Japanese tips for visiting America

21 Feb
America and Japan are quite different.  There are many books and websites that give advice to Americans who plan to visit Japan.
And, of course, there are similar books and websites for Japanese who plan to visit America.
Actually, even though I’m an American, I’ve been living in Japan for most of my life now and I have only visited America a few times.  Before the most recent visit (in 2004), I bought one of these books for Japanese visiting America!  I wasn’t sure who to tip or how much I should give, I had never rented a car in America before then, etc.
Anyways, the website MentalFloss has translated some advice Japanese people have written on various websites for their fellow Japanese planning to visit the U.S.
Here are ten of their tips:

1. There is a thing called “Dinner Plates.” And what goes on them is a mighty disappointment.

In Japan, each person eating gets as many individual dishes as needed for the meal. Sometimes more than 10 dishes per person are used. In America, there is a method where a large bowl or dish is placed in the middle of the table, and you take as much as you like from there, and put it on a big dish said to be a “dinner plate.”

In Japan, meals at home are for eating, because your stomach is vacant. At an American’s dinner, there is food, decorations on the table and tableware, and music to produce a fun atmosphere. It is a time for maintaining rich human relationships. Therefore, the meal is as long as 40 minutes. In addition, often the decorative tableware has been handed down mother to daughter, two generations, three generations. In addition, there are even more valuable dishes used for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals. There is no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except the hamburger, which isn’t made at home so much. There is almost nothing special to eat based on the different seasons of the year. Basically, they like sweet, high fat, high calories things.

2. Beware Rough Areas Where the Clothes Demand Attention

In Japan, hip hop clothes are considered stylish. But in the United States, it is wise to avoid them, as you might be mistaken for a member of a street gang.

The entire United States does not have good security, unfortunately. However, the difference between a place with good regional security and a “rough area” is clear. People walk less, there is a lot of graffiti, windows and doors are strictly fitted with bars. And young people are dressed in hip hop clothes that say “I want you to pay attention to me!”

3. But You’ll be Pleasantly Surprised by American Traffic Patterns.

Manners with cars in America are really damn good. Japanese people should be embarrassed when they look at how good car manners are in America. You must wait whenever you cross an intersection for the traffic light. People don’t get pushy to go first. Except for some people, everyone keeps exactly to the speed limit. America is a car society, but their damn good manners are not limited to cars.

4. Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink. In fact, shame on you.

In the U.S., they do not have a sense of superiority if they are able to drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself. There is something close to contempt toward someone who must drink a lot to be drunk. To drink alcohol habitually is to have alcoholism. Alcoholics are weak people mentally, to be one means you have spanned the label of social outcasts that can’t self-manage.

Non-smokers are more important than smokers in the US. Smokers capture the concept that they are not able to control themselves, and are the owners of weak character.

5. They Have Free Time All Week Long!

In America, whether you are a student, working person, or housewife, you carefully make room for leisure time, weekdays and weekends. Most people are ensured free time, always. During the week they use it for walking, jogging, bicycling, tennis, racquetball, bowling, watching movies, reading, and volunteering. On the weekend, they enjoy even more freedom, and take liberal arts courses and have sporting leisures.

In Japan we believe that there is no free time during the weekday. Only the weekend. We spend the weekend watching TV, hanging around home, working, studying, and shopping, or listening to music.

6. Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.

If you put your bent middle and index fingers of both hands in the air, you are making finger quotation marks. It means you do not believe what you are saying. You can also say, “or so called.”

7. They tend to horse laugh, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest.

In Japan, when a woman laughs, she places her hand so it does not show her mouth. It is disgraceful to laugh by loudly opening the mouth. Adult males do not laugh much. There is the saying, “Man, do not laugh so much that you show your teeth.”

In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. They face front, open the mouth, and laugh in a loud voice. This is because in America if you muffle your laugh or turn away while laughing, you give the impression that you are talking about a secret or name-calling. It is nasty.

