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22 More Subtle Differences Between Japan and America

June 2, 2010
This is the second in my series of posts listing the subtle differences between Japan and the United States that I have been noticing.  If you haven’t seen the first post, you can find it by clicking here.
  1. If someone in Japan is counting to ten using their fingers, when the time comes for them to use that other hand (6 and higher) they don’t show their hand side by side like they do back in the US.  Instead, they display the smaller amount of fingers in front of the larger.
    Difference between 7 using your fingers in the USA versus Japan.
  2. There are still smoking and non-smoking sections in most restaurants.
  3. There also still cigarette vending machines, however they require a special card that you can apply for from a convenience store after verifying your age and filling out some forms.
  4. Although much less common, beer is also sold in vending machines (I’ve only seen this is Tokyo).  The ones I’ve seen did not require any sort of I.D. card.
  5. Nothing is said when someone sneezes, you just go on about your business.
  6. There’s no such thing as male or female bicycle shapes.  Mountain bikes will typically have the male configuration, with the bar from handles to seat (crossbar or top tube) going parallel to the ground, and the normal commuting bike’s bar dips down towards the ground.  Also, everyone usually has at least one basket on their bike.  I have two, front and back.
  7. Every two years you have to get your car inspected and pay a tax, called “shaken”.  The inspection insures that your not driving an vehicle that’s unsafe for yourself or others and meets emissions standards.  The shaken increases every single time you get your car inspected.  Because of this there are very few old cars on the road, the shaken just gets too high and it makes more sense to just purchase a new car.  I’ve been told that because of this there’s a very healthy used Japanese car market in Australia and New Zealand (if only because you know that the cars were very well taken care of).
  8. In 2007 the Japanese postal system was privatized.  Also, you can open a savings account with the post office (this started before the privatization).  The bank part of the Japan Post operates separately from the mail handling part, as such it has different staff and different operating hours.
  9. We all know that the currency in Japan is the Yen and its symbol is ¥, right?  Well here in Japan it’s actually referred to as “En” and its symbol is . The ¥ symbol is not uncommon, usually international chains will display that symbol, but you’ll most often see 円.
  10. Similarly, the name for Japan itself is actually “Nippon” or “Nihon.”  I’m not entirely sure why one is said over another, but in Fuji everyone calls it Nihon and banknotes say Nippon.
  11. Months don’t have names, they are simply numbered.  January is “ichigatsu,” literally meaning “month one”, October is “jugatsu” (month 10), etc.
  12. The mullet is making a comeback.
  13. There is no turning at red lights at any time.  Not even if there is no traffic and you’re making a left-hand turn (which would be a right-hand turn in the states).
  14. You have to stop at a railroad crossing as if it were a stop sign.
  15. Stop signs are triangular.

    A triangular Japanese stop sign

    A Japanese stop sign

  16. Unicycles have a pretty strong presence at Elementary schools.  I’ve even seen a mother teaching her daughter how to ride one in my neighborhood.
  17. Trains don’t suck and they go everywhere.
  18. Envelopes are vertical.

    Envelopes in Japan are vertical instead of horizontal.

    A Japanese envelope

  19. In the US when someone lets you into traffic, the standard “thank you” gesture is just a bit of a wave.  Here you flash your hazard lights after they let you in.
  20. Reading is very, very popular in Japan, even with teenagers. I regularly see lines out the door at my junior high school’s library with kids returning piles of 6 or more books.  When I was in middle school, getting kids to read during silent reading time seemed like an unwinnable battle for the teachers.
  21. I’ve heard that it’s actually against the law to sell new books at a discout, which is why the used book market here is extremely huge.
  22. Kick stands on bikes are a little different, and much more stable because of it.

    A Japanese kickstand

    A Japanese kickstand

If you have been to Japan, or live here, feel free to e-mail any differences you’ve noticed,

  1. Roger permalink
    June 3, 2010 9:50 am

    Very good list, but a few corrections:

    #3 -The “Taspo” card: you don’t have to buy it, just apply for it.

    #4-Alcohol vending machines are basically illegal. Anyone you see still operating one has gone renegade.

    #10-The “Nihon/Nippon” spelling & pronunciation issue is a bit more loaded than you may be aware.

    #12-The mullet is actually called “Wolf Hair” in Japanese, so when you want to get one, just as the barber to make you look like The Wolfman.

    #21-Price fixing is pretty much the rule for everything. Books are fixed by the publishing industry, and that’s why the original sale price is printed on the back of the book. So the first-pass price of any consumer good will be fixed, and you’ll never see a Toyota dealer undercutting another one, anywhere in Japan. Same with books, beer, whatever…you’ll see a range on some items, especially consumables that are made locally (like tofu,) but you won’t see Jusco underpricing Kirin vs. the local liquor store by more than a dozen yen.

  2. Gwynnie permalink
    June 4, 2010 2:38 pm

    “There is no turning at red lights at any time. Not even if there is no traffic and you’re making a left-hand turn (which would be a right-hand turn in the states). ” – wait, what? So in the States you can turn at a red light if nothing is coming? Crazy. I also find it crazy how cars can turn when the pedestrian crossing is on green… the first time I went to cross the road here and a car started veering towards me, I was SO confused/scared…!

  3. someone permalink
    November 10, 2011 8:01 pm

    i dont care

  4. A middle schooler who schooled ur ass. permalink
    October 23, 2012 11:50 am

    Also in Japan books are read from right to left instead of in America we read em’ left to right.

    • April 23, 2013 4:47 pm

      Yes and no. Due to the grid-like nature of Japanese text, books are capable of being printed in either direction. With text from the right being written vertically and text from the left written horizontally. Most websites in Japanese will be printed and read from the left to right and top to bottom. So it’s up to the discretion of the author or publisher. Generally what I saw was books of a more traditional nature where printed from right to left.

      Also, very sorry for the extremely late response to this. I tend to forget this WordPress blog exists as I do my main blogging over at now.

  5. October 3, 2014 10:52 am

    Many reasons I will choose to live in Japan over US.
    1) Much much safer to live.
    2) Much better in health care
    3) No afraid of gun violence
    4) no worry about terrorists
    5) No worry about Auto Shop rip of
    6) Polices protect people, not kill
    7) Cleanliness
    8) Children treat parents with love and respect for the rest of their life, not until 18 only
    9) No corruption
    10) Trust Gov and Congress system
    11) No steal
    12) No BS, no politics that much
    More later


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