My friend visited me in 2005. We met up at Narita International Airport, which is located in the suburb of Tokyo. She stayed with me for about 4 days. It was a short trip, but since it was her first time visiting Asia, there are many things which caught her attentions during the trip. She told me she had noticed that Japanese people acted differently from American people in certain situations. In this blog, I wanted to share what she told me about Japan.

I have lived in California for over 10 years, so I also agree with her. I didn’t even pay attentions to these things when I lived in Japan! But when I visited my family in 2008 after not seeing them for 2 years or so, I noticed these things about Japanese people immediately. I was experiencing reverse cultural shock!

  1. Japanese people sleep in the train. Many passengers are sleeping even in a crowded train during rush hours. So my American friend was curious if they were really that tired. There was a girl sitting directly in front of her, and as soon as she looked straight to her, this girl looked away and went to sleep! As Japanese, I know that this is a pretty common act among Japanese people. They work hard so they are probably really tired by the time they get off and get on a train. But it is probably more to do with cultural issuesJapanese people are generally shy and they don’t feel comfortable with making eye contacts with strangers. So it is easier for them to just close their eyes and “sleep”. This is my theory but my American friend agreed with me.
  2. My American friend is very observant. When we were doing window shopping at a mall, she asked me why Japanese women laugh with their hand covering their mouth. This is a very good question. I am Japanese, but have never really developed this habit growing up there. I heard from some sources that Japanese people tend to have esthetically unappealing teeth, so females are more comfortable covering their teeth when they smile or laugh. And also there is a cultural notion in Japan that showing teeth while laughing is rude especially for females.
  3. Bowing is Japanese tradition, and it is important that you bow properly when you meet Japanese people especially in business. There are different degrees of bending your back depending on your relationship with that person. But my American friend immediately noticed two senior ladies who were bowing to each other almost endlessly as they were walking away. She said “are they going to stop bowing?” So Japanese people bow more than once and it is common that they bow as they separate and each head for one’s own destination. It’s just like American people waving hands at their friends. Actually waving hands is becoming much more common in Japan right now. We don’t really bow to a close friend.
  4. When my friend and I were going through some popular Japanese fashion magazine, she asked me why Japanese girls make these lips. It’s hard to explain, but they make really cute lips which are similar to duck. And these girls’ eyes are wide to make themselves look prettier and more innocent. I am used to that particular facial expressions seen in all fashion magazines from Japan, but my American friend thought that they were ugly. Why shouldn’t they just smile like American models? Well, Japanese people are not used to showing off their teeth like Americans!
  5. Finally, I knew that she was going to bring it up. But I took her to Raman store on her last day in Tokyo. She was very surprised with the sound Japanese people were making to eat Ramen. They Slurp noodles and drink the soup out from the bowl, of course without using a spoon. She said “wow”. I am sure that this was new to her, but I made sure to tell her that this is how we eat delicious Ramen!

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