8. You won’t be getting your groceries anytime soon, so checkout lines are a great place to make friends.

Cashiers are slow. Abysmally slow compared to Japan. I get frustrated when I’m in a hurry. Americans wait leisurely even if you’re in the special checkout for buying just a little something. I thought Americans were going to be quite impatient, but in reality they are extremely laid back. I thought about what I should do with my time while waiting in the grocery matrix, and began to speak at length with other guests.

9. Their vending machines are ridiculously limited and dishonest.

Vending machines in the United States just give carbonated beverages. Coke particularly. If you try to buy the juice from a vending machine when you’re thirsty, it’s just all carbonate. I pressed the button and thought it would be a nice orange juice, but carbonate came out. I love carbonated, but there are times when it will make you sick indeed.

10. But darn it all, they’re so weirdly optimistic you just can’t stay irritated at them.

In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.

In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, American’s have curiosity and say, “Let’s try anyway!”

18 Responses to “Japanese tips for visiting America”

  1. Rhaen November 6, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    American who loves Asian culture here! I love my home of Colorado, yet I really want to visit Japan. I love aspects of all cultures, and I love bringing international friends to come see what life here is like! Hope to offer my opposing opinion (which is a faux pas in Japan, but I am Coloradoan after all):

    1. There is a thing called “Dinner Plates.” And what goes on them is a mighty disappointment.

    I love that Asia takes the idea of ‘tapas’ or many individual servings to the highest level. In fact, it’s one of the things that bugs me about American culture- I love to share, and want my loved ones and friends to try what I am eating! I also love to try new things, so having many dishes is part of that experience. However, I’d offer that ‘a mighty disappointment’ depends on where you go. The concept of an ‘American Diner’ has more or less devolved into microwaved, frozen food. That’s awful! Here in my state, folks have taken to bucking that trend to move towards healthy, flavorful food. It really depends on where you eat. Mable’s Diner could be microwaved dog food or an undiscovered hole in the wall treasure, you really have to try everything to see if it’s worth eating!

    2. Beware Rough Areas Where the Clothes Demand Attention
    In a way, yes. I wouldn’t call clothing an indicator of a rough area, as suburban youth latch onto rough culture as a way of looking tough, or identifying with a culture that may or may not be part of their heritage. “Flashy” is also in the eye of the beholder- there is the urban style, or chic (rich people) or tactical (military) clothing styles which one might consider flashy, but the wearer may not see it that way. Clothes do not demand attention so much as attitude. One could wear expensive, in vogue clothing and still be a nasty person. Similarly one might wear “urban” or “rough” clothing and be a sweet, loving philanthropist. That’s what I love about my country, you can’t really make assumptions about someone based on looks. However, the note about few walking, bars on windows, etc are all valid. Really, if people smile at you, you’re probably okay. If people are hostile, it’s time to find friendly people.

    3. But You’ll be Pleasantly Surprised by American Traffic Patterns.
    Very dependent on geography! I’ve experienced awful drivers in Seattle, Denver, Washington DC, Atlanta, anywhere. Most drivers are courteous but many are not. I drive ~3000km per week, so I interact with many other motorists. The rule in America is, drive as if the other drivers are two days out of driving school. I’ve never been in an auto collision because I am defensive and courteous to other drivers, even the rude ones.

    4. Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink. In fact, shame on you.
    I was rather surprised by this assertion! I was born/grew up/live in a university city. Alcohol is exceptionally prevalent here (as is marijuana being legal in Colorado), so we have a huge local drinking culture. The local drinking culture is bolstered by the number of craft (small, focused on quality not quantity) breweries, so alcohol is a big part of our local culture. When you mix alcohol and university students, often one’s alcohol tolerance is a means for competition! I would go on to generalize that in fact, how much one can drink is a contest in America, though perhaps it’s more jocular in nature, comparatively speaking. Alcoholism is a significant problem, a cause for divorce, broken families, broken friendships. When one is an alcoholic and has the support base, the support is not aimed to the alcoholic with shame or punitive means, but rather, ‘your drinking is hurting us and yourself, here is why, and here is how we can help you because we love you’. When alcoholism is shamed, it is because the drinker has begun to destroy their life and the lives of the people who care for them. I wouldn’t call it shame, as much as a reason to give one’s love and support to someone who is hurting. Americans often wish to solve the root cause of the alcoholism, not lambaste the alcoholic.

