6 Cultural Mistakes I make no matter how Long I’ve been in Japan

1. I forget to remove bathroom slippers 

While there’s a whole other post about why I don’t understand Japanese bathroom slippers, I’m just going to skip the repetition and jump straight to the point: I never remember to take the toilet slippers of in a Japanese home.

Bathroom Slippers in Japan

Bathroom Slippers in Japan

This is important because it’s a pretty big social taboo. As I mentioned before, traditional restaurants, community centers, or Japanese schools will have these little plastic shoes for people to change into when they go inside the bathroom. These bathroom slippers are supposed to keep the bathroom mess, well, in the bathroom.

Which is great if you can remember to take them off instead of tracking that bathroom gunk (to be fair, there’s no bathroom gunk in residential homes) all over the house. I already have to wear slippers inside the house. And then I have to change into a different set of slippers to go to the bathroom. Once I finish in the restroom area, I need to switch back to the original house slippers.

That’s just too much changing.

It’s confusing.

Especially, you know considering the fact the typical bathroom slippers are leagues more comfortable than Japanese guest slippers.

Don’t judge me.

2. I feel the urge to make eye contact. With everyone.

“Honey, I think you’re scaring people.” Ryosuke got onto me about this one day. I can’t help it. I understand this is a cultural taboo in Japan, but I can’t help it. If you don’t meet my eyes, I assume you have something to hide. Or you’re lying to me. Or you got caught talking shady about me.

foreigner interviewing texan Tokyo Japan

That’s the problem with cultural differences. I know my preconceptions don’t hold true in Japan, but the road to change is long.

This blog is full of things I notice in Japan. And I only notice things because I keep my eyes peeled open – looking and questioning everything. I can’t do that if I’m looking down, avoiding people’s gaze.

Plus, I just like seeing people.

3. I rarely fill up my neighbor’s beer glass

In Japan, you’re not supposed to pour your own beverage. If you want more beer (orange juice, whiskey, water, etc), you are supposed to fill up your neighbors glass. They will, of course, reciprocate and fill up your glass.

Kirin Beer Japan braille on beer can

Everyone wins.

Unless you’re like me and forget to fill up your neighbor’s glass.

I drink a lot of water. It’s part of the reason I’ve been able to stay so skinny, I guess. The problem with this is the fact that Japanese glasses are tiny. I need a refill several times a night. Ryosuke’s very good at filling up my glass; I always forget to reciprocate. Maybe I’m just too selfish to realize that my neighbor needs something.

And don’t even get me started on when I go to dinners when he’s not around. It’s basically just a night of Grace doing a collection of social taboos.

Japanese Boyfriend's Family

4. I sometimes touch chopsticks

I like to eat off of other people’s plates. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl – girls in relationships are supposed to eat their boyfriend’s food.

Sometimes when I’m feeling “mean” I try to snag his food while he’s eating. But touching chopsticks in Japan is a pretty huge social faux…

5. I don’t cover up.

I like tank tops, I like summer skirts, and I like getting tan. All of these are a bit weird in Japan – especially in the summer time.

6. I eat while walking. All the time. 

To be honest, I’m not sure how much of a social taboo this is in Japan anymore. I know when I was younger, living in Hokkaido, it was a big no-no. When it came time for the pre-study abroad class for Japan, we had a whole half an hour devoted to why it is culturally unacceptable to eat while walking in Japan. The teacher made it sound like it was something horrible wrong; if you did it, you were an uncultured foreign swine.

Cooked bird taipei taiwan taiwanese food

But then again, he also advised I tell my landlord my then boyfriend and I were married, so she wouldn’t oppose his occasional visits.

So I’m not sure how accurate the information was. Times are changing.

In any case, I’m busy. Give me a break. I only eat while walking when I’m late for an appointment/meeting. Otherwise I do the culturally appropriate thing and just awkwardly stand off to the side and eat my nikuman.

Don’t judge me.

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele


8 responses to “6 Cultural Mistakes I make no matter how Long I’ve been in Japan

  1. The no eye contact thing is difficult, we’re so used to reading people that way. My first days in China, where they also have a lot of weird rules, I thought everyone was so rude because no one looked me in the eyes.

    • I can’t even imagine living in a country that isn’t Japan (or America) because it’s taken me so long to finally adjust to cultural rules.
      What are some of the weird rules in China?

      (I agree, though, I thought it was weird when no one looked me in the eye…)

  2. I like the no-eye contact rule, but the neighborly refilling of drinks I’m not sure about…

    • I understand the no-eye contact rule (but have difficulties following it). I really don’t get the refilling of drinks, though. I hate being a bother to whoever I’m sitting next to – it’s not their job to make sure I’m well hydrated… Oops.

        • I really have no idea. I’ve tried asking friends. Most of them say it is to induce servitude/respect for the person you are serving. When I pour your drink and you pour mine, we become friends.
          But no one really knows…

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