Five years is by far the longest I’ve ever been away from the UK and so when I returned last Christmas there was inevitably some reverse culture shock on my behalf. Many of these have been mentioned on the pages of Tokyo Fox before but that was all well over a decade ago when I was still finding my feet in Japan and blogging about such differences.
1. Waiting to cross roads – This was probably the first thing that stuck out for me. In Japan nearly everybody waits for the green man to start flashing before they cross the road, even if it’s 3am and there isn’t a moving vehicle in sight! London seemed fairly chaotic with pedestrians crossing the roads in all places at all times.
2. Method of payment – It’s changing a little but Japan is still very much a cash society where people often have the equivalent of £200/$250 on them at all times. Using debit and credit cards is the one thing which makes me usually stand out when back home as I’m never too certain how to use them. The staff must think I’ve been in prison or something! Contactless form of payment was new for me and so easy though I did find I lost track a bit of how much I was spending.
3. Smoking outside – Japan is basically the opposite of Europe and America in that smoking mainly takes place inside restaurants and bars whilst there are often signs outside telling people to refrain from it. However, when I was back in Britain I really noticed the amount of smokers in the streets and I did find myself often walking in the trail of someones smoke. Not nice but at least it can disappear among the natural elements. I might go out to bars less and less but I think I still prefer the laws on this matter in the UK.
4. Talking on trains – I’m sure I get surprised by this every time I go back. Despite the huge number of people riding on them, the trains really are silent in Japan. Not in England though where speaking on mobile phones is far more common! Of course that is an annoyance but it is nice to have a bit of atmosphere on the trains sometimes. Which I prefer basically depends on what side of bed I’ve got out of!
5. Staff appearance – Rules for staff seem to be fairly strict in Japan and they usually have to conform to a certain look. My wife was really surprised to see our train tickets checked one day by a punk rather than a very smart uniformed rail worker! In other shops, cafes and restaurants we went the staff were on occasion covered with tattoos and piercings which I can’t imagine seeing in Japan due to the formers Yakuza links.
6. The button to close lift doors – Where was it? Out of habit I was often looking for this button but it rarely seemed to exist! It barely saves any time but I think it’s very Japanese for them to always close the doors once they enter the lift. I have obviously picked up the habit over the years!
7. Plastic bags – When actually using a checkout assistant for making a purchase (many places use self-checkout machines), I was often left waiting for and wondering where my bag was! It was quite rightly not given to me unless I paid 10p which I was more than happy to do. By contrast plastic bags really are given out will nilly in Japan.
8. Construction work safety – As my wife and I walked past a rather dangerous looking situation involving cranes and heavy metal beams I really was expecting to see the sight of a few old men in construction uniforms directing me safely past with their red lightsaber things.
9. LGBT – Britain has come a long way since TV soap ‘Brookside‘ showed the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on screen in 1993. I really wasn’t expecting to see two gay people kissing on a prime-time advert for some dating site in the UK but I guess that ‘s because I’ve lived for so long in a country which is far behind other developed countries when it comes to LGBT rights. Progress has been made in Japan in recent years and LGBT partnerships are now legal in Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Shibuya, with more places hoping to follow suit but little legal protection is offered for discrimination against LGBT people. I also feel Japan still needs better representation of the LGBT community in its popular entertainment industry and it would be nice to see a genuine, non-comedic gay character on TV.
10. Seats – I do think that living in Japan makes you a bit soft and one such example of that is the toilets. The country is nowhere near as modern as many people abroad think but toilets are definitely one such exception and I have to say that I did miss the warm seats and even the shower part of it. On the subject of seats, I realised at the Leicester FA Cup match that the legroom in England is more restrictive than in many of the stadiums I’ve been to in Japan.
Bonus: Language – It may seem an obvious one but I had forgotten what it’s like to just be able to read absolutely everything on packaging or advertisements without having to put any effort in.
Now I know none of the above is anything too new for many people. There’s plenty of other stuff on the internet about such differences. These are just the things that I was reminded of during my fortnight back in Leicestershire and London.
Click here to read ‘Room 101 – Japan Special’
Click here to read ‘Room 101: Japanese Cyclists Special’
Click here to read ‘8 (Not So) Gr-Eight Observations Of Japan From Yesteryear To Celebrate Our 8th Birthday’
Click here to read ‘Reasons To Like Living And Working In Japan’