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Mind Your Manners in Japan

Source: I HAVE always heard how different Japan is from the rest of the world but nothing prepared me for experiencing the culture and its people first-hand. Their customs and beliefs are steeped in tradition and they live in ways that are seemingly normal to them, but so uncommon to outsiders who are looking in. I spent two solid weeks shooting a travel series across Japan and I feel very fortunate to have had a peek into a culture so different from our own. There were countless things about Japan I found fascinating in more ways than one. Some of my discoveries were quite awe-inspiring, and some were downright perplexing. I found them an intriguing race of people that were difficult to read at times. One needs to be aware that you could offend a Japanese person without realising. They may simply be too polite to point it out. When we were filming in Osaka, the crew from Malaysia were taken out for a meal and our host, Zizan Razak, and everyone at the table was exchanging jokes and in really good spirits. One of our cameraman reached for a long piece of sashimi with his chopsticks but he was struggling with it so my producer helped him to jointly transport the piece of food on to his plate. The Japanese who were dining with us went utterly still for a heartbeat, before conversation continued as per normal. In those two seconds, if you were not looking at the shock registered on their faces, you might have missed it but my producer asked our guide about it later, wondering about what we did that was so wrong. We were informed that there are many rules to observe when eating with chopsticks. It is taken very seriously in Japan. Unfortunately, we committed the biggest taboo at the dining table because food must never be shared or passed from chopstick to chopstick because this resembles a custom at Japanese funerals when cremated bones are ceremoniously transferred to the urn. Courtesy of Our guide reassured us that we probably would be forgiven because we were foreigners. Having said that, foreigners who were wise enough to learn about how to be polite at table were a step ahead in doing business and making friends in Japan. Our film crew never meant to be offensive but what they did was a big no-no which should be avoided at all costs. We took a mental note of this for future meals with the locals. Another basic thing I found really unique in Japan were their toilets. In my hotel room, the seat had a sensor to automatically open when you were approaching. Most toilet seats were also heated and played a flushing sound (like music) when a person was using the bathroom. I did not understand this. Our local guide said many women used to flush twice in the past, wasting a lot of water before this clever solution was implemented because they did not wish to be heard in the act. Hence, the automatic flushing music solved the problem because it covered up the sounds of a person going to the toilet! I also noticed the streets were also spotless. There was hardly a piece of litter anywhere. In fact, smokers do not even ash on the street so they all carry pocket ashtrays. An interesting thing happened when we were shooting the world’s tallest broadcast tower (the Tokyo Sky Tree). My guide accidentally left his iPhone on a public bench on the pavement. Thousands of people must have gone past that bench by the time he discovered he had left his phone behind. We could not understand why he was trying to contact the public authorities to try and recover his phone. We assumed he would never get it back but our guide told us it was a high probability he would recover this phone. In fact, even lost wallets are often returned to their owners and as a token of appreciation, the person who recovers their wallet usually gives the person who found it 10% of its contents as a “thank you” gesture. You can imagine how surprised we all were to discover that our guide did actually get his phone back, as predicted because someone had turned it over to the police! Not long after, our client left her iPhone in the bathroom of a major shopping mall and she also got it back. Japan really fascinated me in every way from the old to the new. We had an opportunity to film a popular girl group called Tokyo Girls Style. They were as cute and adorable as the Hello Kitty theme park we shot them in. Say cheese: Jojo with members of Tokyo Girls Style after filming. Then stepping back into time, there was a ninja we filmed, who was swift and soundless in his movements. He struck fear in our hearts with his knife-throwing precision. Another highlight for me was watching a real-life geisha perform, because her every graceful movement was an art form in itself. If you ever get the chance, you must go to Japan to experience their culture for yourself.
September 21, 2012

53 responses on "Mind Your Manners in Japan"

  1. Where do i begin in this topic, it could be your first timer visited Japan. Perhaps if you want look back in their earlier national history dating back 2500 years ago. This may give you an idea of life living in Japan, yesterday and till today.
    Being there many times, is a clean neat little country but still having problem in getting use to it, has nothing to go against Japan,I guess Japan is just not for me.
    if you were an economist you will understand the picture i’m trying to paint for those whom want to read. Anyway, visiting is always interesting, leave yourself a good memory of what you had came across with.
    But I like Singapore, being there several times. it’s just so fun when you’re in Singapore. We knew there isn’t much happening in a small little island nation, but we just love going around every corner of the island and sitting by the pier enjoying our drinks. The Singaporean is such a loving bunch to American. We give full respect to the founder father of the Island Mr Lee, he’s a great man in leading the island nation into the 21st century. Will sure visit again if time permitted.
    Other than Singapore in south east Asia, the rest we’re less likely to have interest in visiting. As for east Asia to China,HK,Taiwan,Japan and Korea. These area are more fascinating, the way of life,the culture,the people,the everything.
    I remember when I first saw a Chinese in my town, back in time when I was just a kid. I got so excited i ask my folks please take me to her and ask if I can just touch her. Amazingly fortunate she gave me a very gentle smile and say is ok, she allow me to just touches her hand. I wonder what she must have thought about this weir kid, anyway, I shared this experiences with the class of elementary school, they all just give me an eye popping wow. I’m the lucky one, my folks just smile at me. Well, this is my story of the Chinese experience, will never forget that feeling in life. You know what, every President of the USA, they all has their Favorited Chinese meals. However, today Chinese foods is still the number one to be like by all American.

