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Japan “Do’s & Don’ts”

2 Apr

In tourist books, and especially online, there are many lists of Japanese manners “do’s and don’ts”.

Honestly, most of the things on those lists aren’t important! Some are only applicable in certain situations and others aren’t really important…even many Japanese don’t follow them.

For example, it’s commonly written on those “Japan do and don’t” list that have been compiled by non-Japanese:
– Do not put soy sauce on your rice
and – make slurping sounds when you’re eating noodles

In actuality, no one in Japan would care if foreign visitors put soy sauce on their rice, or ate their noodles silently.

Other common ones on those types of lists are:
– Don’t pour your own drink.
and – It’s insulting to leave a tip.

It’s true that if you go out with friends or co-workers and order beer in a large bottle or pitcher in Japan, you should pour for others and they will offer to pour yours. But…if your glass gets empty and your pour your own beer, it’s not “rude”.

And then, many of those books and websites often tell visitors to Japan that they must learn and follow some customs that even many Japanese people don’t bother with.
Such as how to clean your hands and mouth before enter a Japanese shrine.
Really, a lot of people (if not most) in Japan don’t even bother with that custom.

I’d say that if you come to Japan as a visitor, no one would expect you to know the myriad of customs and manners that are “common-sense” to people raised here (and become “common-sense” to those who have lived here a long time).

Here are the Japanese manners and customs that I’d say are the most important for visitors to know:

  • Don’t leave chopsticks directly into food, especially rice.

    Don’t do this! It’s shocking to Japanese people.

  • Don’t point with chopsticks (or with a fork, etc).
  • Don’t touch other people’s chopsticks (or fork) with your own.
  • Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another.
  • If there is a sauce for dipping food into, don’t dip a piece of food into it after you’ve taken a bite of it.
  • Don’t wear shoes indoors in a house…and many restaurants, clinics, schools, temples, etc.
    (It may be difficult for visitors to Japan to be sure where / when to remove their shoes or slippers. In general, if the floor has a step-up or a step-down, shoes must be taken off (or put on, when exiting). Also, no shoes or even slippers are worn on tatami flooring.)
  • When riding a escalator, people who want walk up or down the escalator go on the right-side*. If you just want to stand and ride the escalator, you should keep to the left-side*.
    (*In western Japan, they have this rule reversed. But, I’ve heard that they may change it to be the same as the Tokyo area, to reduce confusion.)
  • Don’t put your feet up on a table.
  • Don’t put anything that could be considered “unclean” or “unsanitary” on a table…such as shoes (even a pair that were just purchased).

I’ve lived in Japan for most of my life now. These “manners” have become common-sense to me. But, how do they seem to you? Confusing? Strange? Or are they similar to manners in your country?

Also…if you’re in Japan, or planning to visit, do you have any questions about Japanese customs or manners?

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Xmas cards? New Years cards?

25 Dec

In Japan, Xmas cards aren’t commonly exchanged — but 年賀状 (New Years postcards) are.

When I lived in America, everyone gave Xmas cards to friends and family.  I had never heard of a New Years card until I came to Japan.

I have been sending and receiving New Years postcards every year since I came to Japan … but these days, more and more people in Japan … especially young people don’t bother to hand-write “real” paper New Years postcards — they just send ケータイ年賀状 (cellphone New Years postcards).

It’s not the same. I think people appreciate getting a hand-written card.
My kids love their cellphones … but they still write New Years postcards by hand, I’m happy to say.

How about you?  Do you send hand-written Xmas or New Years cards?
Email cards?
None at all?

Mother Nature wants to be sure we haven’t forgotten who’s boss

11 Apr

花見 (“Cherry Blossom Viewing“) is a centuries-old Japanese tradition. Every spring, Japanese people have a picnic with friends and family under the 桜 (Cherry Blossom) trees.

Japanese people have always loved the pink Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), as can be seen in many things in Japan such as haiku poems, ukiyoe (woodblock prints), paintings, Sakura-flavored snacks, tea and 日本酒 (Japanese sake rice-wine).

I wrote a post last year explaining a bit about Japan’s love of 桜 (Sakura flowers) and 花見 (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing”).

Basically, the Sakura are beautiful and fragile and they are in bloom for only a short time before they fall to the ground in a way that looks like beautiful, gentle pink snowfall…it’s called 「桜吹雪」 (“Sakura-fubuki” (Sakura snowfall)).
They symbolize the beauty, fragility and brevity of life itself.

