Culture differences between the U.S. and Japan

11 Oct

There are many cultural differences between Japan and America. Too many to list.

And, to tell the truth, although I was born and raised in America…I have spent just about my entire adult life in Japan—so I have become more used to Japanese culture than American.

What is considered “normal” behavior here in Japan just seems like the usual “common sense” way to act…and, honestly, sometimes the standard “normal” behavior in America seems unusual or “quirky”.

Most of the cultural differences that I’m thinking of aren’t real important…just the different ways of doing things in different countries and cultures.

For example…

- When people talk in America, they are usually quite direct and to the point. Often stating their opinion on a given subject quite brazenly.

But that’s generally impolite in Japan. Here, rather than directly stating an opinion—especially a conflicting one—a person’s feelings are usually expressed more indirectly.

In Japan, people are expected to be subtle and “read between the lines”.

- Americans typically deal with facts and opinions. Those are important in Japan…but not as much as people’s feelings.
For example, an American person might be joining some Japanese friends for dinner. The plans were made to go to a certain restaurant that everyone likes. On the way there they pass another restaurant and the American might comment that he likes that other restaurant a lot.
The comment was meant as nothing but “small conversation”…but the Japanese people would quite likely change the plans and go to that other restaurant because the American (in the Japanese people’s minds) was strongly wishing to eat there.

Japanese people wouldn’t make such a comment…even in passing.

- When American people meet someone new, they can quickly call that person “a friend“…and the friendship can end just as abruptly.
It can take years before a Japanese person calls someone a “friend”…but once a friendship is made, it lasts a lifetime.

The above mentioned differences are just some things that make Japan and America unique. One way isn’t better or worse than the other. I live in Japan, so I’m used to the “Japanese way”…but if I still lived in America, I’d still be used to America’s culture, of course.

But here are some Japanese cultural traits that I think America could learn from:

- Respect for others. At work, when called to the boss’s office, people in Japan will wait at the door until invited in…and certainly wouldn’t sit down until told to.
Similarly, when riding in car or taxi with superiors, people here will wait until told where to sit.

Also, Japanese people never wear shoes into a home or certain restaurants. And definitely wouldn’t put their feet or shoes (even brand new ones) on a table.

In addition, when Japanese people leave a restaurant, movie theater, ball park, etc., they clean up after themselves. They don’t leave a mess and expect others to clean up after them.

Another example…people in Japan aren’t judged by their jobs. No one “talks down to” another person because their job isn’t glamorous or well-paying.

- Recycling. In Japan, recycling and caring about the environment has become important to many people. I haven’t lived in America for a while now, so I’m not sure—maybe this is similar in America.

- Health care. In Japan, nearly everyone has either private or government health insurance. And health insurance here pays 70% of all medical or dental bills…including ambulance rides and pre-existing conditions.

- Tipping. There is no tipping in Japan. And yet, the service in stores, restaurants, barber shops, hotels, taxis, etc. is said to be the best in the world.

- Safety. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world.

- Punctuality. Everyone and everything is on time. TV and radio shows in Japan are scheduled to start at times such 6:54…and that’s exactly when it will start!
The trains and subways are also just as punctual.
People in Japan show up for work and meetings early. Very seldom, and usually with good reason, is someone ever late here.

- Clean. This goes along with “respect”. Japan has very little litter or graffiti– even in major cities such as Tokyo. People here carry their garbage with them until they either find a public garbage can or they return home.

Those are some of the reasons that I love living in Japan. And I think that America and other countries could benefit from incorporating them into their cultures.

But there are also some parts of America’s culture that I think Japan could learn from:

- Ambulances. In Japan, ambulances are government-owned and often take too long to bring patients to hospitals. There have been cases of people dieing in ambulances who could’ve probably been saved if they’d arrived at the hospital sooner.

Japanese 救急車 (ambulance)

In America, ambulance services are by private companies. The competition makes them all have fast response times.

- School tuition. In Japan, high schools and colleges, even public ones, have expensive tuitions that must be paid by the parents. They are few student loans (which therefore are difficult to get) and no student financial grants.
American colleges have many more financial aid plans for students than in Japan.

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79 Responses to “Culture differences between the U.S. and Japan”

  1. finorgan October 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Nice post. Very interesting what you say about Japanese ambulances.

    In Tokyo, I once saw an ambulance with a blaring siren waiting at traffic lights. This struck me as bizarre and a tragic waste: the whole point of ambulances is priority, getting to the hospital faster than other vehicles would.

    I’m not sure about the government owned/privately owned explanation. In Ireland nearly all ambulances are part of the national health service (not private) and they don’t wait at traffic lights!

    • tokyo5 October 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      In Japan, ambulances with patients will wait at red lights if the patient isn’t in serious condition (a broken bone, etc)… but they will still have the siren on because they’re required to have the siren on when transporting a patient or going to pick one up.

      If the patient is in serious condition, they don’t stop.

      That isn’t a problem.

      The problem that ambulances here have is that when they pick up a patient, they won’t go anywhere until they get permission from a hospital to bring the patient.

