1. Store employees are too polite and could cause heart attacks if a tourist isn’t prepared for the bum rush. As soon as you step foot into a restaurant or shop, someone says, “Irashimase!” or Welcome. At first this sounds harmless but these welcomes, especially in regular stores come from everywhere. If there are 5 employees working in a clothing store the first one that sees you yells “Irashimase!”and then the rest follow with “IRASHIMASEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeee!” so loud that it can be startling. At ¥100 stores employees take turns yelling out “irashimase!” for about 1/2 hour or so then someone else takes over. This doesn’t mean there is one greeter in front of the store but if this guy is happening to be restocking shelves in the back he will yell from back thereabout every 30 seconds or more. The difficult thing for me was not responding to these people. When I first arrived in Japan I felt compelled to bow a little and smile at everyone who jumped out of the woodwork to yell welcome, when in fact you are supposed to basically ignore these people. You don’t even have to look them in the eye. Of course if I’m in close contact with a greeter and I catch his or her eye I will respond with a quiet nod or a konnichiwa (good afternoon). It is a very uncomfortable situation for me to be in because it kind of invades your privacy in a way but it can be downright annoying when a woman screams “Irashimase!” in a baby voice as loud as possible.
2. Japanese roads are very narrow…Sometimes only wide enough for one mini car to drive on at a time. Even highways have narrow lanes. When I first got here and my husband was driving me around I spent most of the time with my eyes closed. To make things work, people illegally park all the time which makes taxis and other drivers quickly weave into the other lane whether it has oncoming traffic or not. Now that I have had my Japanese license for a couple years I know that going into the other lane is perfectly acceptable, as people in the other lane will try to make room if they see the situation. Regardless I still find myself closing my eyes sometimes as if going into a trance to make everyone get out of my way so I don’t get hit. It seems to work…no accidents yet. Jinx.
3. Japanese people are short but they drive tall cars. This one I still don’t get. I’m 5’5” and many Japanese people, especially women come up to my chin. Despite this fact, Japanese car roofs are twice as tall as roofs on American cars even though their heads don’t always clear the headrest. What’s even funnier is that a lot of people drive mini cars to compensate for the narrow roads. So now we have a boxy tiny car with a tall roof.
4. Japanese cars are rarely painted with primary colors. Japan is only cool for about 3 months out of the year. The rest of the year is hot and humid since Okinawa is a subtropical island. Therefore, cars are not painted dark colors. White is popular but even more popular are slightly metallic, light pinks, blues, purples and greens. They are very cute (from a girl’s perspective anyway)
5. Corporate men wear pink. The first time I went into a Japanese department store I went to the clothing section and it took me a minute to realize I wasn’t in the ladies’ section. Men here wear pink and think nothing of it and have been doing so for a long time. Pink is usually reserved for dress shirts and ties but I have seen men’s’ workout clothes in pink too.
6. Appliances and tools are also pink. Refridgerators, washers, driers, rice makers, teapots, vacuums, and just about anything else you can think of come in pinks and purples. Ever seen a purple drills, screw drivers and hammers not marketed towards women? Didn’t think so. Neither did I until I came out here.
7. No shoes allowed I believe it is common knowledge that shoes are not allowed in Japanese residences. Also be sure to leave shoes at the door of day spas, restaurants with tatami rooms, dressing rooms in department stores, some karaoke bars and in most Japanese companies from large corporations to advertising agencies to air traffic control towers. We wear shoes in our office and at out main office. Not sure why. Never asked.
8. Japanese eat more than just sushi and sashimi. You wouldn’t think so if you spent any time in California. Japanese food is varied and not all locals enjoy raw fish. In fact there is a lot of deep fried fish, pork, chicken and vegetables. This type of deep-fried anything is called tonkatsu. Hamburger steaks are popular, and except for the local McDonalds, a hamburger isn’t typically what Americans think of. They usually contain a lot of onions and are considerably looser than the tightly packed grilled variety. I think they contain egg to. Some also have potatoes or cheese in them. Other popular foods are curry, katsudon (rice bowl with pork cutlet, onion and a raw egg drizzled on top), temperu or battered fish, shrimp and vegetables dipped in a miso sauce (made from fish flakes), omelets with fried rice or yakisoba noodles mixed with everything from pork to squid and soba noodles in a soup. There are plenty of other native dishes but Japanese people also love Italian and there is an Italian restaurant on every block it seems like. Indian and Chinese foods are also popular.
