If I could recommend you experience one place in your life, It would have to be Japan.
Japan, although increasingly Westernised, is still poles apart from the Western culture I personally am acclimatised to at home in Scotland.
Here I will share with you some of Japan’s cultural factors that stood out to me.
Food in Japan is very different than that of the UK.
Generally, the Japanese eat a lot of fish and pork in terms of ‘normal’ meats but like many Asian continents they have a large selection of more abstract meats you can sample.
Personally, I have tried raw whale and salamander — which I would not recommend.
However, with much of the food lacking labels it is possible I may have eaten more unusual delicacies unknowingly.
The local convenience stores of Japan are 7/11 and Family Mart, both of which are open seemingly all hours.
They showcase a colourful array of noodle pots, a guessing game of stuffed dumplings and an assortment of edible things on sticks.
Just wandering the shop looking at the how the shelved offerings vary from UK or indeed most Western produce is quite a pastime.
The artificial glow of soft drink vending machines is a common feature on Japan’s back streets.
They are everywhere, and yet not once did I see them being used to purchase a drink.
It’s like some form of kitsch street lighting used to advertise bright coloured artificial delicacies that in EU food legislation would probably be illegal, just based on the additives or, if found in the UK, would be soon smashed and robbed of all drinks as well as any spare change held within.
Japan’s most international food product is probably its noodle dishes; most commonly served as either Ramen (soup) and teppan (stir fry).
One of the most fascinating cultural differences for me was the fact that in Japanese culture, eating is a very private affair. Such things as picnics for example do not exist, on the premise that eating in public is considered very disrespectful and downright rude.
That being said, the loud slurping of noodles is considered a sign of appreciation;
like some weird contrast of kids should be seen and not heard, noodle eaters should be heard but not seen.
Within my experience of Japan, I found there are two main types of dining out.
The first is solo dining.
On entry you order your meal at a machine reminiscent of an old-fashioned cigarette vending machine. After pushing the button corresponding to your meal selection, it prints your order on what looks like a paper lottery ticket.
A waitress then escorts you to cubicle which is closed on 3 sides with the face opposite covered by a wooden rolling curtain.
You deliver your paper ticket under the curtain opposite and when ready your meal is delivered under the curtain.
Other than being escorted to a cubicle, there is no face-to-face contact during this experience.
The idea of eating in a cubicle against a wall hidden from everyone feels very alien — but here in Japan it is completely normal.
Similarly being surrounded by noisy eaters is equally weird, with it being a firm no in western social etiquette.
The second form of dining out is group dining.
Although this time other people see you eat; you are still segregated from strangers in a private booth. These booths are called Ishikawa’s.
An Ishikawa is a large room made into smaller rooms by the addition of paper wall partitions.
Each cubicle has a table about a foot or so from the floor and no chairs. Instead, people sit on the floor at the table side.
Ishikawa restaurants do not allow their guests to wear shoes indoors. On entry they will ask you to remove them and place them on shelving to collect on exit.
The only shoes you will find beyond the front door are shared rubber slippers for the bathroom.
At Ishikawa restaurants the meals are delivered by an identifiable waiter (as opposed to the delivery of food under a curtain as detailed on my solo dining example). However the order process in both examples is electronic, with Ichikawa’s utilising tablets with image based buttons for each menu item.
Ishikawa’s in my experience seems to be a much more social affair where friends hang out for hours and just eat loads of edamame, dumplings and drink sake. But with each table being completely partitioned from its neighbouring table it is still very private and the common trait of looking at what other people are eating before you place your own meal order does not work here.
In Japan there are a lot of rules based on respect, honour and discipline.
For this reason, the behaviour demonstrated on a typical Scottish night (i.e. getting drunk and being loud) is extremely unacceptable.
In public in Japan, people are very courteous, respectful and reserved.
Additionally, theft is an alien concept. If something is dropped, it is left exactly where it fell. It is not handed in to lost and found, or stolen or even touched at all.
Since theft does not exist here, neither do safety conscious theft prevention measures.
People will wander with phones or other valuables in easy reach of criminals if they were so inclined — but here since theft doesn’t exist neither do sensible theft prevention measures.
The Japanese behaviour to smoking I found particularly odd.
In the UK smoking in public places is banned and if tolerated at all, is usually restricted to a specific corner outdoors.
In Japan however, the opposite exists.
Most Japanese public streets are non-smoking and if you do want to smoke you need to go inside somewhere, like a bar or restaurant. This is bizarre considering nearly everyone in Japan smokes — just not outside.
Finally, the Japanese behaviour to waste is different. For example, public bins are uncommon in Japan. Instead people collect and take home their own rubbish. In Japanese culture it is considered a person’s own responsibility to be clean and respectful of their environment. It is not left to the discretion of their local council or jurisdiction which is a common expectation in the UK.
Apparently in Japan they operate a strict recycling policy, and anything which a household produces which is non-recyclable and destined for landfill is weighed and a proportional fine is charged to the household responsible to cover the financial cost for the city to process their waste.
Although a bit strict, I think it is a great attitude to have, which conflicts a lot of the rest of the world. Perhaps if practised elsewhere, many countries may not export so much of their waste for processing abroad and instead be more conscious of their carbon-footprint.
Part 2 of this series here : https://trippki.com/japan-the-things-they-dont-tell-you-part-2/
Enjoy the Trippki Experience, Next Time You Travel !
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Written by Krypto Flamingo for Trippki