      Sometimes they have to radio many hospitals before they get accepted by one … and often it’s not the closest one.

      It’s true that ambulances have medical equipment and trained paramedics … but the patient often needs more than an ambulance can provide — so they should be able to promptly head to the nearest hospital without asking for permission!

  2. Bryn October 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Another difference w/ ambulances in Japan is that often they’re used like free taxis to the hospital, as opposed to being reserved for true medical emergencies. People call them if their child has a fever, if someone has a sprained ankle. I was having dinner at a Japanese friend’s house and she cut her hand on a kitchen knife. While the cut was quite deep and ended up needing 8 stitches, it definitely didn’t require ambulance transport, which is what they planned to do. I convinced them to just drive to the hospital themselves.

    A lot of your examples are right on target, but I think Japanese take the consideration of others’ feelings way too far (and Americans don’t take it far enough LOL). Your example with the restaurant is exactly what would happen here, but so ridiculous! Changing the whole group’s plans to accommodate one person? It drives me a little crazy sometimes.

    • tokyo5 October 11, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Yes, to many people in Japan, broken bones or cuts that require stitches are urgent enough to call for an ambulance.

  3. Jay Dee October 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    In Canada, ambulances are government run, as well. But they go through red lights. What I really dislike about the medical system in Japan is that nearly all hospitals are specialised and they can and will turn away patients who desperately need emergency treatment. Hospitals will also refuse to admit patients that are terminal. The reason is that the more deaths they have, the lower their government funding.

    In Canada, all hospital visits are free. Government insurance is extremely cheap or free. No one is turned away.

    Another big difference is the banking systems. The banks in Japan rely on paperwork and an army of workers to process a single request. It’s slow and inefficient.

    • tokyo5 October 11, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

      As I said in an earlier comment, ambulances here don’t stop for traffic lights either if the condition of the patient is urgent.

      Is medical care free in Canada? Are taxes very steep there then?

      Personally I see no problem with Japan’s banking system.

      In many cases, transactions can be done at home with a bank clerk coming to your home!

      But the point of this post is “cultural differences”.
      What are some cultural differences between Japan and Canada?
      Which culture do you feel more comfortable in?

      • Jay Dee October 14, 2012 at 12:51 am #

        Income tax is generally around 25%, depending on income.

        As for which culture I’m more comfortable in, it’s a difficult question. There are things that I prefer in Canada, while others that I prefer in Japan. I think one of the biggest problems I have with Japan is the business culture. I’ve seen an American trainer fired because of his lack of Japaneseness in his approach to business. He was too nice to other foreign workers. Superiors can be incredibly abusive to employees, as well. I know that can happen in Canada, but it seems that in Japan, people will take the abuse, then break down and cry at work. I’ve seen it happen several times.

        The food is wonderful in Japan, but what people call beef stew here isn’t really beef stew. It should be gravy, not demiglace sauce! But is that a cultural difference?

      • tokyo5 October 14, 2012 at 8:03 am #

        There are no other foreigners where I work, so I haven’t seen how another foreigner reacts to office life in Japan … but I have no negative experiences at work.
        My wife and daughters neither.

        I’d imagine, though, that foreign people would have the most difficulty getting used to working later and sometimes on weekends that is common in Japan.

        If Japanese and Canadian beef stew is different … who’s to say which is “correct’.
        Food is prepared how the local people like it.

      • Jay Dee October 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

        I think it depends on where you work. Office life varies from company to company.

        Japanese beef stew is most likely the copy. The original is Irish, which is what I grew up on. But yeah, it is a local adaptation. I prefer cream stew, though.

      • tokyo5 October 14, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

        I saw a TV program where they asked various foreign people in Tokyo to try dishes from their country prepared in a restaurant here.

        The majority of the people said that it tasted better prepared “Japanese style” than the “original way” from their home country.

        For example, the Chinese person said ramen in Japan is better than in China.
        And the Italian said spaghetti here is better than in Italy.

      • Jay Dee October 14, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

        I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. I’ve eaten both kinds of beef stew, but I still prefer the western kind. I’ve also heard an Italian chef from Italy said that Japan has the best Italian food.

      • tokyo5 October 15, 2012 at 7:36 am #

        I can understand that.
        I’ve become more accustomed to Japanese taste … but I still prefer American peanut butter to Japanese! ;)

      • Jay Dee October 17, 2012 at 1:10 am #

        Agreed! Japanese peanut butter is far too sweet. But my wife says American peanut butter isn’t sweet enough. It’s not supposed to be sweet! I have issues with Japanese salt and vinegar potato chips, too. They aren’t sour at all. They’re actually sweet.

      • tokyo5 October 17, 2012 at 7:14 am #

        Acually, you can see on the label … the Japanese product is actually “peanut cream”, not “peanut butter”.

        So it’s technically a different food.

        When I first came to Japan, I mistook “Salt and seaweed” potato chips for “Sour cream and onion” potato chips.

        I couldn’t read Japanese at that time and went by the picture on the packaging.

