We always knew Japan would be the first country on our worldwide adventure where cultural differences would be obvious. Having spent the last 3 months in America and Canada, this coming month is going to be our first real experience of a different way of life and change in language. It’s only day 4 in Tokyo so I’m sure we’ll experience many more changes before we leave at the end of the month, but I thought I’d share some of the things that have stood out to us as ‘different’:

1) Greetings

Whilst in the UK we may raise a hand to greet someone or say thanks, here it’s customary to bow. Nick and I found this quite strange the first time we bought something in a local store, the cashier gave us our change (with both hands) and bowed, not just a nod but a full on 30degree bow! Can you imagine that happening in your local Tesco Express? Even when getting on the lift in our hotel, the people vacating it stopped and bowed to us on their way out.

2) Hospitality

There’s some noticeable differences with our hotel compared to those we’ve experienced in America and Canada. Firstly, it’s tiny! But I think that’s quite normal in Japan. It’s a bit bigger than something you would get on a ferry, good job we’re both small. The amenities seem much more generous here, it’s £27 a night and for that price in America we was lucky to get hot water and towels. Here though, upon checking in they had left us 2 bottles of water, traditional Japanese pyjamas, Japanese slippers, tea, razors, toothbrushes and dispensers full of shampoo/shower gel/conditioner. When the rooms are cleaned daily they leave water and new cleanly pressed pyjamas at the end of the bed, it’s a nice touch 🙂

3) Politeness

We still have 20 odd countries to go but I’m confident we won’t meet anyone more polite than the Japanese. They all seem so genuinely nice, you really get the impression that they care first and foremost about the other person. Apparently they are bought up in schools to put others first and this really shows. Everybody is smiling and happy to help you. I first noticed this on our flight to Tokyo, there was 2 flight attendants, one was American and one Japanese. The difference between their mannerisms and mood was completely different, one gave off the vibe she couldn’t wait to get home and the other seemed genuinely focused on making our flight as pleasant as possible. You can guess which was which! I thought this was just a one off but since landing I’ve realised that it’s just in their nature to be caring and considerate.

Another thing I’ve noticed is just how safe the streets of Tokyo feel. It’s normal to leave bikes unlocked all day on side streets and I’m yet to hear a police siren. People come across as shy and humble, the type that would chase after you if you dropped your wallet. It’s probably the only City we’ve been to that I wouldn’t mind walking around at night alone.

 4) Cleanliness

Wow this place is clean! It’s one of the first things we noticed about Tokyo. The subway is immaculate and outside you can walk for miles before seeing a single piece of litter. Strangely they have very few bins in public places (apparently this was a preventative measure after a cult attack in 1995). You would would expect this to cause more litter but instead it has just become the norm for people to take their rubbish home. It’s also rude here to walk around whilst eating so people tend to eat in cafes/restaurants and dispose of any rubbish there.

Homeless people are almost non existent, we’ve walked about 20 miles since being here and I’ve seen 2 people on the streets. If that was America it would be 102. Nick mentioned in his recent post that there are no benches around and some people think this may be a preventative measure to stop homeless people loitering on them. There’s also a high pitch ticking noise that’s used at some subway stations here that must be in force for similar reasons. It’s horrible and makes you exit the station as quick as possible!

4) Health

Where are all the overweight people?! We’ve been out and about everyday, riding the subway and walking miles throughout Tokyo and despite seeing thousands of people only about 5 have been overweight. I remember the first larger person I saw and he was a Westerner tucking into a donut! The Japenese all look so healthy, their all slim and I’d find it hard to tell a woman who was 18 from one who was 28, they all have such good skin! I guess it must come down to their cleaner diet and way of life.

5) Work ethic

These people work such long hours! Due to jet lag we’ve been up and our the hotel by 8am most days so we’ve watched as everyone rushes around getting to work. Some 12 hours later at around 8pm we see them all walking around with their briefcases heading home. It also seems quite normal here for workers to go out for meals and drinks after work and come 10-11pm you often see them still dressed in their business attire catching the subway home. That’s a really long day! They call these men ‘salary men’, there was an interesting documentary about them I watched some time ago, probably on Channel 4, it’s worth a watch. Another interesting fact is that if you fall asleep at your desk it is thought of as a good thing in the eyes of your boss, apparently it shows you are working hard and not getting enough sleep at home. Try that one at work tomorrow! 🙂

I’m sure I’ll notice many more cultural differences to add to this list in the coming weeks but my first impressions of Japan are great. I think the Western world could learn a lot from them!