So you wanna travel Japan to see samurai, geishas, and funky style in Tokyo? Maybe you’ve heard about all the advanced technology and want to try authentic sushi? Japan is an awesome country to travel (or live), but you can’t just bust in, guns blaring, and expect Japanese culture to bend to your whim. You may be surprised and shocked with how different Japan is from what you’re used to back home. The Japanese maintain politeness, manners, and hospitality, so if you go gallivanting around like an asshole, you may leave a sour taste about your country’s citizens. When you travel or live in Japan, here’s how not to put your worst gaijin (foreigner) foot down and leave a tarnished reputation to follow.
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Don’t get in the way of pictures
The Japanese love their pictures and selfies just as much as the next person. They are super mindful of their surroundings and do their best not to stand in the way of people taking photos. You may think this strange, but they will appreciate you for not being a complete dickhead and ruining their photo! You’ll also find people respect you when taking pictures even though there are loads of people there. They’ll wait their turn.
The Japanese pride themselves on keeping their country clean. If there’s no bin in sight, don’t just throw things wherever. Keep it in a plastic bag in your purse or backpack and wait until you find a convenience store or return back to your accommodation to throw it away. Don’t be an ass and think there’s magic trash gnomes in Japan (hint: there’s not).
Use Your Indoor Voice at ALL TIMES
If there ever was a time to use your indoor voice, on public transport would be the time. Japanese trains urge you to put your phone on “manner mode” or silent mode as not to disturb others. Don’t be that jerk that talks loudly on the phone or in general then gets upset when people stare. At shrines, temples, and monuments would also be a good time to use your small voice. Even when you’re intoxicated, don’t get loud and unruly. It just gives foreigners a bad name.
Manners Must Always be On Point
The best way I can describe this is to always put your money in the money dish or on the counter. They will not directly take money from you. Give up your seat for the elderly, pregnant, and women with children. Bow at the waist when bowed to. Don’t stick your chopsticks in the rice (these are funeral rites). Don’t eat while walking or on public transport. Don’t be an idiot and disrespect national monuments. Don’t yell at the waiter, waitress, clerk, etc for not being able to speak English. How ignorant could you be to go to a foreign country and demand those people speak English?
Don’t Think Your Way is Better
Time and time again, I’ve seen tourist and expat alike with the attitude, “I am white man. I can do whatever I want.” Hell no you can’t and if you have this mentality, you need to fix your brain and stay in your own country. If you travel, you need to open your mind and accept the Japanese have done things the Japanese way for thousands of years, and they’re still here.
Japanese Girls are NOT Docile Sex Kittens
You may think Japan has a place for the perverse, which in some way, is true. They have weird sex shops, maid cafes, host/hostess clubs and brothels. However, this does not mean you can grab any Japanese girl off the street and have her do your freaky bidding. If you wouldn’t do that to a woman in your own country, what makes you think you have any right to do it in Japan? The Japanese hate confrontation and don’t know what to do when approached in such a direct way. Don’t be a dickhead, march into a convenience store, and molest the clerk.
Don’t Take What’s Not Yours
One of my favorite things about Japan is no one will take your things. You can leave whatever on the table and it will be right where you left it or safely in the back of an establishment if someone turned it in. Although, you should still exercise some caution. Don’t be an asshole and think Japan is a free for all and grab things unattended at the table. The Japanese believe in karma and you will get what’s coming to you 20 fold.
Take Your Shoes Off
If you see a bunch of shoes outside an establishment, it most likely means you have to take off your shoes. Don’t be a buffoon and wear your shoes where everyone walks around in feet or socks. The Japanese will politely tell you to take off your shoes, but they will side-eye you so hard for bringing your dirty shoes in.
Using your index finger to point at others is threatening and rude. If you must dictate with whom you are speaking outstretch all of your fingers, palm of your hand up, and point that way. My students used to hate when I did things like that until I realized pointing was very aggressive.
Don’t Gaijin Smash
There’s a time to do it and a time not to do it. Gaijin Smashing is when you impose your will upon the Japanese. Sometimes people think it’s okay not to pay for things and pull the “I don’t speak English card.” Don’t be a dick and keep walking. Just pay the 500 yen entry fee to keep the shrines, parks, and temples maintained.
Learn the Language
If you’re going to be living in the country for an extended period of time, this is a no brainer. In America, we expect people to assimilate and learn our language. Don’t you think it’s the same in Japan? If you’re traveling for a short time, at least learn how to say please and thank you. The Japanese will appreciate you a lot more for trying.
Basic Rules for Not Being a Dickhead
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you wouldn’t do that in your own country, chances are, you’re being a complete dickhead. People love the anonymity of travel or being a foreigner because it makes them feel entitled to act like a bunch of hooligans. Don’t be like that. Do your research, enjoy the country and experience new things. Part of going abroad is putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and feeling accomplished for doing a simple task in another language. Enjoy your time in Japan and try to assimilate as best you can. This isn’t to say assimilate completely. Having lived there myself, there’s just some things I couldn’t do, but one thing I could do was respect… And that’s what it all boils down to.
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