      • Jay Dee October 18, 2012 at 10:27 am #

        Luckily, I could read hiragana when I tried nori shio. I knew what it was. I like it a lot, actually.

      • tokyo5 October 18, 2012 at 11:21 am #

        Could you already read Japanese when you came here?

        I didn’t know anything about Japan or the language when I first got here.

      • Jay Dee October 28, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

        Replying a bit late. I could read hiragana and katakana, as well as a limited number of kanji when I arrived in Japan. I’d taken a class in university on Japanese, so I had a bit of an advantage.

      • tokyo5 October 29, 2012 at 1:07 am #

        That would definitely be helpful!
        When I first came here, not only could I not read Japanese but there were almost no signs with English or even “romaji” on them, unlike now!

  4. blissflower1969 October 12, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    The cleanliness and courtesy were two things that struck me when we visited over there. I have never EVER seen a major city as clean as Tokyo. And I thought it was strange that not only was it clean, it wasn’t like there were garbage cans on every corner. Even the smell of the city was different than what you would experience in American cities. Shortly after we were in Tokyo, we went to Washington DC, and my daughter’s view of DC was greatly distorted by her Tokyo experience. “What a dump. This place smells bad.”

    The other thing that was interesting was that no one walked against a traffic light. Even if there weren’t cars coming, you would never see anyone jaywalking, or crossing somewhere other than a corner. Can’t say that here. :P

    • tokyo5 October 12, 2012 at 7:33 am #

      Yes, for the most part, Japanese people believe that in order to have a comfortable place to live, everyone must follow every rule. And, also, adults are role-models for children.

      So, people cross streets at crosswalks and wait for the green ‘walk’ signal.

      And, yes, there are a lot less public garbage cans here now than there were in the ’90s.
      But people don’t litter.

      • Earnest Mercer October 15, 2012 at 6:48 am #

        Japan is a country of rules, granted, but within a very small country with a high density of arable land, rules are not only necessary, but in my opinion not objectionalable. Japan has never attempted, again my opinion, never tried to enforce their “joshiki” (Japanes way) on any other country. (Notwithsranding WWII which was fought for the need of natural resourses which the small mountainous country did not posess) This is not to excuse Hideo Tojo’s war on China and America, with all it atrocities, but to establish a clock of reality.

      • tokyo5 October 15, 2012 at 8:14 am #

        I don’t want to turn this into a war-related post…I’ve written a few others related to WWII.

    • Earnest Mercer October 15, 2012 at 6:39 am #

      Right. When I first visited Japan in 1951 (for two years), the odors were offensive to my nose. When I returned (for one year) Tokyo and other metro cities were very poluted. Most everyone on the streets wore masks over their nose and mouth, vendors sold whiffs of oxygen from pressured containers, and nobody could see Fuji-san. But nowadays, Tokyo is the epitome of what can be done with effort. All commercial vehicles run on propane gas and the air is arguably the cleanest of any metropolitan city on the planet. Japanese food isn’t for everyone, but whether it is a replica of some other culture or native Japanese, I believe it to be superb., even McDonald hamburgers!

      • tokyo5 October 15, 2012 at 8:12 am #

        Yeah, I know Japan has changed a lot … much is different even in the twenty-some years I’ve lived here!

  5. blissflower1969 October 12, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    And cell phones on transit were a no no. My husband noted that the way he knew that the earthquake in March was bad was because people starting surreptitiously taking out their phones and texting. He said it was so out of character that he knew something was wrong.

    • tokyo5 October 12, 2012 at 7:38 am #

      Well, actually, people here don’t TALK into their cellphones while on trains, buses, etc or in restaurants, etc … but people can be seen everywhere using their phones to email, listen to music (with headphones on, of course), look at the Internet, etc — quiet things.

  6. Yuki October 12, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    This entry is very informative for me, Japanese. Especially, your example about restaurants. Everytime I have the similar experience with my foreign friends, I get confused. Now I get it:) Also, I rarely have heard from them the word ‘acquaintance’ that Japanese often use as ‘chijin’ or ‘shiriai’.

    • tokyo5 October 12, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      >This entry is very informative for me

      Thank you.

      >Especially, your example about restaurants…Now I get it

      Yes, American people will state their opinions about any topic for no reason other than ‘small talk’.
      It’s normal for Americans…but not in Japan.

      Here, what is implied is important. So, if a person suddenly stated that he likes something or would like to try something…it would taken as a type of “appeal” by Japanese people.

      >I rarely have heard from them the word ‘acquaintance’

      Yes, as I mentioned above, American people easily call someone a “friend”. But the “friendship” can be over just as easily.

      As you said, most people Japanese people meet are considered 知人 (an acquaintance)…it’s not a “cold word” like it is in America.

      • Felicia October 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

        ” if a person suddenly stated that he likes something or would like to try something…it would taken as a type of “appeal” by Japanese people.”