But this year, due to the disaster last month, the Japanese government has asked people to use 自粛 (self-restraint) this “Cherry Blossom Viewing” season.

Does it seem odd to you that the government would ask that of people in Japan?
I have heard that many people from other countries were surprised to learn that the Japanese government would request people to refrain from Cherry Blossom Viewing or at least to do it quietly and reverently this year.

But in Japan we have no problem with such a request. In fact, even if the government hadn’t asked, most people in Japan probably would have done so anyways.
In many cases 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing) leads people to drink excessively and sometimes become a bit loud. But this year, so soon after the huge disaster in the 東北地方 (Tohoku Region) and with so many up there still trying to recover from it, no one is in the mood to celebrate.
Many people are electing to skip Cherry Blossom Viewing this year, and those who are doing it this year are doing so quietly and with more reflection.

Today my wife and I went to a temple with a small lunch to enjoy a quiet 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing).
Here are some photos that I took:

Some junior high school students walking to school. The school year has just begun in Japan.

Can you see the Sakura petals falling in 桜吹雪 ("Sakura snowfall")?

Many Sakura petals on the ground.

Back of 大仏 (Buddah)

Not long after we returned home, our house shook pretty hard from a big aftershock that was a 振動 5 (Level 5 of the Japanese earthquake scale (with goes to “7”))! It was a 振動 6 (level 6 (out of 7)) at it’s epi-center in the Sendai area! It was then that I realized today is the one-month anniversary of the 2011 March 11 Sendai Earthquake!

Japan is putting aside materialism for Sendai

23 Mar

Do you know the “Ad Council“?

The Ad Council (of America)

If you’re not American, you probably don’t. Even if you are American, you may know their TV ads but not recognize the name.

The Ad Council puts public service commercials on TV. Not trying to sell anything…just addressing a problem in society.

When I lived in America, their most well-known commercials were probably the “Crash Test Dummies” that were used to try to convince people to fasten their seat-belts when they were in a car and anti-drunk driving ads with the catch-phrase “Drinking and driving can kill a friendship“.

The American Ad Council “Crash Test Dummies” seat-belt ad:

The American Ad Council “Drinking and driving can kill a friendship” ad (you can tell it’s from the ’80s…Michael Jackson’s music was playing in the background:

The Ad Council is in Japan as well.
Here it’s called 「社団法人ACジャパン」 (“AC (Ad Council) Japan Association“).

AC Japan logo

The ads by AC Japan are quite different from America’s Ad Council commercials. Rather than car safety the ads here mainly focus on manners.

If you’re in Japan now and you watch Japanese TV you’ve surely noticed that ever since the 2011 March 11 earthquake the commercials on TV here have been almost exclusively AC Japan ads.

This is because it would considered poor taste and a bit rude to show commercials for beer, fast-food, cars, or other materialistic goods when so many people in 東北地方 (the Tohoku Region) have lost so much and are in need of basic necessities.

So, to fill the time spaces in pre-recorded TV shows that are normally for commercial ads…all of the TV stations in Japan put messages from AC Japan in their place.

The ads extol the virtues of reading, recycling, and being polite.

Here’s one that I occasionally saw on TV a couple of years ago but since March 11th, I’ve seen it countless times. It has a good message though…my translation of it would be something like: “No one can see your heart, but everyone can see how you use your heart. No one can see your thoughts, but everyone can see your compassion.”

They also have one titled 「魔法の言葉で」 (“The Magic Words”).

Not easy to explain, but this ad has characters named after some basic Japanese “magic words” of basic manners. The names are a play on words in Japanese…but when translated into English, the word-pun is lost.

"Arigatousagi" ("Thank you Bunny")

"Itadakimausu" (The "Let's Eat" Mouse)

"Gochisousamausu" (The "Thank you for the meal" Mouse)

"Ittekimasukanku" ("I'm Leaving Skunk")

"Konbanwani" ("Good evening Gator")

"Konnichiwan" ("Good Afternoon Doggy")

"Ohayounagi" ("Good morning Eel")

"Oyasuminasai" ("Good night Rhino")

"Sayonaraion" ("Farewell Lion")

"Tadaimanbou" ("I'm Home Sunfish")

See? The names are cute play on words in Japanese…but kinda odd in English.
But you might enjoy the TV ad anyways:

Besides these TV ads in place of regular commercials, other noticeable differences in Tokyo since the disaster of March 11th are shops opening later and closing earlier everyday…and using only the bare minimum of lighting necessary. All shops and places of business are doing it.

