How to be a good neighbor
Introduce yourself with a gift
It’s common for new arrivals to visit their immediate neighbors with a small gift, usually some store-bought cakes or pastries, to introduce themselves. This happens more in apartments than houses and is a traditional way to get to know your neighbor. Similarly, if someone moves into the apartment next to you, you may also receive a knock on the door from a new arrival with a gift for you.
Sort garbage properly
Sorting garbage correctly is really important in Japan. Place your garbage in bags (make sure they are bound properly) at the designated spots outside your house. In big apartment buildings, each floor will have a space set aside for garbage. There will usually be four or five containers — for burnable items, non-burnable items, PET bottles, cans and glass bottles (see Basic rules for garbage below).
In large condos, these containers will be emptied each day by building maintenance personnel, and if you make a mistake and put your trash in the wrong container, they may leave a note on the container requesting all residents to get it right the next time. If you’re in a house or smaller apartment building, there will be certain days for you to put out the trash. Don’t put your trash out outside of the designated days and times, as you’ll likely see the bag put back on your doorstep.
Keep the noise down
The walls of Japanese apartments are much thinner than western-style apartments, and they are not as insulated. So if you are playing music loudly, watching TV with the volume up or having a party, bear in mind that not only neighbors on your floor may be able to hear it, but also people living above and below you (especially if you have a balcony) and probably people across the way as well since buildings are typically stacked close together.
Greeting your neighbors
It’s a good idea to greet and get to know your neighbors. If you see someone in the morning, say, “Ohayo gozaimasu” (“Good morning”). At other times of the day, say, “Konnichiwa” (“Good afternoon”, also means “Hello”).
Basic rules for garbage
There are four basic types of garbage in Japan. It’s best to separate items into these categories when you throw them away rather than digging through a trash bag when it’s too late. These are:
- Moeru (燃える) gomi or burnable/combustible garbage (this includes paper, food wrappings and boxes, food waste, peelings, etc.)
- Moenai (燃えない) gomi, or incombustible garbage (glass, metal items, etc.)
- Pura or plastics garbage (food containers, bottle caps, plastic wrap, etc.)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — more simply known as plastic — bottles.
Depending on where you are in Japan, these four categories may be further subdivided into smaller groups, but as a general rule: if you can keep to these four separate types, then you are doing OK.
Regarding parties, it’s pretty rare for Japanese people to invite anyone other than relatives to their apartments for a party, and even this is usually only at certain times of year (New Year, Obon, Golden Week). Partly, this is because many families do not live in apartments big enough to fit too many people in. Another reason is that Japanese people prefer to socialize with their friends at neighborhood pubs, restaurants and coffee shops. While it’s normal in other countries for people to drop in on their neighbors and for them to visit you, that’s not the custom in Japan unless you’re living in a very rural area with a close community.
Many condos do not allow non-residents to stay in apartments while the tenant is away, nor do they permit the apartment to be used as an Airbnb lodging (the rules for Airbnb are very strict). If you are going out of town for awhile, and you want someone to housesit for you, it is best to check with the building management or your landlord to see if that is OK.
One of the best ways of really getting to know your neighbors is through community festivals. There are very few places in Japan that do not have a local festival or matsuri, as they are called in Japanese. These festivals are a lot of fun for young and old, and a great way of getting to know your neighbors in a less formal setting.
Once you’ve settled into your new home, visit the local ward office. They have a lot of English information on everything you need to know about your neighborhood. You can find out dates and places for local festivals, hospitals and clinics where English is spoken, emergency numbers to call in case of illness or crimes, and where to evacuate to in your area in case there is a natural disaster.