Traveling in Japan has an inner characteristic of non-western countries: one can lose patterns of culture and behavior. Globalization has leveled some differences some years ago, fine. Yet, the cultural shock is inevitable as soon as you arrive in the land of the rising sun.
Among the many differences, the ones which caught my attention were the politeness and sociability. Japanese people are usually friendly and extremely polite; you hear a lot of “thank you” (arigato gozaimasu). By the way, a French man I met there, who has been living in Japan for 12 years, believes that the Japanese culture is the one remaining to keep the strong bonds of respect between people.However, it is easy to be misled, once it is hard to know what they really think. Even complaints are made with a smile and apologies.
Displays of affection are not so common; couples avoid physical contact in public. This does not mean they are cold – on the contrary – they are used to offering help without being asked to, and are able to change seats so a couple can sit together.
Besides all this, everything has an order, even pedestrians walk in an organized way on the streets and opposite to eastern people (they use the left lane to go and the right lane to come). Do not try to break this order, for you may be dragged by the crowd.
Another major difference is the religion – which makes it hard to understand the limits of what is sacred and the meaning of so many Buddhist entities. Not to mention that language creates all kinds of setbacks for communication and moving around (it is complicated to know if the direction inside the subway is the right one). Luckily the Japanese, especially the young ones, have good knowledge of English and are always in the mood to help lost tourists. When in despair, signaling is universal and works pretty well.
Now picture all these differences and twist of values in a city like Tokyo, that gathers tradition and modernity, millenary traditions and high tech, where kimonos walk side by side with Gothic Lolitas, and where next to a skyscraper there is always a temple. Indeed, Japan is an experience to color the eyes and enrich the mind.
Did you enjoy it? So get your backpacks ready, follow the next posts and take notes of the next hints!
Translated by Lúcia Maciel
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