        Aaaah, that explains a lot…
        A few weeks before, I was in a conversation with two Japanese guys and I said that I want to try eating at A. Then they suddenly offered to go there the day after. I was a bit surprised because I only said that for a small chit chat.
        I think I should be more careful with what I said. I’m still new in Japan (nearly one month) and there’s a lot to learn :)
        Thanks for your post! ^.^

      • tokyo5 October 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

        Yeah … in Japan, what is implied means more than what is said.

  7. Metal Odyssey October 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Here’s a “Pop-Cultural” difference between Japan and America that always amazes me: Japan ALWAYS gets those super cool bonus tracks on their CD’s that America never gets. Metal be thy name. \m/\m/

    • tokyo5 October 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      >Japan ALWAYS gets those super cool bonus tracks on their CD’s

      Yeah. Lucky for me! ;)

    • David October 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      I’ve always wondered what’s the reason for the bonus tracks on Japanese issues. Sometimes they’d just be B-Side tracks from singles that were not released here, but other times they’d be songs that were not available elsewhere. I spent quite a lot of money on Japanese imports when I was younger :/

      • tokyo5 October 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

        In Japan, CDs from overseas artists often have bonus tracks…as well as better CD / album booklets (with lyrics in both English and Japanese and often some extra photos), and also many times a sticker is included too.

        I’ve heard that the reason is because many of the biggest record labels are Japanese owned…and locally (in Japan) produced CDs are more expensive than imported ones.
        Of course, the Japanese record labels want the Japanese public (and avid collectors overseas) to buy the local (Japanese) product…so they ask (tell?) the artist to include some “Japan only” extras.

  8. gigihawaii October 13, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    Interesting post! Of course, Hawaii has customs that are different from those on the mainland.

    • tokyo5 October 13, 2012 at 2:25 am #

      Thank you.

      What types of unique culture does Hawaii have?

  9. Earnest Mercer October 13, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    In 1984, I wrote an MBA thesus entitled: “Japan: A Balanced View” supported with research and with empirical information from my early days in Japan (1951-1953/1975) I devoted considerable narrative to the cultural differences between the USA and Japan. It is somewhat dated, but much of the contasts still apply I think. Perhaps the most significant differences are based on the Japanese concept of “Wa or washiki- loosely translated as harmony, or jooshiki translated as Japanese common sense or the Japanese way”which establishes the hierarchy of the Japanese value system that places service to country, occupation, family, and lastly to self. How much this hierarchy has changed in recent years, I do not know, though I’ve visited Japan several times since 1975. Another ranking that is interesting, you touched on it in your original comment, is that while stealing or other forms of dishonesty are not tolerated, lying ito perserve harmony is allowed. I’ve written two books that contain much of my first-hand knowledge of Japan just after WWII. See my WEB site titles and synopses if interested.

    • tokyo5 October 13, 2012 at 9:23 am #

      You know alot about Japan.

      Telling a “white lie” to spare someone’s feelings is done in America too, isn’t it?

      和 (Wa) is “harmony” or “peace”. 和式 (Wa-shiki), though, means “Japanese style”.

  10. Elizabeth October 13, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    One thing about Japan that I wish would carry over to the United States is the practice of wearing face masks during cold/flu season. It would reduce the risk of being infected by someone who’s ill; however, it’s just not a popular choice here in the States.

    • tokyo5 October 13, 2012 at 9:27 am #

      Yes. If you go out with a cold, especially if you’re coughing, and don’t wear a health mask in Japan … it’s kinda rude.

      I wonder why other countries don’t.

      • Jay Dee October 14, 2012 at 12:57 am #

        In Canada, if someone is seen wearing a mask, it’s most likely because they have a highly infectious disease such as tuberculosis. If someone wore a mask because of a cold, others would be freaked out by it.

        Also, I’ve heard that masks won’t protect you from a cold or the flu, as the holes in the filter are far too large to prevent a virus from passing through. However, if someone has a cold or flu, it does prevent the virus from spreading through coughing or sneezing. The virus is expelled with moisture, which collects on the inside of the mask. It can’t pass through because of the water. They’re still good for allergies, though.

      • tokyo5 October 14, 2012 at 8:13 am #

        If you had a highly contagious disease such as tuberculosis in Japan … you’d be quarantined in a hospital.
        People (usually it’s children) with Chicken Pox or Mumps are required to stay in their house while they’re contagious.

        Isn’t it like that in Canada?

        When people cough or sneeze, they cover their mouth and nose with their hand.
        A health mask covers it much better!

        Another cultural difference …
        People in Japan carry hand towels and pocket tissue with them all the time.
        I wonder what people in western countries do when they sneeze, if they don’t carry tissue.

      • Jay Dee October 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

        Yes, they would be kept in quarantine. I have only seen a couple people wear a mask in public in my life in Canada.

        In Canada, some people do carry tissues in their pocket, or they use a handkerchief.

      • tokyo5 October 14, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

        Those are other cultural differences between Japan and America that I think are better in Japan:

        - Pocket tissues that are handed out at train stations here are nice.