    The best to the Chinese Foods.

  2. In japan people went for public hot bath, it is something new to foreigner who haven’t been to places like this. Why I mention this is because of most foreign visitor are out of their curiosity to just want to try out the experience of how this hot bath are like in completely naked in front of all those stranger soaking yourself with them in the same pool.
    Now for those who don’t get use to practise yourself bare naked in front of people on the same gender, you may felt pretty awkward. Anyway, you know this is wear less public hot bath, but the catches is
    Once you paid and get in and got yourself ready walk out from the change room to the pool. That moment of what you see in the pool will give you a shock, cause there are both genders in the pool. You would felt like million of eyes are xraying you from top down. I guess for a women especially in Asian decent obviously felt very uncomfortable in the immediate instance. That would go the same for white women as well, is just that they are more confident in knowing of how to handle themself in an awkward situation. Remember, this is not about open minded nor civilization but is individual privacy, you have the right to just walk out of there.
    Now by saying that, let share another western culture in New York city public washroom or change room. You will be surprise once you walk in the women bathroom seem to be everybody is in a hurry to undress themself to get change in the rush hours. A lot of time you see lady chic chatting without anything on her, just enjoying themself in the public washroom. The main focus is how you felt about yourself in showing your naked body in the many people eyes.

  3. The experiences of flying JAL from Chicago to Japan direct,
    sitting next to me was a young mother with a new born. During the take off from the run way and the journey high up in the air, the new born baby cried numerous times.
    The young mommy with the new born kept saying very sorry for what the new born has caused the noise of his crying. Then I said to her, don’t be sorry lady, we can understand what you have been through, travelling with a new born is not easy. She told me the reasons why the baby cried is because of the air pressure in him. During take off and about to land, sometime in mid air too as well, so this is the time the air pressure build up in the ears. How’re baby release their air pressure in their ears, i guess is by crying. I have learn something in baby, they always cry for a reason either hungry or not well, or uncomfy. Only the mother be able to tell what the baby want, to make him stop crying.
    But the matter is when it come to baby foods, the airline do nothing about it. They did not provide any baby foods for baby, i just can not come to understand why! Then it trigger me of writing a note to JAL Corp in Japan, by how much will it cost for a baby to eat. and how many baby do you get in flying the plane in a year. Not many. We cannot discriminate baby by not having their share of foods providing for them. after all they chipped in their share of the air fare as well, i don’t see why they can’t have their fare share.
    Anyhow, what i need to do has been done. landed in Narita. Everybody heading their way, and i assisted the young mother for a short while till she get through custom. Then we say goodbye and I’m enjoying my stay at the Nippon Hotel, doing what I’m suppose to do for a week.
    Then one day, I received a mail came in my mail box in my Chicago home. The mail is send from Hong Kong, inside the mail saying. Thank You Mr Smith for helping me during the flight from Chicago to Japan. On my return to L.A. the airline gave me and my new born full attention of what we needed.
    Frankly, I like JAL pilot they’re the best landing pilots in most flight industries.

  4. I saw a beautiful cover girl’s in the “shape magazine” with pinky swim suit on her. It looked so much like you, I wonder do you have a twin sisters with you. You’re leaving yourself something behind, in times to come when you look back, you’re going to appreciate of what you did for yourself. In pursuing of happiness it comes in many way, as you were saying do what makes you joy. I assume so long as we’re not harming anybody but in well being its joy. Healthy body color tone, aligned body figure. Warm feeling color of the swim suit, the mystifying look of your eyes,in sending out the electrifying current nobody can ever resisted this scene. it really make you wonder. What messages are you transcending to the wonder worlds of many possibility.
    Beautiful Morning is always your to keep.

  5. While I was sitting at the deck of my yard, having my glass of Kentucky Bourbon. The evening is come closing in and i was reading this blog. All in a sudden it reminded me of something about a trip to China way back in the years 2000. The incident I saw at the train station was unbelievable.

