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17 Subtle Difference Between Japan and America

April 30, 2010

In Japan there are a lot of obvious differences that most people know about without even being to the country: they speak Japanese, they drive on the left side of the road, they don’t use the Roman alphabet, etc.  This is the first in what I plan on being a series of posts about the more subtle differences that I have been slowly discovering during my year here.

  1. Most bathrooms do not have any means to dry your hands.  The vast majority of Japanese people carry around a handkerchief that they will use in this situation.  I’m not sure if they all carry it because of this, or two wipe off sweat in the summer months.
  2. Walking around with your hands in your pockets is considered bad manners.  But, it seems to be alright in cold, windy weather.
  3. When you beckon someone to come towards you, you do so with your palm facing down, instead of facing up.  Doing so with your palm facing up I’m told is used for animals.
  4. You do not point at someone with only your index finger pointed straight at them, you gesture towards them with an open hand.  Using just your index finger is rude.
  5. Teachers and administrative staff in public schools rotate to different schools every 3-4 years.  This is done to help iron out problem schools.  Japanese teachers actually find it weird that teachers in the west typically stay with the same school for most of their careers.
  6. In school, students brush their teeth after lunch.
  7. You can get change for a ¥10,000 bill (~$100) pretty much anywhere.  You can go to the convenience store, buy a Kit-Kat Bar, pay with a ¥10,000 note and they won’t bat an eye.  It’s magnificent.
  8. Most all gas stations are full service.  Also, they rarely have convenience store attached to them.
  9. Man-hole covers tend to be very elaborately designed and painted.
  10. In a restaurant after the host seats you and the waiter/waitress takes your drink order they aren’t going to come around in a few minutes to see if you are ready to order.  They will leave you be until you are ready, at which point you call out “summimasen!” (excuse me).  Pretty often there will be a button on the table that you can use to call the waiting staff instead of calling out.
  11. Instead of a √ being used for correct, a O is used.
  12. If you buy something from the convenience store that is supposed to be microwaved, the staff will ask if you’d like them to do if while they ring you up.  The Mini-Stop chain of convenience stores also have a seating area where you can eat what you buy.
  13. There is typically no such thing as central air or hear in Japan.  AC units are wall/window mounted and pump out air to just the one room.
  14. There is no air conditioning in schools.  The only place in any of my schools that have AC units are the faculty rooms, but I have yet to see any of them ever turned on.
  15. If you have an electric stove top range, you can only use pots and pans designed to be used on that system.  The same goes for gas.  Pots and pans usually say whether they are for electric or not (denoted by an “IH”).
  16. Japanese pens tend to be finer than Western pens because of the intricate characters they have to write.  Also, they rarely ever smudge since they write from right to left, which is a God-send for my left-handedness.An addition via Facebook from Jason Smith “Pencil lead (2H, 3H, 5H, etc.) and paper thickness (in mm) used in public schools are different in different parts of the country, depending on the average humidity and rainfall. A pencil & paper set typically used in Tokyo will smudge, smear, or wrinkle easier in Okinawa because the climate is different.”
  17. When the Japanese sign for something they don’t use pens, they use a custom made stamp with their name in it, called a “hanko.”  They actually have to be registered with the government and can cost around $500 to get one made (so I’m told, but I’ve seen them sold at the ¥100 store).

If you have any of your own you can e-mail them to kramersemail@gmail.com, I’d love to add them to the next post.

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7 Comments
  1. Martone permalink
    April 30, 2010 7:01 pm

    this is awesome man. im beyond jealous. also ive decided to take up japanese as a secondary major.

    • Konrad permalink
      May 1, 2010 12:18 am

      You have a primary major?

  2. Martone permalink
    May 1, 2010 5:01 am

    lets not do this on kramer’s blog konrad

  3. May 3, 2010 12:39 pm

    A great start and vitals for anyone visiting Japan who plans on making friends. Some habits will be very difficult to get into like the hand gestures etc.

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