        - People wearing masks (that look like the ones surgeons wear … not “Halloween type”) when they have a cold or if it’s 花粉症 (Hayfever) season.
        It’s considerate of others.

      • Jay Dee October 14, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

        The tissue is an interesting thing. Have you ever had to hand any out yourself? I have, and I really don’t like it. Nice to have them, though.

      • tokyo5 October 15, 2012 at 7:41 am #

        No, I’ve never handed out tissues. My job doesn’t involve customers so there is no need for advertising (which is the purpose of the tissue packs).

        That said, it doesn’t seem like it would take long to hand them all out … everyone wants them!

      • Jay Dee October 17, 2012 at 1:11 am #

        I’ve handed them out. Unfortunately, they’re not that easy to hand out, because it seems a lot of people are very wary of a foreigner handing out tissues. They try to avoid me.

      • tokyo5 October 17, 2012 at 7:22 am #

        I’d bet it wasn’t because you’re not Japanese.

        I’m sure some Japanese people have less success than others at that.
        Like anything, some people are better at it.

      • Jay Dee October 18, 2012 at 10:29 am #

        My attitude probably had something to do with it. I wasn’t enthusiastic. I really hate doing it, and I think it showed.

      • tokyo5 October 18, 2012 at 11:23 am #

        Well, then I guess it’s not fair to say that Japanese people were avoiding you because you’re a foreigner.

        If you were cheerful when you were doing it, I’m sure you would’ve had more success.

  11. tokyo5 October 13, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Here’s another cultural difference that I think is better in Japan:

    In America, many people get angry with people who disagree with them about politics or religion.

    I don’t understand that.
    People don’t do that here … actually, regarding religion, there are very few people who believe or follow any religion in Japan — which is fine with me since I don’t either.

    • Earnest Mercer October 15, 2012 at 7:01 am #

      In modern Japan, people may indeed not follow any religion openly, but in my experience (covered in detail in my MBA thesis) religion is not involved in daily business or political life, but compartmentalized. I think Japanese people are not bereft of religiion, but simply keep it separate from everyday activities; the gaijin, therefore are not exposed to it. Before Buddhaism, Shinto was the basic religion of the country and based on my experience while visiting the many temples still plays a significant role in Japanese lives. I address this subject in my book about a young girl forced into prostitution after WWII. “Skivvy Girl:The Love of a Japanese Pleasure Girl”

      • tokyo5 October 15, 2012 at 8:27 am #

        I have to disagree.
        I’m familiar with both public and private behavior in Japan.

        When I say “religion”, I mean it in the sense that most “religious” cultures (including America) mean it — belief in a deity and spiritual afterlife.

        Certainly no offense is intended to those who believe … but the vast majority (I’ve read before that it’s over 90%) of the Japanese people don’t believe in any religion.

        It’s true that Buddhism (imported from India via China and Korea) and Shinto (original to Japan) are important in Japanese life — but as traditions.

        Japanese go to temples and shrines to wish for happiness and good fortune on many occasions … but no one (nearly) is actually praying to a deity.

  12. neokeiuk October 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    Reblogged this on Neo Kei and commented:
    Very interesting post. The only thing I would think to disagree with is about the jobs, as I get the impression that jobs are a lot more important for social status. But maybe it’s only important when distinguishing between either being unemployed/a temporary worker compared to owning your own business or being a manager. Japan is still a place I really want to go to, and Tokyo Five highlights all the reasons why it’s such a great country.

    • tokyo5 October 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

      Thanks for reblogging my post.

      It’s true that having a good job and a good position is what many people desire … but that’s not what I was referring to.

      In many countries, people with service-industry jobs aren’t shown respect sometimes … and often they don’t take their job seriously — especially if they don’t plan to work there long-term.
      But, in most cases, that’s not how it is here.

  13. David October 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    I don’t really agree with the comments about environmental awareness. There’s an enormous amount of waste created by the excessive packaging of produce in Japan – fruits individually wrapped in styrofoam coats, vegetables on styrofoam trays and wrapped in cellophane, etc. Every shop gives you a separate plastic bag.

    Maybe it’s getting better, but I think Japan is still way behind other countries when it comes to recycling attitude. My mother in law still disposes all her garbage in one bag; tins, glass, plastics, bio-waste, etc.

    • tokyo5 October 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

      >There’s an enormous amount of waste created by the excessive packaging of produce in Japan

      Maybe it’s because you’re European…and I’ve heard that stores in Europe don’t use plastic at all.
      Is that true? How is food wrapped / bagged then?

      But…I disagree with your disagreement. ;)

      Supermarkets and vegetable stores in Japan sell produce unwrapped when it’s sold individually. It’s only wrapped when it’s sold as a bunch (ie: four tomatoes together, etc).

      >fruits individually wrapped in styrofoam coats, vegetables on styrofoam trays

      Styrofoam, admittedly, is said to be bad for the environment…but it helps keep fruit from bruising when customers carry it home.

      > Every shop gives you a separate plastic bag.

      Many stores give a (small) discount to customers who say they don’t need a plastic bag.

