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Cultural differences in Japan

Published on August 6, 2020

A student exchange in Japan is one of the most exciting cultural experiences one can have in life. The island nation in the Pacific has a unique culture, whose millennia-old traditions fascinate visitors from all over the world. Experiencing Japan is an adventure because many things are very different from ours. Between the modern and shrill high-tech world and calm and reserved interaction, you too are sure to be amazed! We took a closer look at some of the cultural differences in Japan.

1. No garbage far and wide

From a global perspective, we in Germany certainly do not live in one of the dirtiest countries on earth. But for the Japanese, completely different standards apply when it comes to cleanliness. Even in the big cities it is sparkling clean. You will almost never find rubbish or cigarette butts here. Public rubbish bins on the street aren't either, but how does that work together? It's simple: the Japanese take their rubbish with them and dispose of it at home. The only chance to find a garbage can on the go is next to the many vending machines or in front of Konbinis - the 24-hour convenience stores. Eating on the street is also taboo. You should only eat at home or in front of the shops or restaurants. By the way, you can find more about Japanese food culture in our blog post about food in Japan.

2. Cleanliness in the house

Cleanliness is also very important in your own four walls. Before entering the apartment you always have to take off your shoes and slip into house slippers. The street shoes remain in the entrance area ("Genkan"). There are other slippers for the bathroom, which you put on before entering and leave for your neighbor when you leave. Most Japanese like to take a bath in the evening. But be careful: you get into the bathing water already showered and clean, because bathing is only for relaxation and not for cleansing your body. The beds are also washed regularly and aired daily. You will always find lots of laundry and blankets on the balconies in apartment buildings.

3. Never say “no”

It's not that bad, because you can of course refuse things in Japan. However, one is careful with a no here, especially to people who do not belong to the circle of friends or family. Expressing one's opinion directly and clearly, rejecting or denying something, is considered extremely impolite. The Japanese are always careful to save face of the other person. You don't want to shame or reject others by rejecting them. So in Japan you will have to learn to read between the lines. A clear “no” can be concealed behind a “maybe” or “we'll see”, even if it is hardly recognizable as such. In Japan, denial is not shown with a frown or a vigorous shake of the head. The smile always stays on the face and cannot automatically be interpreted as a positive sign.

4. Own reluctance

In Japan, people are disciplined and keep a low profile. Emotional outbursts, wild gestures, loud laughter? Nothing! Whether in the overcrowded subway, in a traffic jam on the freeway or when an old friend meets again - the Japanese always keep their cool and practice humility. They do not accept compliments, but humbly reject them. If someone speaks to you in English and you praise their good language skills, you will likely hear a "No, no, I'm really bad!"
In restaurants, the cook or the waiter does not expect praise for good food and nobody will ask you whether you like it. In Japan this has nothing to do with poor service, on the contrary. They don't want to embarrass you saying something is wrong. This would not only result in loss of face for you but also for the staff. Sounds complicated? Many of the cultural differences in Japan are initially strange to Europeans. But over time you will get used to it.

5. Exceptions prove the rule

Don't worry: not always and everywhere there are so many rules, self-control and domination. My friends and teenagers tend to have a more relaxed atmosphere. You will also find places where you will very likely come across exuberant Japanese. These include, for example, karaoke bars, arcades and izakayas (Japanese pubs). The volume here is usually much higher and people talk, laugh or sing a lot.

Do you fancy the great adventure in the land of the rising sun? Then you will find all information about our programs on our website. We are also happy to advise you by phone on 0800 22 55 298. We look forward to seeing you!