    Anyway,We started off our journey from little island HK, right after we stop by Japan for one night, originally from Illinois,It is our first trip to explorer the big China. Anyhow, there were so much the talks about visit to the East Orient, many things you never see but you get to experiences in China, it make me wonder what that was. So I touched down at Hong Kong airport, in HK is pretty safe when you going around, if you felt lost just get a cap will take you back to where you were. The days coming close for us to cross over to China, I use the subway from HK it took around an hour or less to reach to the border of China, listen this is the part that make your eyes popping. I have never seen there are so many people, it just so many people. And the embarkation line were so packed and long,not one line but ten i think, you can never see to the end of the line. The old lady in front of me cried and keep saying please stop pushing she can’t breath. We are actually physically body to body attached to one another in the line,and the force from behind kept pushing. Remember, you must not stay out of the line, if you do then too bad you can’t come back in, you need to go back in square one. That’s how i understood, so this is the first interesting scene i had came across with. I can imagine now the worlds number one populated nation, makes everything always in such a rush and scarce in worry you might not make it or lose out.

    There are more along the way, let share the second incidents this is in the train, we purchased numbered 1st class seat ticket, but as for the local they are not. They can roam all over they like jumping from cabin to cabin, unfortunated for me when i located my seat a little too late, cause it has been taken. So I showed him my purchased ticket to whom he taken, he just looked at me don’t seem to bother him at all. So I just have to deal it with the cabin Master, I don’t remember was a male or female, anyway, the stranger who took my seat been told to get up and given me back my soft seat. It took three long hours of traveling into the province of Canton, the land of many famous delicious foods make in this part of China. The always saying if you haven’t been to China you haven’t seen the worlds yet, and the same if you are in China you haven’t been to Canton for it well renown of it good foods from all those master chef, then you haven seen China. I guess I can buy all those quote above it is true the amazing China.

    The last incident i want to shared here for this story is, I reached at the train station in Canton. The train stop i was so exited looked out the station, the same as i see are sea of human. Move our way out from the train track get into touched the land in Canton. Looking for a cap to take us back to the Hotel, it is not an easy job to get a cap, you do the same pretty much have to fight for one. Anyway, we were standing and waiting at the open ground from the station, suddenly there is physical fight broke out some where not very far from where we stand. I came to acknowledged the reason of the fight is because of a lady has taken the foods from a man without him knowing a chicken drumstick. She hasn’t been eating for days, she sleep on the open air for days, she has no money in her, they’re out from the country side to the city in searching for works. They’re farmer from the country side, i felt for her and the rest of those were at the station. They’re not bad people but they just want works in hoping to make some money to take home for the family.
    I took a thousand Chinese dollars telling the man to give it back to her saying she drop her money on the ground.

    Beautiful Morning Always your to keep.

  6. For a westerner to live in Japan, wasn’t that difficult. But to live with the local foods in a daily basic while you’re stationing in that island country it is something to experienced. I can never tolerate raw seafood, never in my life once in consuming uncooked fish or any kinds. My opinion raw is only for the carnivore, ordinary people who are usually eat cooked meat.

    Come to talking about the raw eating, it prompt me to just do a short search in finding how did this raw seafood consumption ended up in Japan society. And is so widely influenced in other part of the worlds as well.
    Why not in some others part of the worlds like China or India or Africa or may be south America. But, other than Antarctic the north pole they did the raw meats,cause of the weather in that freezing region. Now, most Japanese they knew of how and why this raw eating came in the beginning of the stone era i think, only of those who knew about the history and willing to share with you. As we all knew Japan is an island of aggressive volcanic eruption country in the very early era and a land of no natural resources at all. Raising and growing foods is very scarce, in other words is very hard to get foods for so many people. Not to mention any kinds of meats at all, having been able to have meats on the table are only for the people in power. Can you imagine what life can be living in a land as this, people die of hunger in those days are not something new its the normal practice. There are those days old ages people get carried up to the mountain to leave them there to finish their life, because they want to scarified their life for their future generation, all because of the shortage of foods in every family. So that those old age people staying alive is useless to them and is taking up the foods in the house.

    In order to thirst their craving for meats, raw fish eating came from the idea of the fisherman. It just happened when this fisherman saw those birds eating the flashes of the fish, he’s was so very hungry too, without a good meal with some good meat how can you get your strength and energy. Fisherman is a very hard job, so this is how eating raw fish came about, but the same time there are lots of life taken away as well because of this raw eating. They knew the risk of eating uncooked meats can cause you ill and still people do it in those days, reason for surviving.

    What you eat is what you’re, and it will turn you into what you become. Eating light and live your life right will sure make you good looking.

    Beautiful Morning Is Always Your To Keep.
    Join me in Listening to (Kenny G. The Moment,always,innocence,stream of Champ) in the late evening gazing the star out in the night on a clear blue moonshine cooling night. The boy in the present moment with you.