      >Japan is still way behind other countries when it comes to recycling

      In Japan, garbage is separated, disposable chopsticks have become much less common, even people with cars bicycle, walk or use public transportation whenever possible, air conditioners and heaters are turned off most of the time in homes, etc.

      >My mother in law still disposes all her garbage in one bag

      Is she Japanese? I’d say that’s most the exception than the rule here.

      • David October 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

        > I’ve heard that stores in Europe don’t use plastic at all.

        I can’t comment on the rest of Europe, but plastic bags are certainly still used in the UK and Germany. In both cases though, they encourage people to re-use their own bags. The largest UK supermarket chains (Sainsbury’s and Tesco) sell extra strong reusable bags, and they give extra loyalty card points per bag reused. Also, the regular plastic bags that they give out are made from recycled material and are more biodegradable.

        > Many stores give a (small) discount to customers who say they don’t need a plastic bag.

        True. But “small” is the key word here. At my local Maruetsu they give a 2 Yen discount to anyone who uses their own bags (regardless how many bags, only 2 Yen) but only if the purchase is over 1000 Yen.

        > It’s only wrapped when it’s sold as a bunch

        I’ve seen single potatoes shrink wrapped on a styrofoam tray.

        > Is she Japanese?

        Yes. But I think it’s more to do with the fact that garbage separation is not enforced where she lives.

        Even in my apartment block, it’s only in the past year that they’ve introduced a separate plastic collection day. And even though we have it, it’s not really enforced. People still put plastics out in the regular bins on the other days.

      • tokyo5 October 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

        >only 2 Yen

        I couldn’t image expecting more than that for doing nothing but using my own shopping bag. That’s probably the cost of the plastic bags.

        >I’ve seen single potatoes shrink wrapped on a styrofoam tray.

        I’ve never seen anything like that. I wonder why that store did that.

  14. Abraham Lincoln October 22, 2012 at 4:17 am #

    I lived in Japan at 3 different Army camps. Up north on Hokkaido at Camp Crawford. The home of the Ainu people. I moved from there down to Sendai-shi and into Camp Sendai where Kawauchi is or was then and then from there to Camp Schimm or Schimmelpfennig on the other side of town. I think the Japan Self Defense Forces did occupy our old buildings and grounds of Camp Schimm. I can tell you that in 1953, 1954, 1955 and until the middle of 1956, that Japan was in dire straits. Everything was scarce and tobacco, coffee were used to pay monthly rent bills with. The photos and the way things look today are totally different and more modern than they used to be. Ichibancho Street nowadays looks like an enclosed mall. Back then it was a dusty and sometimes muddy street with shops made from scrap metal and lumber — lined both sides. The only reason I stopped and am leaving this comment is because your taste is blog design and layout is really top notch and having worked in art, television and advertising, I know a good thing when I see it and I saw it here.

    • tokyo5 October 22, 2012 at 7:21 am #

      Were you stationed with the U.S. Army in Japan?
      Did you have a chance to experience much Japanese culture?
      Did you see the Snow Festival in Hokkaido or the Tanabata Festival in Sendai?

      Yes, Japan was in bad shape after WWII … but you’d never know it looking at Japan today!

      Also, I gotta ask … is your name really Abraham Lincoln?

  15. Simon November 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    I don’t know about the US, so I can only compare Japan with my home country New Zealand. But I agree with the David, above. I think the excess of packaging in Japan is a problem. My household here in Japan “produces” far more”burnable” garbage than I produced in New Zealand (I would estimate triple of four times). Also, all major cities and almost all smaller towns in NZ have been separating recyclables for at least a decade. Food waste is collected separately by garbage collection and composted. Garbage is put in reusable heavyweight bins without the need for plastic garbage bags. The energy produced by composting waste is used to generate modest amounts of electricity.

    The charging for plastic bags should be a disincentive not just paying for the cost of production. The true cost of plastic that takes decades to breakdown is “paid” for by future generations. Taxing the producers of excessive packaging would go a long way to changing the perception of what amount of packaging is “necessary” to protect fruit from bruising.

    There is a lot to admire about life in Japan, including many measures used to protect the environment. The volume of excessive packaging isn’t one of them.

    • tokyo5 November 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      It’s admirable that New Zealand is so earth-friendly … but that country is very sparcely populated — Japan, especially Tokyo, is extremely densely populated.

      I think that makes a big difference.

      Anyway, I don’t think plastic should be completely eliminated … it’s very useful.

  16. Anonymous February 1, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Well… When you wish to rent a house, the landlord can refuse you in favor of another person because his/her company is more respectable.

    • tokyo5 February 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

      Yes, if numerous people apply to rent the same house, the landlord can choose whichever one he wants to be the tenant.
      And sometimes a landlord will choose the one whose income seems more secure.

  17. Ender78 May 2, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    I noticed your mention about Tipping a restaurant waitstaff. I heard that while in America, the tipping is to show your appreciation of the work the waitstaff did but in japan if you tip it is like saying “You did not do your job well so take this money and use it to take a class to learn how to do your job better”… I would like your thoughts on this.

