Arriving in Japan, to be honest, I did not experience major culture shocks (or sometimes I would call it culture surprises) that I would end up having a nightmare as I have prepared and anticipated the customs by reading and talking to Japanese people in San Francisco beforehand. While there are hundreds of culture shocks in Japan, I will pick my top three favorites:
Itadakimasu and Gochisousama deshita:
It was not really a pray before lunch or dinner. Or maybe it looks like a short pray as some of us would say. Yet, it does not seem to have any religious connotations attached. Itadakimasu is a humble expression of shortly saying “thank you for the food” to the cook, or equivalent to “Bon Appétit” in French. Itasakimasu is always expressed after receiving the food and right before eating. For a more formal manner, the hand palms should touch (like a form of namaste in Indian culture) with a slight bow of the head. While Gochisousama deshita is also a humble expression of saying “thank you for the food,” the meaning differs to itadakimasu as Gochisousama deshita is expressed as a compliment to the cook after lunch or dinner. It can also be roughly interpreted as “thank you for the food. It was delicious.”
In general, people in Japan are very punctual because they value time so much. It is a sign of respect and appreciation. Everyone is expected to be punctual. Take an example of trains in Tokyo – or Japan. Throughout my study abroad in Japan, I only experienced one three-minute delay due to unexpected technical issue on board. The rest of the trains I hopped in and out went always on time. In all train stations, there is always at least a schedule board with scheduled time of departure and arrival. If the board states the train will depart/arrive at 12:34, with a guarantee, the train will depart/arrive at 12:34. If the train depart/arrive late for over five minutes, which is rare in most cases, the conductor will write and sign a late certificate to all passengers involved as a proof of tardiness – you can show it to your boss or school – that was caused by the conductor’s lack of professionalism – it is not the passengers’ fault for not waking up early.
Drinking in public:
It is completely legal in Japan to drink alcohol in public space without having to cover the beer with brown paper bag. While drinking in bars can be expensive, a lot of people prefer to have their beers and sake outdoor with fresh air by purchasing alcoholic drinks in convenient stores (because it is cheaper) and head to the park. However, some locals suggest that people who are drunk in public spaces are often not being physically violent or causing provocations toward others. That is up to you whether you agree with that statement or not.
Photographs: Immanuel A. M. Sinambela
*these photographs have nothing to do with the content above. It is just for decoration purpose.