  7. Hmm…not sure why all these people wrote really long rambling responses nothing to do with japan…but I can so relate to your astonishment at the toilets when I first went there. The flushing sound…the many buttons, the heat settings! The difference of the culture there is what makes it so exciting to visit Japan..and I’m about to do visit number 9!

    Oh, and I have to disagree with the first poster…ALL the countries in South East Asia are just AMAZING to visit!

  8. I’m a mom’s of two children, just recently visited the region.
    What shocking me to saw was the scooter rider robbery, we were in the car heading to town, the incident happened just too fast. My kids and hubby they were just could not believe what they saw of what had happened in front of us. Even the cap driver told us you just have to be more alert when you’re out in the open air. This country has turned itself into become a
    no-law land, i think i can understand of what he’s trying to draw the pictures. The society it’s getting rotten by days people life are at state by what had happened in everyday life.

    I agree its Amazing to visit but the prices to pay is just too high. Sad to see of this kinds of scene is happening everyday and is in constant mode. I felt for the people who are living in this little country of their safety.

  9. I’m a Uni-student, sometime we need to walk a thousand miles to learn the knowledge but other time we just need to read to gain the knowledge. Fair to say, i have gained quite a bit through reading this blog, and frankly the cost of living in Japan is just way up to your nose. Is it a good phenomena or what, knowing from the local is never a good happy answer.

  10. A teenager like me is always good in learning the good education, a lots of times we don’t go look for books to read. Sometime we like some of the site we tent to visit more often, as for this blog it gave me quite some education and wisdom. I guess, whichever we did, it’s always learning in life. I like the long writing above, the least i can learn some of the experiences they came across and sharing. And the same time it kept me in reading, instead of turning on my video game.
    I know, I’ll not be able to go oversea in this life time to see other worlds. But the least to have people sharing on the blog of what had going on around the worlds. I think is a good way of sharing and giving us some thought.

  11. I am currently studying in US, I love it here is just so eyes popping. This country is just so beautiful, my thought was I agree with Alfred about the foods in the US nation wide.
    Well, you know college life is fun but the same time money has to be spent wisely. Not about the cost of living, the cost of living here is so less and you get to enjoying the top class quality of foods. The standard of living here is nobody can compared. Have you heard of super WI-FI, we’re currently using now, no other nation using it as yet except US.

    I am not at the big city University, which is away from the big city with many hours of driving. The American are different in the country side, they just like us so pure and very curious. They have no idea of what region we’re coming from they always thought i’m from China,then I mention do you know Singapore. Oh……. a little picture beginning popping up in their mind. I think the body hairs is what they’re curious about of all the fuss. My leg and hands has very less of hairs but they do grow quite a bit for them.

    • Well, sad to say, I only tend to play catch-up with this blog (and others on the D-H westbie).I’m sure hoping D-H went back to option c’.If I wanted serious commentary and back-and-forth conversation, I’d rather spend my time involved with the excellent OPB radio show Think Out Loud . Much broader base of callers, and guests with solid opinions to interact with. Lets face it, they have many more people to draw from, as compared to the D-H westbie Farrell (selling all of us short a good idea, given the recent stock market trends, no?)

    • Holli – Good for Dave for checking out the fancy toietls. When we went to Japan, we were out in the country and it was really cold (late November). And the house we were staying in had HEATED toilet seats. SO awesome. I want one of those. Fun trip!

  12. What you saw it may be interesting to you, cause you don’t live here. But what you don’t realize was the cost of living, it’s not easy for us. Do you know of how many people sleeping on the streets of those cities. They’re not jobless, they make at around $25,000usd a year. With that kind of earning won’t be enough for renting or just merely sharing in a bunker. I’m a local myself, we would love to get away if we could.

  13. I agree Mr Hadaki, the cost of living in Japan mostly in cities are really unbelievable. Renting a place it could taken out a big chunk of your pay, added on utilities and foods you can go back to square one.
    That’s the reasons why so many people living in Japan, had contracted immsonia. People who won’t be able to be in deep resting for long hours. Of course there are many other reasons contributed to it as well but this is one of the caused. The topic of immsonia is so broad each cases are individualistic, but the most common two were the stresses and hormone changes in the body.
    Just recently read on American Journal of Medicine, in regard of breast screen for women. The new founding is no longer for you women to go for screening, not untill you’re 60’s and above. Of course if there is unusual founding by your self checked. Then a physician opinion has to be see.

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About Jojo Struys

Jojo Struys is an accomplished speaker, author, regional TV host and HRDF accredited corporate trainer. She is very passionate about wellness and is currently the wellbeing brand advocate for the Westin Hotels, Asia Pacific.

@jojostruys Instagram

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