Japanese people dish on things foreigners told them that they’d never realized before about their home country.

Remember that photo of Canadian cops doing something unthinkable by Japanese societal standards? While most Westerners wouldn’t bat an eye at two on-duty officers drinking coffee (or think it anything out of the ordinary), that simple act was enough to make some Japanese people’s jaws drop. It just goes to show that the world-views of individuals from different countries and cultural backgrounds may not always overlap neatly, and we may be completely oblivious to certain things in a different context. It’s also one of the multiple reasons why I find that studying a second language or culture is so important–it often teaches you things about yourself and your own country that you’d never even considered or had always taken for granted were ‘right.’ 

Today, it’s time to flip the coin and see what traditionally Japanese behaviors and ways of thinking Japanese people have finally honed in on only after interacting with foreigners. Let’s get right to the intercultural schooling!

1. A Romanian Lesson

“A Romanian male in his late twenties told me, ‘I read in a book recently that Japan in the ’80s had the second-highest GDP in the world and 40 percent of total transactions on the global stock market were Japanese business dealings, and I thought it was an amazing country.’ I had no idea.'”

Japanese reactions:

“Wasn’t he probably itching to ask the secret to how we managed to fall so far?”

“Even now we have politicians who can’t break free from visions of the past.”

While it’s no secret that Japan’s Bubble Economy of the 1980s was marked by exponential growth, high disposable incomes, and extravagant spending, sometimes it takes someone from the outside to put it all into perspective.

2. A German Lesson

“A German guy seeing an enormous helping of shirasu [young sardines] at the Ameyoko market: ‘Why are they selling bugs?’ The same German guy seeing sausages with bones being sold at a supermarket: ‘Why do Japanese people put bones back into the sausage?’ The same guy seeing Alto Bayern [a brand of Japanese sausage]: ‘These are Vienna-style wieners, Bayern [Bavarian/German for ‘Bavaria’] has nothing to do with it!’ (he was maddest at this)” 

▼ Alto Bayern sausages

Japanese reactions:

“I’ve been told by a German person that it’s strange that Vienna wieners are small and Frankfurt frankfurters are large in Japan!”

“Japanese people do the same thing (lol).” 

“He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t want the culture of his homeland to be misinterpreted.”

Hey, we get it–no one likes to see the beloved food of their homeland being sold under a false name. That is, unless you’re American and see Burger King Japan trying to sell black-bunned burgers with black cheese…that’s all yours for the keeping, Japan.

3. An Uzbek Lesson

“An Uzbek exchange student who has been in Japan for almost half a year messaged me over SNS that ‘Being asked ‘Genki [How are you]?’ every day makes me happy.’ (In Uzbekistan it’s very important to ask about others’ well-being/current state of affairs in passing.) This type of greeting isn’t done in Japan so he seemed to be feeling out of touch with himself and isolated. I get it now.”

Japanese reactions:

“Genki [How are you]? :)” 

When living in a foreign place, sometimes it’s the simplest things that keep you feeling connected.

4. An Italian Lesson

“This Italian was raging about Japanese companies that expound the notion of ‘Taking care of yourself is part of your job!’ but then get mad when you want to take time off due to poor physical health. When she requested her paid leave and wrote ‘Taking care of myself,’ as the reason, the company said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding–that’s not a valid reason!’ 

I think ‘Taking care of myself’ is the best reason for requesting time off.”

▼ What’ve you gotta do to take vacation around here??


Japanese reactions:

“I just remembered when my senior at work didn’t get the change he wanted and took a holiday ‘To mend my heart.'”

“Maybe it’s only because since elementary school it’s been imprinted on us that not being late and perfect attendance are the ideals. The Japanese education system may be trying to destroy Japan.”

“I wish something would happen to those meddling middle-aged women who say ‘Is it really OK to use your vacation time now? You should be saving it before you get married~’ even if I say ‘Please let me use my paid leave.'”

According to a Japanese friend, even Japanese employees are reluctant to take time off because “it inconveniences others” (他人に迷惑をかけるから).

5. A Dutch Lesson

“Today my geoscientist guest from Holland was surprised: ‘Huh!? There are very few high schools in Japan that teach the earth sciences!? 10 percent of the world’s volcanoes are in Japan. Shouldn’t earth science be the most necessary here?’ This is the latest opinion that I wholeheartedly agree with.”

Japanese reactions:

“I took earth science as a third-year high school student. It was an elective, but I learned it. Is it really that uncommon?”

