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20 things to keep in mind when visiting Japan [English Posts]

This post is inspired by Stefan Tobaben's piece "20 things to keep in mind when visiting Germany". I found it in Dave Winer's Twitter post last year, loved it, and tranlated it to Japanese.

The following is what I thought of it as it's Japanese version, though it turned out to be greatly different in style. Perhaps Stefan's piece is more practical and usable, not just fun.

Also, this is not a final version as I plan to update in better English.


1. Don't be astonished when you see a news headline saying "Yankees led by Matsui" or something like that. It's just a headline, does no harm to you.

2. There are few Japanese, who has actually seen a real geisha.

3. There are few Japanese, who has actually put on a real kimono.

4. There are few Japanese, who actually knows either Buddhism doctrine or Zen philosophy.

5. A Japanese, with no interest in Manga or Anime, exists.

6. "Do-mo" is a magic word effective in almost every possible situations. Well, you don't particularly need to know what it actually means.

7. We don't guarantee that English is always spoken in stores or restaurants with a beautiful English sign.

8. Why a Japanese speaking to foreigner (especialy English speaking) frequently imitates foreign-accent Japanese? Well, that's something I was trying to figure out for a long time, and hasn't yet.

9. An idiomatic expression "Hen-na-gaijin", which literally means "weird foreigner", is used to praise foreigner with deep understanding and love to Japanese or Japanese culture.

10. We don't join our palms together when we bow (though we pray that way). That's a misunderstanding led by Hashimoto-san the Mouse, I suppose.

11. If you see a Tokyo commuter train on morning rush hour and think "No, not a single more person can get aboard this train", you are wrong. Twice as much of the people already aboard will eventually get on the train. Otherwise, they will be late for job or school.

12. Speaking of trains, if the timetable says the train will depart at 8:54, they mean it. You should be on the platform by 8:53. If there are some kind of trouble and the departure time is changed to say, 8:56, you will hear apology announcements from the train conductor over and over until you arrive to your destination or the delay is completely recovered.

13. A nice white ceramic jar you found, perfect for cookies, is called "kotsutsubo". You shouldn't use it for cookies. Don't ask me why.

14. McDonald's and Starbucks on every corner. It doesn't show Americanized Japan. It shows Japan itself.

15. A black painted van or bus with Hinomaru flag, often playing old martial songs on loud speakers, has nothing to do with Japanese tradition.

16. That white building with Grecian-like colonnade is not a shrine, or anything religious. It's a wedding ceremony hall. In Japan, you are not supposed to think deeply about architecture when it comes to wedding ceremony halls.

17. Every now and then you might see a building with a Statue of Liberty on the roof (Especially if you have a chance to drive along the Tokyo suburb). Well, this is another thing you shouldn't think deeply about.

18. You are at Tokyo station and want to ask the way to Asakusa or Kamakura or whatever. Everyone seems to avoid you. You feel lonely. Well, I'm sorry for that but -- we just don't mean to. Many Japanese believe they must speak like native speakers in order to communicate with foreign people. That is an abuse of our English education.

19. So, a suggestion. If you want to ask something, first make a nice smile, and second, speak Japanese. Of course you don't have to be native. In fact, you only need few words. Konnichiwa (Hello) or Suimasen (Excuse me) or that sort. And some nouns, which can indicate your destination or purpose. Your smile and broken Japanese reduces our barrier in speaking broken English. Eventually you will find that many Japanese actually can speak English, if they feel they are allowed to speak broken. Broken and broken. That we should call communication.

20. And we love communicating with you. Welcome to Japan.
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