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5 Signs You Haven’t Been In Japan Very Long

Do you bow on the phone yet? After living in Japan for a while one can't help but to start picking up a few cultural quirks.

By 3 min read 23

A slight twist on the good old ‘You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long If…’ I thought I’d take a stab at identifying a few of the uniquely Japanese traits that not only become part of one’s repertoire after living here for a reasonable amount of time, but also are quite crucial to living a fulfilling life here!

1) You don’t bow when talking on the phone.

This is one of the most common items to make lists such as these, but I really think it hints at much deeper psychological changes in a person. Although perhaps a large part of it is merely mimicry and habit-forming, it also tells a lot about how a person has allowed those culture cues to become part of them.

In essence, (unintentional) bowing shows respect, which in turn necessitates a change in mindset and shift towards a more humble nature; a trait shown by the majority of Japanese people. Doing this unconsciously over the phone just exemplifies how deeply that mindset and habit has penetrated!

2) You receive gifts willingly.

Not that it’s a bad thing! But gift-giving in Japan is a reciprocal thing. If you receive a present, it’s thought of that you are every so slightly indebted to that person, so repaying them in some way in the future is the right thing to do. Scenarios might include moving into a new apartment or receiving some freshly grown vegetables from the little old lady down the street.

It’s all part of the beautiful community atmosphere fostered in the country, but at the same time can be frustrating, sometimes leading to an endless cycle of gift-giving. But perhaps that’s the mastery of it all…

3) You shrug off a cold.

Even the slightest hint of a cold is taken seriously in Japan, and many other minor ailments for that matter. The idea that you might be wasting your valuable doctor’s time is not entertained, and the done thing is to receive ample medicine to quickly relive your symptoms and have you back on your feet. Part of the psychology lies in not wanting to inconvenience others by spreading the virus, as well as the lost labour time and other sacrifices.

So while self-healing is possible, it’s usually seen as preferable to see the Doc and speed up your recovery. That goes for taking annual flu injections and other vaccinations as part of ‘company policy’.

4) You jaywalk.

Not everyone adheres to this rule. Not everyone in Japan is humble either. But, by and large, most people respect the rules that bind and hold society together, even if it’s as trivial as a red pedestrian crossing light on a sleepy backroad in the countryside without a car in sight. It’s just not to be questioned.

Subtle nanny-state rules like this permeate the country, and the willingness to blindly follow them does to some extent signify an assimilation into the culture. Good? Bad? That’s a whole other discussion. But just for the record, I still jaywalk.

5) You still notice the quirky aspects of the culture.

Okay, this one is rather sneaky. I question whether any foreigner could move to Japan and assimilate to such an extent that nothing surprises them anymore, but perhaps that’s a question for those much older than me can comment on. What is obvious however, is how desensitised I’ve become to everyday occurrences that used to cause me to react.

Convenience store bread and vending machines on every corner are the norm now! Cute mascot characters to inform me about any and all aspects of life? Yes please! It’s rare that I’m ever truly shocked by something anymore, but that’s a pleasant feeling. Although I can’t deny, the honeymoon stage of visiting Japan was a lot of fun!

What aspects of Japanese society of culture have you found to become part of your own daily habits?

I’m curious specifically about lifestyle changes and ways of thinking that have changed to become more in tune with Japanese society since you’ve moved here. Let me know in the comments!

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  • twitchit says:

    I USED to bow on the phone and other similar things but have totally grown out of it, having been here years past THAT stage.
    I have come to the conclusion that the true measure of being here a long time is when one starts to behave as if Japan were one’s own culture and country, ie be just as disobedient and irreverent as one would in a comparable situation “at home” – in any country.

  • Faye Jennings says:

    I bow to everyone even on the Navy base and I say Hai even when speaking English. The Japanese customs still amaze me but I now pay attention to the norm as opposed to the not so normal but what is normal in Japan. Oh, it kills me that they run red lights all the time. I agree I feel safer too here

  • MangaEngel says:

    Hm, guess, I was there at about the right amount of time?
    I don’t bow on the phone, but many people here have already complained that they feel weird about me bowing randomly in conversations or doing gestures that are common in Japan, but not Germany (holding the hand in front of the mouth when laughing or putting the hand in the neck when thinking) xD

  • Jean Surico Percy says:

    I feel safe. I actually trust people not to hit me with their cars when I cross the road, even at the crosswalks, even when the little green man is saying Ok To Go. I still look, though. But I know I don’t have to. Dodging bicycles on the other hand…

    And I bow and smile a lot more. Because the service people actually appreciate it and go out of their way to show you how much they love your interaction with them. Everyone is either friendly or just indifferent. I love this country. I miss some American things. Crime isn’t one of them though.