“This has been added to my list of the Seven Wonders of Japan. I wonder if it’s some kind of conspiracy, ignoring earth science.” 

At least Kobe University can say they tried to warn us when Japan is annihilated by a massive eruption in the next 100 years.

6. A French Lesson

“I met a French person at a pub in New Zealand who up until then had been living in Japan for an extended time.

French person: ‘I went to many places–Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka…’

Me: ‘Where was your favorite place?’

French person: ‘The basements of department stores.’

Me: ‘…?’

French person: ‘They’re the most wonderful places in the universe.'”

▼ A typical assortment of freshly prepared foods in a department store basement…aka Heaven on Earth

Japanese reactions:

“When I led a German couple around a Japanese department store basement, they also couldn’t stop yelling, ‘Oh!! KAWAII!!'”

“My French instructor in Japan also loved the department store basements. Lol. Maybe it’s because everything delicious is gathered in one place?”

Snapping up free samples or visiting depachika (as they’re informally known) right before closing time is one way to save big when on a tight budget in Japan.

7. An Australian Lesson

“Australian city bus strikes are unlike Japanese ones. Without stopping service, they stop collecting fare from passengers. This method doesn’t cause any inconvenience for the passengers. Rather, the longer the strike, the more people rejoice. Also, the management definitely takes a hit. I don’t know who thought up this method, but I think it’s clever.”

Japanese reactions:

“Nagoya city buses did that in the past.”

“I wonder if that’s OK under Japanese law? It’s good as long as the strikers won’t be slapped with a claim for compensation by intentionally causing the employers to lose money by not taking fare. Cool! I suddenly thought of this while retweeting because they’re making expenses.”

“Within Japan there are railway ticket gate strikes. If, in the present era, the Tokyu Line with its majority IC-specialized gates, magnetic tickets might come to a complete stop.”

Interestingly, bus drivers in Okayama Prefecture have actually tried out this tactic since this tweet was originally posted in August 2017 around the time of fare strikes in Brisbane and Sydney.

8. An English Lesson (1)

“I asked an English person (living in Japan) what the meaning of the Stones’ ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ was and he replied, ‘I dunno. Why do Japanese people always pay such close attention to the meaning of individual lyrics? There’s no meaning behind ‘Odoru Pompokolin’ [a 1990 J-Pop song used as the original ending theme of the Chibi Maruko-chan anime], right?’ I couldn’t object.”

▼ …And a legend was born.

Japanese reactions:

“A long time ago the official Japanese translation of that song on some radio program was ‘Lightning Rascal’…”

“I understand that logic, but it’s for the same reason that foreigners don’t want to get a tragic tattoo in Japanese kanji that reads ‘shit’ (this example’s a little different, but hey…)” 

“On average, I don’t think Japanese people think about the meaning all that much. I think the reason the Japanese person asked the English person about the meaning of the English lyrics was simply because he wasn’t a native speaker. I wondered what kind of person that English guy was.”

Speaking of strange Japanese song titles, have you checked out Kyary Pamyu Pamyu‘s discography recently?

9. An English Lesson (2)


“Everyone at the major English animation company that I’m working at left work at the fixed time. There was no overtime.

After doing a little bit of research I found that overtime basically doesn’t exist at English companies.

I finally understood why foreigners are always saying that ‘Japan is heaven for sightseeing but hell for working.'”

Japanese reactions:

“Japan is all like…during the day you’re buried in meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings and then you realize it’s night…then overtime…but overtime’s not good!…Huh?” 

“That’s a misunderstanding. Self-employed people and agricultural workers overseas also have no concept of a set time to finish work. Japan’s unique characteristic is that even company employees and government officials are in the same vein and have a weak sense of the end of the work day. Because the concepts of ‘family’ and ‘household’ have been expanded to include the company and public office, it’s a phenomenon characteristic of island nations. You can’t say that it’s unconditionally bad.”   

“There are plenty of companies in England where overtime exists. Variations exist depending on the kind of business. Also, there are actually fewer national holidays compared to Japan, and the total number of working hours per year is higher…unexpected, isn’t it!”

Thankfully, some Japanese companies have begun taking serious measures against excessive overtime in light of karoshi, or “deaths by overwork.”

Have you made a similarly unexpected discovery about your home country after a foreigner pointed it out to you? Let us know in the comments section below!

Source: Naver Matome
Top image: Pakutaso