This is to conserve electricity since the nuclear power plant disaster. It’s a bit surreal to see the usually well-lit and neon Tokyo nights so dark these days.

Also, the trains in Japan usually have poster ads on the walls and hanging from the ceiling…but, for the same reason as the eliminated TV ads, these days the trains have very few poster ads.

But soon, I’m confident, Japan will be back to normal.

(By the way, if you want to see my post about Japanese train and subway “manner posters”…click here and here.)

More Manner Posters

20 Jan

Last November, I wrote a post about Japan Tobacco, Tokyo Metro, and Toei Subway‘s マナー・ポスター (manner posters). (Click here to see that post).

Well, yesterday I rode the 西武新宿線 (Seibu Shinjuku train line) and noticed their マナー・ポスター (manner posters).

I think I like these best. They’re pretty clever. Each one shows a different animal and says some good manner…using a play-on-words with the animal’s name.

They’re impossible to translate and get the same humorous play-on-words.

For example, one says 「乗車は順にならブーさん。」 (Line up when entering the train.)…and shows pigs lining up (pigs say 「ブー」). (See, it gets lost in translation.)

bu

Or how about 「ボリュームちいサイさん。」 (Keep the (headphones) volume down.)…with a rhino listening to music quietly (“Rhino” = 「サイ」).

chisai

Or 「次の電車を待ちまヒョウさん。」 (Let’s wait for the next train (rather than run to board one))…with a leopard waiting nicely (“Leopard” = 「ヒョウ」). Actually, correct Japanese would be 「次の電車を待ちましょう。」 but it’s OK for the joke.

hyou

Another one says 「車内のゴミは持ちサルさん。」 (Carry your garbage off of the train.) and 「ホームではゴミ箱へ捨てるでごザルさん。」 (Throw your garbage in the garbage can on the platform.)…with one monkey carrying his garbage off the train and another throwing his in the bin. (“Monkey” = 「サル」).

saru

And 「駅構内で煙草スワンさん。」 (Don’t smoke on train station premises.)…with a swan holding a “No Smoking” sign. (“Swan” = 「スワン」).

swan

And at the bottom of all of them it says グッドマナーを、ありがとう。 (“Thank you for your good manners.“).

I think that these manner posters are clever. What do you think?
Click here if you want to see all of the 西武新宿線のマナー・ポスター (Seibu Shinjuku train line’s manner posters).

マナー

25 Nov

Japanese are famous for their マナー (manners).
Even big cities in Japan like Tokyo and Osaka have less crime and more general politeness than other large metropolises in the world.

There is crime and there rude people in Japan…but considerably less than in cities overseas.

The high level of politeness in Japan means that the bad manners that most commonly encounter here are things like smoking or eating while walking, putting make-up on while riding the train, music turned up too loud on a Walkman®, not giving up a seat on a train or bus to the elderly, and using cell-phones near the silver seats on the train (where they’re supposed to be turned off).

So, fairly recently, both the Tokyo Metro Subway company and Japan Tobacco (JT) each started a series of good manners posters. (Japan Tobacco‘s posters were originally only aimed at smokers to reiterate good smoking manners…but have grown to include general good manners).

Both the subway and JT‘s posters are written in 日本語 (Japanese) and English. So I like to read them, not so much for their intentionally humorous writing style…but to study the 日本語 (Japanese).

Here are a few of JT‘s posters:

bump

portable

unconcern

The Tokyo Metro‘s posters have a 「〇〇でやろう。」 (“Please do it at…”) theme, with a clearer explanation at the bottom. For example, one shows a man diving through the subway car’s closing doors and it says 「海でやろう。」 (“Please do it at the beach.”).

umi

ie

There are older manner posters, too. That don’t have any English written on them.

The ones above are the newer ones…but you can still see the original manner posters in Tokyo sometimes.

Here are a couple of the older subway manner posters.

They both basically ask commuters not to bother other commuters with loud music from headphones, sitting improperly (taking up too much space), applying make-up or eating and drinking, or putting their belongings on the seat next to them:

manner1

manner2