    5. They Have Free Time All Week Long!
    I wish! I work 55 hours a week then hold events all weekend! Free time depends on occupation and hobbies in America. Some have as many hobbies as Japanese, some choose to vegetate on the couch!

    6. Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.
    I would agree with this, as much of my humour is derived from sarcasm. The “air quotes” are uncommon however, and as stated before on Tokyo5, being able to read between the lines of sarcasm is key in America. As a sarcastic yet shy person, sometimes I am tricked by said sarcasm!

    7. They tend to horse laugh, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest.
    This is definitely true! Uma is my spirit animal as it is, so laughing like a horse comes naturally to me. My wife loves my big throaty laugh- it’s how I show you I am genuinely interested and entertained by what you have to say. Conversely, I have dental issues, so I also tend to self-consciously cover my mouth when I laugh, as showing my teeth is hard for me. I can understand where hiding one’s mouth is culturally significant, especially in the context of masculinity/femininity in Japan. I feel as though if I visited, I’d be quickly compartmentalized into an outsider, despite my genuine love and interest in the culture, specifically for my laugh. It’s hard to think about, because I love to laugh, and I don’t like to hold it in!

    9. Their vending machines are ridiculously limited and dishonest.
    Yes. Our vending machines are silly and awful. I don’t drink soda or eat junk food, so I don’t use vending machines, ever!

    10. But darn it all, they’re so weirdly optimistic you just can’t stay irritated at them.
    This is my philosophy! I feel that one can only live life once, so one ought to enjoy it as they see fit. Some might not like my being bisexual, but frankly, my life is mine to live. There is a lot to be said for respecting others, and modesty certainly. I do feel that so many in America lead flashy, exorbitant lifestyles which lead to many existential crises, but perhaps that is part of living life.

    I would love to spend several years in Japan. I identify with so many of the attributes listed on this blog- a low crime rate, exceptional respect for others, cleanliness, the fact that one’s career does not determine one’s social status. However, I love being Coloradoan (Coloradoan before American) because where I live, we value all of those things- low crime, respect for others and the environment- and yet we also have a fierce “western” streak of self reliance and building one’s own future despite what society wants to dictate of each of us. We can be ourselves- openly, safely and happily while still living in cooperation and harmony with those around us.

    A sweeping statement about one relatively tiny state in the USA, but having lived here my whole life I can say on the whole, Coloradoans want to love others, enjoy life and be stewards of our planet!

    (now the oil companies are doing their best to plunder our gorgeous state but we try to just ostracize them!)

    I hope I can disagree with some points while avoiding being disagreeable! I yearn to visit Japan, Vietnam, China, Thailand purely for the culture shock, and the desire to be immersed in a society so different from my own. I love so many aspects of eastern and western culture, I hope to combine them into something truly loving and special!


    • tokyo5 November 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

      Thank you for your long comment! Very interesting!

      These statements on this list were just some Japanese people’s opinions / impressions / advice after a visit to America.

      >Alcohol is exceptionally prevalent (in America) (as is marijuana being legal in Colorado)

      I’ve heard that marijuana has become legal in parts of America! It’s a shock to me and most people in Japan!
      It’s still very illegal in Japan…I’m happy to say!

      >I would love to spend several years in Japan.

      I came here to work for two years initially…and like it so much that I never left!


