt u-turns and bob their head like pigeons, trying to bow back at the salespeople greeting them. It’s natural to want to reciprocate a greeting, but in Japan, as the customer, you’re not expected to reply or respond to any of it.
In fact, things might get awkward if you do because it catches them off guard. They bow back at your bow, and you bow back at their bow, and they bow back at your bow back to their bow, and before you know it wow your holiday in Japan is over.
6. Door, meet face
Ouch, my nose. In Western culture it’s common courtesy to hold the door for someone behind you, but to the Japanese, it’s a completely alien concept.
The person ahead will just leave the door swinging in your face, even if you’re right behind them. They don’t mean to be rude of course – it’s just what everybody does and you’re supposed to watch out for yourself – but to a visitor it definitely takes some getting used to.
On the upside, if you’re a guy dating a Japanese girl, they’ll be so impressed when you hold the doors open for them, because Japanese guys never do it.
It’ll probably be the first time in their life that someone does that for them. You’ll be like a knight in shining armor on a unicorn.
So what do you think? What is the most impressive or bewildering Japanese social norm you’ve come across? Sound out in the comments below!
Have a friend who’s totally into Japan like you are? Share this post with them! They’ll think you’re awesome and so will we.