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!