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Rude Japan

Most all tourists that visit Japan say the same thing: "Wow!  Everyone here is so polite!"  Well, that's true if you're a tourist--especially one with a phatty wallet.

Having lived here for over 5 years, I have come to realize that although Japanese people are generally very polite (why else would I choose to live here), there are times when extreme rudeness prevails.  Here are some examples along with some attempts to understand them:

No one will ever hold the door open for you.
It'll just slam in your face.  Not only that, but no one will even look behind them for half a second to see if someone is behind them.  The reasoning behind this policy eluded me for a very long time.  It was not until I moved to Tokyo that I realized the logic behind it.  Tokyo is a city of 12 million people crammed into a space the size of Burbank, California.  You can't be holding doors open for people in a city like that.  You'll be the door man for the entire day.  You'll also most likely get trampled and urinated on.  Albeit polite, it's not practical.

You gotta bag your own groceries.
Many grocery stores in Japan simply don't have a person there to bag your groceries.  The mysterious lack of this service in such a service-oriented country confused me.  However, many people here do not have cars (myself included).  As such, we don't buy the 5-ton Costco box of Special K along with 500 other items promptly loaded into the back of a 10-seater SUV.  Maybe "bag boy" service isn't necessary because 2-4 bags is all people can hand carry / bike home.

No free refills.
It's very rare to find a restaurant that offers this.  This just sucks.  I really miss those trashcan-sized USA drinks sometimes.

No one will ever check on you in a restaurant.  "How is everything?"
Personally, I don't mind this so much, but I've had friends point it out to me.  The ideal in Japan is to leave the person alone while they're eating.  If they need something, they'll flag down a server.  I can't tell you how many times in America I got visited by the server right after taking a massive bite of a juicy double cheese bacon egg sauce burger.  Fortunately, Japan has solved the "I can't flag down a server" problem with technology.  Some restaurants have a button on or near the table.  Push it and someone comes.  It's kind of like those flight attendant buttons you used to push as a kid (and maybe still do).

Everybody smokes.
Old men smoke while taking a dump.  Dogs smoke a cig along with their owners while going for a walk.  And the worst of all--people light up while walking in front of you.  This one sucks too, and the only explanation I can offer is that cigarettes are marketed extremely well here.  Cigarette companies sponsor sporting events.  Pro athletes even have cigarette company logos on their uniforms.  I don't know about you, but I don't associate sports with smoking.  Of course, other strange associations have occurred--like beer and football...and beer and hot girls.  Cigarette vending machines are everywhere.  Just insert about $3, and you're on your way.  Luckily, some steps have been taken to curb such behaviors.  Vending machines now require a special ID card to purchase cigarettes.  This is to prevent sneaky high school boys from getting their filthy hands on that golden tobakki.

Ladies first?  Ladies last!
Although today it's associated with courtly chivalry, historically "ladies first" was used to check if a place contained raiders or other dangers.  Send the lady in first.  If she gets killed, don't go in there!  Nevertheless, what's common courtesy in the Western world is not so in the East.  The cool thing here is that actually letting the lady go first gets a lot of notice.  Do it, and the Japanese ladies will swoon.  You win major brownie points for something considered commonplace in your culture.  Unfortunately, however, it's not always practical because you'll be waiting for half the city to go first.  See point #1.

Wearing deodorant is not a common practice and/or Japanese deodorant sucks.
Especially with dudes.  When I was teaching English, I had a class full of high school boys.  One day they hauled in stinking like my socks after a hard day battling an extreme athlete's foot fungus infection.  They joyfully said to me, "Today was the sports festival."  Yeah, guys...I can smell the sports festival.  I don't really get this one.  I've heard that Asians in general don't sweat as much as Westerners.  That may be true, but there are cases when the funk is in town taking a breezy tour of Tokyo.

People are so damn noisy sometimes.
They're called "bou-sou-zoku" (暴走族) -- Japanese motorcycle gangs.  They're usually most active during summer and ride their bikes with mufflers purposely removed.  Sadly, the cops don't seem to do much about them.  I think they're afraid of them despite half of them riding prissy-boy scooters.  I think these young men are in search of an expressive outlet.  They've discovered that riding around on a noisemaker serves perfectly as that outlet.  Having to be polite and quiet all day everyday apparently wears on people.  Well, you blasted ragamuffins...I'm trying to sleep!  Why not go sing karaoke or something?  The scenes from Charles Bronson's "Death Wish 3"--where the angry townspeople use chains to knock the gangs off their bikes, then proceed to shoot them--resonate in my vivid imagination.  "Death Wish 3" is one of the greatest films ever made, by the way.

And now for a few pictures...

Yeah, that's effective.

Does the smoke know it's supposed to stay on that side of the room?

A sign encouraging people to mind their manners.

Some people just can't handle life in Tokyo.  The umbrella posed to trip people is a nice touch.

Unfortunately, few people heed these signs.


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  • Guest - To;|=t

    No free refills? You must be frequenting the wrong establishments because there are many places in Japan that offer free refills.

    And i don't really see how not offering free refills is "rude" to you but to each his own I guess.