    • tokyo5 May 2, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      I don’t think that anyone in Japan would leave a tip in order to insult the staff.
      First of all, no one leaves a tip for any reason. If someone did, the waitress (or whomever) wouldn’t take it as an insult…they’d probably think the customer left money there accidentally and would most likely run after the customer to return it.

      Secondly, people in Japan don’t normally “insult” someone for doing their job poorly.

      And, anyways, people here take a job, any job, seriously and try to do their best.

  18. Anonymous May 2, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Excellent blog post. I definitely love this site.

    • tokyo5 May 2, 2013 at 11:09 am #

      I think your comment is actually spam…so you’ll understand why I edited your “name” and URL.

      But, thanks for the kind words anyways (even if you are a spam-robot who says such things to “everyone”.)

  19. Eric May 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Never been to Japan but I definetly would like to someday.

    I’d like to point out that though there are many ways to obtain an education in the states, we are not the best in academics as compared to the rest of the world. Though supposedly we have a “free” education many schools suffer heavy dropout rates for high school.

    Im not sure how the high schools work in Japan but in my opinion if parents are pushed to pay for their childs tuition, high school or college, then they have to make the best with what they have and get everything out of it. Whereas in the states education is taken more for granted than anything which probably leads to the huge gap between dropouts and graduates since hardly anyone takes anything seriously

    Education in the states, to me seems confusing and chaotic, standards differ between each individual state, so speaking from experience if you transfer midway during your 3rd year of high school you may find that at your new school they are learning more advanced things than your last school did. In my last school it was common to write a 5 page essay in my english class, when I transfered the teacher said that they should at least try and fill half the page.

    • tokyo5 May 5, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

      Thank you for commenting … your opinion is interesting.

      So, do you think parents in America should pay more for their kids’ education?

  20. Dan in Japan June 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Great restaurant example!!

    Can you please give more examples?

    - Also I’d like to ask your thoughts about how some Japanese people don’t ask a question directly to a person, instead they will ask another person about the person they are interested in.

    For example, if someone wants to know if I am married:

    1. An American will ask me directly.

    2. A Japanese person will ask someone else if I am married.

    I prefer personal questions to be directed at me. Otherwise too many rumors begin to happen.

    - It’s strange that many Japanese people will say that a foreigner looks so handsome or so beautiful, when they are just average looking.

    But I guess this is where the “Little-White Lie” is used to make people feel good/harmonious.

    - Why do so many Japanese married couples lose amourous interest after they are married. It happens to American couples, but it seems more dramatic in Japanese couples.

    - Please explain the difference between a compliment and flirting. I think that so many foreigners come to Japan and they will comment on how nice a Japanese person’s outfit looks, but the Japanese person will assume the compliment is a flirt tactic.

    - What is the nuance between saying a girl is cute (Kawaii) or beautiful (Kirei)? I’ve been told that if you say a girl is Kawaii, that means you want to date them. But if you say Kireii, it is more of a neutral statement. True?

    - Foreigners read magazines, watch TV, and the Internet and think most of Japan people as super creative/artistic/and think outside the box. I feel like that only about 5% of the population is like that, while 95% people just live normal lives. What do you think?

    - Do people sue in Japan? I almost never hear about civilian lawsuits in the news. Is that because there aren’t any or because they want to keep it hidden from the mass media?

    - What are common “Taboos” that Americans (don’t realize they make) when they are with Japanese people?

    - Why don’t Japanese friends teach their American friends about these “Taboos”!? I feel that many Japanese people say, “In time, my friend will realize their mistakes.” But I disagree and want to say, “We are Americans and don’t pick up on other culture’s subtleties at all! You have to teach us or else we’ll never get it!”

    Really looking forward to your response.

    • tokyo5 June 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      >Great restaurant example!!

      Thank you.

      >Can you please give more examples?

      To illustrate the same point? I suppose I could…but wouldn’t that be redundant?

      >some Japanese people don’t ask a question directly…A Japanese person will ask someone else if I am married.

      This seems to a specific incident that happened to you…not really a general “cultral difference”.

      Can you speak Japanese? Maybe the person who was wondering couldn’t speak English?
      I’m just guessing though.

      >It’s strange that many Japanese people will say that a foreigner looks so handsome or so beautiful, when they are just average looking.

      “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

      >Why do so many Japanese married couples lose amourous interest…?

      (I edited your question. Certain words seem to attract spam…and you had one such word in your comment -)

      Is that so? If it is, I couldn’t really say “why”.

      >many foreigners…comment on how nice a Japanese person’s outfit looks, but the Japanese person will assume the compliment is a flirt tactic.

      Does that happen to “many” foreigners” ?
      Has it happened to you?

      It is true that Americans are kinda known for giving “empty compliments”…Japanese don’t really do that – so they don’t really know how to react when they receive one.

      >I’ve been told that if you say a girl is Kawaii, that means you want to date them. But if you say Kireii, it is more of a neutral statement.

