Gaijin Survival Kit

Even though I have only been in this country a short time, I feel like I’ve already picked up a few helpful tips for first-time visitors to Japan. In fact, I wish someone had shared them with me before I arrived to save me from being called a gaijin (foreigner). All of these are based on firsthand observation or tips from locals living in Osaka.

Geijin in Japan

August 28, 2013

1. Speak at what you think is a normal volume and then lower that volume

My general impression of Japan so far is that it is very quiet, sometimes eerily so. There are etiquette rules on trains and buses that are aimed at not disturbing other passengers. People are expected to sleep or sit quietly during the ride. Talking too loudly, talking on your cell phone or not turning your cell phone to quiet mode all fall under the category of rude behavior.

2. Show some leg, but nothing else

Japan is a leg-oriented country, meaning short skirts and dresses are okay, but showing anything else is not. You do not see a lot of strapless dresses (in fact I haven’t seen any) or strappy tank tops. The general practice is to keep your shoulders covered.

3. Rice can be rude

Leaving rice in a dish (even only a few grains) is considered rude to many Japanese people. I’m no master with chopsticks and struggle to get those last few out of the bottom of my dish. Better to struggle a little bit during the meal than leave a poor impression afterwards.

4. Don’t eat grape skins

 It would appear that no native Japanese people eat the skins of the larger grapes that they sell here. The insides of the grapes are extra sweet and easily separate from the skin when you bite into them. The first few times I had some I got some strange looks, but no one said anything to me. It was only when my okaasan pointed it out that I realized I was supposed to eat only the inside and remove the skin afterwards.

5. Do not walk and drink

At our orientation we were informed that many Japanese people consider walking and drinking “trashy”. You are expected to purchase a drink at the vending machine, drink it there and then continue on your way. I break this rule daily because I would rather be trashy and hydrated than classy and passed out on the street from heat stroke.

6. Sweat rags are necessary

Gross, but unfortunately true. I naively packed mainly fall clothes when I arrived in August and have since sweated through every item at least once. The humidity here is killer and regardless of your level of excursion, if you are outside for more than ten minutes, you will be sweaty. I’ve accepted it and so have the Japanese people who pull out their sweat rags regularly with no embarrassment whatsoever.

7. Bring an umbrella everywhere, all the time

This is especially true during the summer months and early fall when it is Typhoon season in Japan. The morning can start out beautiful and sunny and then, suddenly, it starts pouring and you are left soaking wet (speaking from personal experience here). Umbrellas are also useful for shade in the early morning hours when the sun is strongest.


1 reply »

  1. You sure have picked up the basics for living in Japan in a short period of time! I try hard not to be a rude American but I’m guilty of having broken all of these rules, and then some! #7 is especially important, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten caught in in a squall during my travels with no umbrella.

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