I am Not Following Japanese Rules


Recently, I have become quite hooked onto Reddit. I find it amazing that I can go there and find people who are into the same very niche things as me, and can discuss things that I rarely find people up for discussing in real life.

One of the subs I follow is the Japan travel one, and time after time I see people asking about how to go around Japan and not offend anyone. Like, how to follow Japanese customs and not seem to be impolite.

There are so many little things to remember in Japan; little rules that Japanese people follow that restrict their daily life. Things like not eating while stood up in public (like grabbing a sandwich and eating it as you walk along the street because you’ve got no time to stop). Or waiting for the green man before you cross – even if it’s late at night and there are no cars and no one is watching. One time, when I was living in Japan and it was around 37c, I went into work wearing a dress with capped sleeves. It covered my shoulders, but stopped shortly afterwards. The nurse in the school came to me alarmed; “Charlotte-sensei, aren’t you cold?!” “No. It’s 37c and I am sweating like a pig.” “But… your arms! You must be so cold!!” What she meant was that I was not covering enough of my arms and this was offensive somehow.

Japan is a very safe and largely nice country, and it is all these little rules and the social pressure put on people to act a certain way (even when common sense says otherwise) that make it this way. Without all the funny little differences it would not worth travelling 12 hours to come here.

A lot of people put Japanese people on pedestals. Say they are much better people, they are superior because they are nicer, kinder, cleaner. But let me tell you a secret:

Japanese people are human.

Yes, they are. Japanese people can be really awesome, but they can also be absolute knobs. They can push in front of you in a queue. They can purposefully ignore you when you are walking towards them to ask a question. They can see non-Japanese around and start saying racist things loudly. In the Japanese population, there are people just like the ones you sneer at back home.

There was a time when I was here and I was obliged to follow rules. When I was working I had to make sure I was in line with how society expected me to be, so that if my students saw me, I was setting a good example. But this time it’s different.

There’s a thing called “gaijin smash” where “gaijin” means non-Japanese and the whole where means “doing something you know is wrong but getting away with it because you are not Japanese”. This time, in Japan, I am gaijin-smashing to the max.

I am eating food while walking down the street, because I ain’t got no time to sit and eat. I am crossing the road when I can see no cars around. And you know what? MY SHOULDERS ARE BARE. Yes, people. You can see the skin on ALL MY SHOULDERS. Cover the eyes of your young.

For those coming to visit Japan, I’d recommend reading up on regular social rules like when to take off shoes and stuff like that, but honestly, don’t go crazy over it. When you come to Japan you’ll meet all kinds of people, and people who go to Japan are all kinds of people. As long as people try to be nice to each other, then that’s OK.

Can we all just calm the fuck down now please?



  1. I totally agree – it’s also good for Japanese people to see other kinds of people and shoulder skin too 😉 I loved going back to Japan without being a government worker and did the same – let them see that skin and let them see us eating whilst walking – they love coming to the UK as well and seeing things that are different to them in culture, so it’s only fair we show those people in Japan a little of our culture, esp to those who don’t have time/ money to visit overseas. Have a fabulous trip – am loving the Instagram pics btw 🙂
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    • Charlotte says:

      It was so much fun to be free.
      Not to sound too UKIP-y, but there are small similar things that Japanese people do in the UK that cause mild offence too, things like wearing masks like we all have the lurgey, and wearing coats inside, so it’s good for them to learn to adapt as well.

  2. Charlote, I was LOL-ing all around about the “gaijin-smash” I think when I first visited Japan, I did the max offense of “gaijin-smash.” One time, I had a nosebleed, yep nosebleed in the middle of a very busy shopping street. I had to do what I had to do, took out my Kleenex (tissue) and stuffed it up my nose, what else?? To the horrid of my host-mother, apparently doing so in the public is a no-no (unsanitary!) and she was trying hard to cover me up until we could find a toilet, and of course when we did find a toilet, my nosebleed had already stopped. Then, another time, an offense I did over and over again, was not taking my shoes off when I got into a fitting room (like a dressing room) in department store!

    And you are right, Japanese people can be rude, too. Some sales person just blatantly ignored me when I asked for help — perhaps since I did the said-offenses in the department store.

    All in all, though, I still find the culture quite quirky and alluring. I was never put off by them, but I can totally relate to your experience!

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    • Charlotte says:

      Ach, you know, both those things aren’t all THAT bad! Everyone gets nose bleeds!!
      Everyone should learn to live in harmony with people who don’t have the same customs as them!

  3. Haha, gaijin-smash! One time in Korea, I got stopped by the police for jaywalking. It was a nice young man, mid-twenties, about my age at the time. He started talking to me very sternly and seriously. But when he was done, of course I had to be like, uh. . .American here, don’t understand. Cue shyness. Cue stammering. He told to be on my way, but be careful. Poor guy.

    And yes! So many people idolize Japanese people, like in a hardcore mimicry, “I wish I were one of them” kind of way. I don’t get it. I feel you on the shoulders – I got that too, plus comments about how Koreans don’t show collarbone. Whatever; it was summer!
    Kelly recently posted…When virtual and real life collideMy Profile

    • Charlotte says:

      Aww that sounds adorable! Also, I’ve seen Korean jaywalkers before!!
      If it’s summer, you should be allowed to show the skin!

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