Dec 24, 2015

Habits You Formed in Japan That Would Never Work in Your Home Country

This article recently popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.  If you don’t want to click the link or suffer through the strange English for the first chunk, I’ll summarize you: an international student (I believe from China) is writing about all the habits he has picked up in Japan that would never fly in his home country.  It’s something that a lot of foreigners talk about, I think.  We analyze the weird things that we do now that make us feel so out of place when we return to our home countries.  We have all adopted new pieces from our host culture and incorporated them into our internalized culture, making a new strange (but also really cool) hybrid.

The hybrid doesn’t work completely in any country and, to me, it makes me feel like I’m standing with one foot out of a either culture.  I’m American, but am I really completely American anymore?  Not to say that I can call myself Japanese.  I still very much act and think like an American most of the time, but my first instinct is to bow when I meet someone.  To bob my head on the phone when talking to someone.  To hesitate responding even when I know the answer immediately.

But back to the article that prompted this: here are a few of the new habits that the author picked up (with some of my comments).

1. Forgetting to lock the door, or simply not caring when you realize you’ve left it unlocked.

This.  A thousand times this.  I know so many other ALTs who have embraced this thought process wholeheartedly.  I have one friend who leaves his apartment open most of the time.  When he came home one day there was a plate of cookies sitting on his table.  (He later found out that they had been put there by one of his friends, but still.)  Another friend leaves his apartment unlocked even when he’s traveling for over a week or even a month.  I understand that Japan is a relatively very safe country (in terms of theft at least), but I have never understood that attitude.  Locking your apartment is something so simple.  It doesn’t even take a great deal of time or effort.

2. Never encountering anyone who checks tests your money to see if it’s a counterfeit.  Never inspecting money you receive.

Before I read the article, I had honestly forgotten that this was a thing that people do, even in the US.  In Japan the cashiers never seem to be particularly concerned about the money you are giving them (so long as it’s the correct amount of course) but will very carefully count your change out several times (sometimes even call someone else over to verify that they are counting it correctly if they are new or it’s a larger bill) before giving it to you.

3. Leaving things in your bike basket or leaving your bike unlocked when you run errands.

This goes along with the leaving your door unlocked.  I know an ALT who leaves her laptop in her backpack in her basket when she runs into the store.  Plenty of people leave their bikes unlocked around here, but it’s not something I’ve ever been ok doing regularly.  I’ve maybe left my bike unlocked once or twice when all I’m doing is running into the convenience store to pay a bill, but anything longer that makes me a little nervous.  (Part of that is my personality, but another part is that I have a kind of unique bike, one that attracts more attention than others.)  Although, now that I’m considering getting a new bike, I might be more comfortable doing this.  (If my bike just disappears one day, it’ll be inconvenient, but at least it will save me the trouble of figuring out what trash day is goes on.)

4. Bowing to everyone, even strangers.

Bowing.  So much bowing.  Bowing all the time.  Bowing to everyone.  Doing that quick head-bob bow because you’re rushing and don’t have time for a full bow.

5. Never looking around while crossing the street.

As someone who has been hit by a car here, the person writing this list clearly has a death wish.  There are just as many old ladies driving cars as their are trying to cross in front of them.  Both make for a sometimes dangerous situation when trying to cross while someone else is trying to turn.

6. Never asking who it is before opening the door.

This is one that I’ve fallen prey to.  In my old apartment, it was honestly just too much of a hassle to try to see through the peep hole when the doorbell rang.  I had to get my step-stool and put it right up against the door. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m short.)  Now, though, I have a video display in my kitchen.  Whenever the doorbell rings the video display automatically turns on and shows me who is outside.  Most of the time I can tell it’s someone delivering a package, but sometimes, even if I don’t know what they’re there for, I’m not as cautious as I should be.  Though, honestly, even if I asked who they were, would I be able to understand it?  Probably not, most of the time.

7. Paying careful attention to where you are throwing your garbage away and when you are putting it out.

I have memorized the garbage schedule and can now sort like a pro.  It’s going to be incredibly weird when I move back to the States and throw my paper in with my burnables in with my plastic that isn’t recyclable.

8. Thinking piracy doesn’t exist and if you dare try it, you’ll be hit with the full force of the law.

I remember when I first got here I thought if I so much as streamed a show on the internet I would be locked up for years to come.

9. Losing interest in trying new restaurants.  All restaurants look the same with similar prices.

I can name 10 restaurants in my city alone, all near the train station, that serve basically the same food for the same price.  It’s all the pretty standard Japanese food fare.  Some of it is better than others, (I think.  I still haven’t really developed my Japanese food palate,) but for the most part, it really just all tastes the same to me.

10. Never bargaining or even trying.

Except for that one time when I accidentally bargained in Okinawa at a sports store and ended up getting about $60 off of my hiking backpack.

11. Never worrying about being discriminated against because of my accent.

I’m sorry, but what?  Where is this person living?!

12. Never needing to wash vegetables properly.  Sometimes even cooking them without washing.


As I mentioned before, it is really interesting what part of their host culture that people choose to adopt.  Whether intentionally or unintentionally, adapting to your host culture is a huge part of surviving in a new culture.  Either intentionally, or unintentionally, what parts of Japanese culture have you adopted? 



An American woman living in southern Japan.
Check out my main blog at: journeyingjodi.wordpress.com/


  • DaveJpn

    on Dec 24

    This was a fun read. The bowing thing as become like a natural twitch for me. I'm wondering if I do it when I visit home. As for never looking when crossing a road - I'm not sure about this. I always do it, where ever I am. On the same point though, having to wait at lights over here when there are no cars around is really annoying! Something that we don't do in my home country. On the garbage thing, from what I'm hearing from family/friends at home (because we discuss garbage regularly!!!!) it sounds like Japan could actually be a bit easier in this regard. 'Never asking who it is before opening the door.' - I just don't open the door period, unless I'm sure it's the post. The locking of doors, or rather, the not locking of doors, I'm with you on. I just don't get it. Just lock the door - it takes, like, a few seconds! It's a small one, but I'm going to add picking plates/dishes from the table and shovelling food into my mouth. Tried this once on a visit home. Got stared at!

  • Tomuu

    on Jan 4

    The problem with the 'restaurants' things for me is the overwhelming choice. It doesn't help that with so many places over here, there aren't any windows to look through so you can get an idea of what's going on inside. Never bargaining is something to be celebrated in my book (as I'm useless at it). It's not something that I ever had to do back home either, so Japan hasn't changed me much in that regard. Nice post. Looking forward to more like this.