9. Cartoons rule lives over here. Cartoons are everywhere as one would expect from the influx of Japanese anime to the United States. That my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg. Animated characters are everywhere and promote all sorts of products from dish soap to tampons. The strangest place I have seen a bubbly cartoon character is on the spinning thing on a cement truck. First off, they are pastel blue and white. The bunny on the side is painted in pinks and yellows and the Japanese words are written in other bubbly pastels. Construction merge signs are actually animated life size men with a swinging arm in the direction to merge. Sometimes that animated thing is out there and a live person is right next to it doing the same thing. I’ve heard this is a barometer for the Japanese economy. If someone has been hired to stand out there the economy is good. If they have to rely on just the mechanical man then the economy has taken a slump.
10. Baked goods aren’t sweet compared to American goodness. Less sugar, less taste. ‘Nough said.
11. American movies imported into Japan have different names over here. Most recently I noticed The Incredibles was called Mr. Incredible at a local theatre and it was on the official movie poster. That title is close but many others are completely different.
12. Japanese kids never seem to be in school. There is formal school I’ve heard and I even drive by a high school every day on my way to work but no matter what time of day I’m out and about, students are loitering all over the place in their school uniforms. As soon as the girls leave the school grounds they hike their skirts up to high you can see if they are shaved or not and the boys untuck their white shirts so they stick out below the dark blue jackets. They are always close by the school but never in school?!? Many students like to skip school to sing karaoke with their friends.
13. Japanese mothers don’t put seatbelts on their children. This really bugs me and it happens every day. Japanese mothers think their babies and toddlers are safer in their arms in a moving car than locked in a car seat even though there are laws in place for seatbelts and car seats, much like back home. Here, not only are kids not buckled in, but they are free to roam around the car at will. When I pull up to stoplights there is always a random family with the token wild child bouncing from the front seat to the back seat. They are acting like monkeys and then when the light turns green the mother doesn’t tell the kid to sit down. Instead she steps on the gas and either the force makes the kid fall down onto the floor or even bang his/her forehead on the rear window. The kid cries and the mom probably starts yelling because it finally sits down, at least until the next light.
14. Red lights do not mean stop. It means light turns red and three cars are allowed to blow the light before the ones who had the green light, which has since turned into a yellow light, may go. My mandatory on base Japanese driving class also taught us this unwritten rule. People only drive fast at red lights. It takes forever for the lane to move when the light turns green. Once the 3 cars pass the other side starts up one at a time and it takes forever for the entire group to start moving. That and the 3 cylinder cars take forever too.
15. Honking your car horn is illegal.
16. Japanese people don’t talk about the Emperor or his family in public. Where Americans feel quite comfortable to rag on the President and his family, this is considered rude and taboo in Japan.
17. Japanese pop stations cut the song off before it is over…like the DJ begins talking halfway through.
18. Japanese people eat whale.
19. Japanese porn doesn’t show everything. All of the naughty bits are pixilated so it is completely blurry. You can see boobs but nothing else.
20. Taxi drivers read “manga” or magazines about different subjects containing random porn cartoons throughout while they are waiting for someone to hail them. This can be awkward if you are a girl all by yourself. Imagine walking up to a taxi and seeing that. Creepy, but it is the norm over here. Even manga for teenage girls have pictures of girls getting raped. I saw one while out with my friend just the other day!
21. There are at least 10 vending machines on every block in the more populated areas. Vending machines are everywhere and sell anything you can fit in there. They can contain:
used high school girls’ panties
Who know vending machines could be so much fun! Seriously though, I thought all of those vending machines were lame and redundant at first but they have really grown on me. One can never go thirsty in Japan that’s for sure. When I get back to the States I’m going to have some serious withdrawals. Now if Starbucks would offer their mochas in these machines!
22. The legal drinking age is 20.