5 Things Japanese People Want You To Know
So you're thinking about visiting Japan, and you want to meet some local people and have some great conversations. That's great! Japanese people may seem shy sometimes, but once you get past that, they are some of the most friendly people you will meet!!
When meeting new people from a new culture they may be some things you aren't sure about. "Is it rude if I do this? Is hugging ok? Will I look silly if I pronounce this word wrong?" So many questions!! Well, I won't lie, there are hundreds of articles or videos about some of the most common differences between Japanese and most Western cultures. I'll add a few in this article you can check out 😄
That's not what I want to talk about today. There's no point saying the same old things as everyone else like - Don't put your chopsticks in rice standing straight up, Don't be too loud / talk on the phone on the train, Most people will not be comfortable hugging hello or goodbye. Today I want to go over a few other things you may not have thought about. There's a lot of misconceptions about Japan and Japanese people, so let's clear a few things up!!
In general, the sushi you know and love is a lie!! Ok, not a lie, I still love it, but that California Roll, Dragon Roll, Chef's Special Roll with the shrimp and avacado and sauces and crab and cucumber and who knows what else. As delicious as they are, that is not Japanese sushi. Japanese sushi is much more simple than Western styles. That does not mean worse!! Not even close! Where Western sushi has all these bells and whistles and tonnes of ingredients, Japanese is typically just your fish (or other seafood, meat, main item) on rice. Perhaps with some wasabi. These fish side of the sushi is then lightly dipped i soy sauce.
Sounds plain right? Wrong! This is real sushi! The fresh fish, the balance of flavours, the subtle yet delicious taste. This is how Japanese people eat sushi. Again, there's nothing wrong with extreme Western style sushi, but if you come to Japan to try their version, be sure to expect something a little more subdued, but oh so delicious.
Japan is more than anime, crazy outfits, ninjas and samurai, hilarious commercials and seizure inducing lights in the heart of Tokyo. Ok, Japan is those things, but that is not the life of most Japanese people. When a lot of foreigners think of Japan, the above things come to mind. The weird and crazy side sticks out. I get it, it's interesting, it's bright and in your face, and you can definitely find pockets of those things here. Just keep in mind that the country and the people here are much more than just those things. They are normal people with normal lives. They go to work, they go to school, they hang out with friends.
I am all for people coming here to experience the crazy, interesting side of Japan. It's not something you will find anywhere else. I just want to encourage people to explore the other side of Japan. If Japan is a tree, maybe those stereotypical things mentioned above are the flowers. Sure you're drawn to them and everyone wants to look and take pictures, but there is a whole tree there. Don't forget the leaves, the branches and the trunk. I know it may not be for everyone, but walking through some smaller neighbourhoods can help you really appreciate the true culture of a Japanese person.
Ok, this next one may be a little controversial for some people, but I feel like some people let this hold them back from enjoying their time here the way the want to. In a lot of Western countries, there has been a bit of a stigma around wearing something from another culture, or doing something traditional that is not your tradition personally. It has the initials C.A. and I'll leave it at that. Now, I do understand if someone wants to dress up and mock another culture, that's a problem. But, if I am speaking strictly about foreigners visiting Japan and enjoying their vacation, that's generally not the case.
Japanese people really enjoy sharing their culture with others. If you show a genuine interest in aspect of Japan's history or traditions or food, you will be met with positive reactions. You want to rent a kimono and explore Kyoto? Go for it!! You want to pray at a temple or shrine? Be our guest!! Japanese people are proud of their culture. It is thousands of years in the making and they have done an incredible job preserving it. They do not shun others admiring it as well. As long as you are being respectful in your appreciation, you will be a welcome participant!!
Speaking a little Japanese goes a long way. This one may seem obvious. "Of course they like if I can speak some Japanese, I would like if someone spoke to me in a language I understood too.". As obvious as it might seem, you might be surprised how many foreigners come here with Zero Japanese. Not that that's a problem, you can definitely get by without speaking the language here.
Knowing a few words certainly will help though. There's the usual Konnichiwa (Hello), Arigatou Gozaimasu (Thank you), Sumimasen (Excuse me), but knowing a few extra simple things can really surprise a Japanese person you talk to in a good way. Learning words like: Where (Doko), When (Itsu), Please (Onegai Shimasu / Kudasai) and a few others will help to bridge a language gap if there is one and make a Japanese person feel a little more comfortable trying to talk to you. Don't worry if you don't get it exactly right, the worst case scenario is you both can have a little chuckle about whatever it is you just said.
Time for number 5!! Ok, this is one that maybe a Japanese person won't tell you, and maybe they aren't aware of how some Western people differ, but this really stuck out to me when I first came to Japan.
FOOD IS A BIG THING IN JAPAN!!
"That's your number 5? Obviously food is a big thing! Food is important everywhere!"
No, you don't understand. Food is such a huge part of the culture here. I have my own guesses as to why this is, but regardless of the reason, when you have spent some time here with Japanese people, listening to Japanese conversations, watching Japanese T.V. you begin to see it. There is almost a fascination or obsession with food here. Not in the way we might think in the west with people eating too much food, but more in admiring the food. Different regions, cities, and even small towns have a special food they are known for. Numerous T.V. shows are about celebrities going and eating at (what I would consider) normal restaurants. Everything is "oishii" (delicious). I didn't get it at first. I was eating dinner with friends, it was good, but nothing I would rave about. Every bite was followed by "oishii". It's very interesting the amount of respect and admiration for food here.
I make light of it here out of fascination, but I suspect there is a deeper reason for this I haven't completely come to understand yet. I have my guesses, but I will have to wait to figure it out. Maybe you can tell me!!