      Who told you that?
      I’d say that it depends on how it’s said and in what context.

      But, in general, it’s true.

      >Foreigners…think most of Japan people as super creative/artistic/and think outside the box.

      Do they?

      >I feel like that only about 5% of the population is like that, while 95% people just live normal lives. What do you think?

      I couldn’t imagine what percentage of the population would be classified as “super creative”.

      >Do people sue in Japan?

      Very rarely.

      >What are common “Taboos” that Americans (don’t realize they make) when they are with Japanese people?

      Most are minor and Japanese people understand that visitors to another country will make such cultral mistakes.

      As for the ones that would make a Japanese feel uncomfortable:
      sticking chopsticks into a bowl of rice, or
      wearing shoes where they’re not supposed to (such as on a tatami).

      >Why don’t Japanese friends teach their American friends about these “Taboos”!?

      Who wants to be a nag? Or make someone feel uncomfortable or embarrassed?

      >”In time, my friend will realize their mistakes.” But I disagree

      Well, I came to Japan knowing nothing about Japanese manners or culture…and there was no internet back then.
      And over time, I’ve begun to act more “Japanese” than “American” !

      • Dan in Japan June 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

        Thank you very much for your reply.

      • tokyo5 June 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm #


        Any other questions?

        - –
        Do you live in Japan?
        What part? When did you come to Japan?
        Are you from America?

  21. rissa December 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I’d like to add embracing variety assomething Japan could learn (and to be fair is learning) from America. I mean, people here tend to have very limited ideas about most everything. Everything is an all or nothing dichotomy. One thing I miss most about the states is the variety if lifestyles, opinions, people, foods, clothing, everything. Sometimes people here can be a little robotic.

    The other thing I’d add is that I wish Japan could keep thier tendancy to be polite and respectful (definitely agree Americans need to learn from them in this), but also learn to be more honest about problems and their feelings. There are SO many instances where issues and misunderstandings continue unaddressed because the people involved haven’t communicated with one another. Being polite shouldn’t mean not expressing yourself, expcially when the issue is important. Here in Japan the expectation is that the reciever should figure out the message, rather than the sender being responsible for it. When people the (sometimes extremely) subtle cues from others, they often get it wrong because (even if you know someone really really well), you can’t read minds. I really hate being expected to do so.

    • tokyo5 December 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

      >One thing I miss most about the states is the variety if lifestyles, opinions, people, foods, clothing, everything. Sometimes people here can be a little robotic.

      Do you think so? I think that people in Japan are very open and understanding if someone has a “different” or unique style.
      It’s true that Japanese people don’t normally share their unsolicited opinion…especially if it’s conflicting with others.
      But there is a huge variety of food and fashion…especially in the major Japanese cities.

      By the way, which U.S. state are you from?

      >Here in Japan the expectation is that the reciever should figure out the message,

      Yes. In Japan, subtlety is important. And so is being able to “read between the lines”.

      What part of Japan are you in? How long have you been in Japan?

  22. Skies March 3, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    Great article! I was wondering, is it true that for foreign peoples who have become naturalized in japan, it is harder to find a job because they are foreign born? Would it be possible for someone who came from America to live in Japan (I’ve read that naturalization is the closest they can get to citizenship, but maybe I am getting confused?) to get a career such as in the sciences, liberal arts, etc, or would they be limited to things like translating or english teaching? Would it be hard for women to get jobs as authors or librarians or researchers? What are jobs avoided by women? Sorry for all the questions, I’m just trying to soak up as much info as I can. I plan on studying abroad in Japan during some of my college years.

    • tokyo5 March 3, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      >Great article!

      Thank you.

      >is it true that for foreign peoples who have become naturalized in japan, it is harder to find a job because they are foreign born?

      When you say “Is it true…?”, does that mean you’ve heard that somewhere before? Where did you hear that?

      Harder because they’ve naturalized? I don’t think so.

      > Would it be possible for someone who came from America to live in Japan (I’ve read that naturalization is the closest they can get to citizenship, but maybe I am getting confused?) to get a career such as in the sciences, liberal arts, etc, or would they be limited to things like translating or english teaching?

      This is an unusual question. What do you want to know?
      Do you know what “naturalization” means? Naturalized people are citizens.
      Are you hoping to immigrate to Japan?

      Just as in America, foreigners have an equal chance in Japan to get a job that they’re qualified for. Of course, being able to speak, read and write the language, having relevant experience, etc factor into being hired over everyone else who applied for the job.

      >Would it be hard for women to get jobs as authors or librarians or researchers?

      Women in general? Or foreign women in Japan?
      I don’t think it’s any more difficult in Japan that it is in America for women (or men) to get those types of jobs.
      If you mean foreign women in Japan (as I suspect you do), than the same points I listed above are relevant.

      >What are jobs avoided by women?

      What do you mean? “What types of jobs do Japanese women generally shun?” ?
      I suppose heavy labor type jobs, such as construction worker, are the least popular type with Japanese women. (But that’s just a guess. I didn’t conduct a survey or anything.)

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