  2. Lauren F. March 27, 2014 at 4:20 am #

    If you are driving anywhere near a big city in the US NE, like Washington DC, NYC, Boston, #3 is totally wrong. People blow through red lights frequently, honk if you don’t pay attention when the light changes, and the speed limit is followed only when police cars are visible. I was like, which America are they talking about? : ) On the other hand, the vending machine criticism is spot on. I am looking forward to sampling the fascinating selections from the Japanese vending machines on my next trip!


    • tokyo5 March 27, 2014 at 7:29 am #

      Haha! Those are just some Japanese people’s impressions and advice from visiting America.

      Are you going to visit Japan soon? First time?


      • Lauren F March 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

        I went in 2012 and am planning another trip later this year. My husband has some family there and we really like it so we are hoping to make regular visits.


      • tokyo5 March 27, 2014 at 9:56 pm #


        Is your husband Japanese? From Tokyo?


      • Lauren F. March 27, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

        He was born there, but moved to the US when he was 3. His mother is Japanese, from around the Tokyo area–I forget where exactly.


      • tokyo5 March 28, 2014 at 12:59 am #

        Do you and he eat Japanese food often?


      • Lauren F. March 28, 2014 at 2:35 am #

        Sometimes. Neither of us does much home cooking, although I have tried some recipes. We had a great time eating our way through our last trip. I loved the bento meals you can buy at the train stations–there’s nothing like that in the US.


      • tokyo5 March 28, 2014 at 7:45 am #

        They’re called “eki-ben”. Nice for when you take a long train ride somewhere.


  3. jewelsworldtravels February 22, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    Vending machines in Japan are SO much better!


    • tokyo5 February 23, 2014 at 9:06 am #

      Yes. They’re very high-tech with a very wide range of items!


  4. ddupre315 February 21, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    How interesting! Thank you so much for sharing.


    • tokyo5 February 21, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      I think after living in Japan so long, I can relate to the Japanese feeling more than American!


  5. Jay Dee February 21, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    This is actually quite funny. Canada is very similar to the US in many ways. I’d actually say that Japanese food is much more bland than American food. The Japanese celebrate blandness in their food. It can be so bland that they can distinguish different kinds of rice. Kyoto’s food is notorious for being so bland that many Japanese find it boring.

    Also, grocery store checkouts are not slow. It’s just that people buy more and only go once a week. I’ve found slower service in Japan.

    I must agree with the traffic one. Japanese drivers are inconsiderate towards pedestrians, run red lights all the time, and generally don’t pay attention.


    • tokyo5 February 21, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      >I’d actually say that Japanese food is much more bland than American food.

      I don’t think Japanese food is bland.
      And I wouldn’t say American food is “bland” either. But I was disappointed with much of the food served to us in restaurants when we visited the U.S.—the meat wasn’t tender, there were hardly any vegetables, and the desserts were way too sweet!

      >grocery store checkouts are not slow.

      Sometimes they are…because American supermarkets pack the groceries for customers, and sometimes customers pay by check–which takes them time to write out.

      >I must agree with the traffic one

      I’ve seen many more traffic accidents in America than in Japan.

      Do you drive in Japan? I have driven in big cities in America such as NYC…Tokyo is more densely populated and the roads are narrower, but I’ve found driving in Tokyo less stressful than in NYC!


      • Jay Dee February 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

        I drive in Japan. I find it far more stressful than driving in Canada. Honestly, being a pedestrian in Japan is sometimes an adventure. A couple years ago, I was nearly hit by a car in 4 separate incidences. I was very visible all 4 times.


      • tokyo5 February 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

        >I find it (driving in Japan) far more stressful than driving in Canada.

        Well, Canada’s is spacious with wide roads and isn’t densely populated.

        >I was nearly hit by a car in 4 separate incidences.

        Really? In twenty-four years, I’ve never had an accident, or even a “close call”, involving a car in Japan. I was hit by a careless bicyclist as I was walking one time a few years ago.
        I have seen many car accidents when I was growing up in America, though.


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