  • Guest - Rohan G

    This article is becoming a little old now, but I agree with most of the points. Luckily, smoking sections in restaurants are becoming smaller now but as someone else mentioned the Japanese can play passive-aggressive at times. I do find their sense of racial superiority at times a little over-whelming. Over the years I've met a few men who've asked me where I'm and after I answered they basically said, "I'm glad you're not from the US, as they are all arrogant". Have you ever seen a Japanese criticise Japan? Hardly ever. English signs in Japan are often laughable, but as they have studied English for so long they feel they know everything and don't need to have anything checked.

  • Guest - Robert

    My first year or two working in Japan when asked the question, "What do you like most about Japan?" I'd answer, "The people". Now after a considerably longer period of time, when asked the same question, I respond, "The food".

  • Guest - Guest

    They are passive aggressive. Experts on psychological bullying until they make the victim commit suicide.

  • Guest - James K

    If you want to find rude Japanese, try the ticket counter at Japanese Airlines. Exceptionally rude. United had cheaper flights but I instead opted to pay a little more for the ultimate Japanese experience that’s often talked about. I thought culturally they were known to be polite ppl as I’ve read. I’m sure there are nice Japanese ppl out there, but it was an incredibly awful traveling experience for me. It ruined my trip. Never again!

  • Guest - Jeri Rasulo

    I've seen and thought a lot about this odd dicotomy of the Japanese mentality living in Hawaii for 16 years. First and foremost it's perfectly fine in Japan and here in Hawaii to have 2 personalities. A fine adult one and a bratty child one. I really believe this thinking is responsible for a lot of their odd personalities and behaviors. The Baucus thinking is anything goes as long as your not too loud and call to much attention to the situation you are creating.

    Japanese is the dominant culture here in Hawaii. It amazes me how much the behaviors are expressly the opposite of common sense manners and natural reactions expected from most humans. It appears much thought and effort has gone in to doing the exact OPPOSITE of the expected, very basic natural human reaction. It's as thogh they try hard, very very hard, to be more like machines or robots than humans (hence the love of anythong robotic?).

    Whatever is the expected response, many seem naturally to do the opposite! Ppl pick up that same odd behavior in Hawaii as well. As though they delight in creating UNCOMFORTABLE and unnatural situations. Like it's some form of passive aggressive power / control and mb some kind of fake superiority?

    I believe it might be to make up for whatever they lack or want. Maybe the freedom and individuality to be ourselves in America. I think many are jealous too of Westerners since here in Hawaii at least, White and Black ppl are the recipient of many, many rude and very odd behaviors. Others are not excluded of course. The Japanese will pick on anybody for a reason, usually if they don't get treated like royalty whiie on vacation. But out of the clear blue they will turn on the rudeness for Black and White?? Many ppl born and raised on this small island, Hawaii, are very cruel to mainlanders, meaning America. I know it is envy for all we have on the Mainland that they dont here. And the dominant mentality is it's almost special, magical to be born amd raised here in Hawaii. ..not. It is to be disadvantaged in almost every way. Sad really how lousy Hawaii is run and how little regard the government has for basic things. But I digress.

    I lived 10 years in Waikiki and have seen countless times and have been the recipient of many rude behaviors and strange, VERY childish antics. It took 10 full years before I understood the dual nature of this Japanese culture in Hawaii. Idk what the thinking is there, but it certainly isn't the good natured American / Western idea of let's all get along and mind or own business, enjoy your life.

    Ppl will pick fights about things so petty most ppl wouldn't even mention them. Bickering even on the gov level is full time sport. I believe the same in Japan
    It's like inside they love discord, while on the outside it's all about smiling, politeness and everything is fine. It's called "social harmony". Big in the Asian world, but inside they don't seem like a happy or contented ppl. Also Japan has the highest suicide rate in the developed world and almost the highest in the world period. I would guess they try to fudge suicides as accidents as well given the saving face arrogance of the culture.

  • Guest - Steve

    I hosted some Japanese exchange students in California. I was just being nice, the small compensation is really nothing at all, and my family was looking forward to interacting with some Japanese students. I asked them what they wanted for breakfast, and do you know what they said to me? "Sushi." Are you serious??!!! I know for a fact that they don't even get sushi for breakfast back at home. Never again.

  • Guest - Laurie

    The comments on this thread about Japanese people are terrible. Just because you have seen/experience rude things in Japan/from Japanese people doesn't mean you should stereotype them collectively as rude. I have had so many similar rude situations, if not worse whilst living in Hawaii/the United States than while in Japan. There are rude and nice people everywhere you go, as humans we usually remember bad things because they have more of an impact. In my experience Japanese people say excuse me way more often than when I'm in the United States. It is all a perspective thing, the way that the comments are coming off are just downright rude. Even if you have lived in Japan for a long time, and speak it is still a cultural difference. Since you are in fact a foreigner in Japan, somethings that are commonplace there may come across as 'rude' to you because you are not use to it. Not to say there aren't rude Japanese people in Japan, of course there are! However there are also a lot of kind and wonderful people, as with all places. Try to look at the positives more often! It's easy to overlook when someone is kind to you, and hard to forget when someone is mean to you.

  • Guest - Jamese Castillo Arberto

    Yeah I agree that too.. sometimes japanese are so rude

  • Guest - harri

    There's a book titled The Ugly Japanese which was written in the 80's and goes over a lot of this. I lived in Japan for 10 years, it's no surprise that it still goes on. Self absorption is why a lot of Asians tend to get into trouble while driving, they never anticipate what another driver might do. You have to have some sort of empathy for others in order to predict their behavior.

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