  • Michael Jaye says:

    I’m totally a much more polite and considerate person after each time I spend in Japan. For a while 🙂

  • Anthony Joh says:

    lol! I totally see this too. There’s a Lawson near my house and the one cashier counts and names everything in my basket.

  • Kolton says:

    I don’t know but the girl in the picture is very cute 🙂

  • Lauren Mansene says:

    When I first moved to Japan (and still sometimes to this day), I was surprised by the pure diligence to trash sorting. While I have always been a recycler, I never had to separate it, much less clean it before throwing it away. Now the sorting has become second nature and I find myself sorting somewhat in the same way back in the United States.

    • Michael Richard Murphy says:

      Good for you! We have proper recycling in my building but only I and the younger tenants seem to do it. If I see recyclable stuff in the regular trash I take it out and put it where it should go. I keep telling people to do the right thing with waste! I love Japan that they are not self-absorbed and rude like Westerners! Such kind people!

    • Simone says:

      Actually, the energy spent cleaning out items for recycling (especially if you’re using soap or warm water) negates the environmental benefits of recycling the items. So items should only be scraped clean or at the very most given a quick rinse in cold water, otherwise the recycling ends up doing more harm than good.

  • Michael Smith says:

    The phone bowing thing has to do with getting the right umph into your greetings while on the phone. You say “domo domo” without the bow and you don’t get enough pressure on your diaphragm to sound respectful. People on the other end will sense the lack of proper respect without the bow.

  • S M Jakir Hossain says:

    in some cases true….

  • Locohama says:

    I recently stopped shrugging off colds smh

  • kietero says:

    I take issue with number 4… Everyone jaywalks. Gaijin and Nihonjin alike. There is almost no respect for the rules of the road. Heck people still don’t understand that bicycles are subject to the same laws as cars and therefore when there’s a red light you do NOT run the red light just because you’re on a bike… I see that gaijin here have more respect for the rules of the road and courtesy than most of the NIhonjin I encounter on the road in Tokyo…

  • Valerie Pappageorge says:

    One thing that really stood out to me was the constant talking while your at the checkout counter as they ring everything through the register. I really wish I spoke more Japanese so I would know what they were saying. The Japanese themselves don’t even acknowledged it though so I assumed I was fine. I noticed once I got back from my season being there I had to stop myself from thanking people in Japanese for every little thing they did for me! It definitely made me miss Japan. The people are just so nice, polite & eager to help. I love how they pride themselves in everything they do, even when it comes to their methodical recycling system for the rubbish.

  • Grace Buchele says:

    I remember back when I first moved to Tokyo, I hated the way those masks felt, so I tried to avoid wearing them unless I was actually coughing.
    Now I don those masks every time I think I feel a sore throat coming on. It’s funny how things change.

    • Gakuranman says:

      I haven’t yet succumbed to wearing masks yet. Not unless I actually have a cold and will be working close with other people. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes though!

  • forgetmenots says:

    Ahahaha, so true.. though #4 is definitely exempt from anyone living in Osaka. In fact it would be the opposite, if you’re NOT jaywalking, you certainly haven’t been here long enough. Though of course the poor gaijin raised on Osakan ideals get quite the culture shock when they leave Kansai area. The other day I even saw a little old lady slowly jaywalk across the road hunched over her walker, not even at a crosswalk.

    Oh Osaka <3

    • Colton King says:

      My older brother lived in the Tokyo Area for a few years, not the city but smaller ones around, and he would say jaywalking was all the people did there.

    • Gakuranman says:

      Osaka is often said to have much more in common with other western countries. It’s interesting to hear that jaywalking is somewhat of a norm over there!

      • Eija Niskanen says:

        I wonder how Japan would be, if Kansai area leaders had won the civil wars in the 16th century.



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