Etiquettes and Behaviors, Tokyo
One thing I noticed in Japan was that the subways were an organized chaos! But it seemed to flow efficently all the same.
As you know will probably notice when you get to Tokyo and you are getting on the many stops on the metro, you will notice there are sections of the stairs that point which way people are leaving and departing. For example, when you go up the stairs, stay to the left. For going down to the platform, stay on the right. This creates a good balance for commuters. It's a weird thing to try and explain, but when you are in Tokyo, you will know what I am talking about. Try and do you best to stay on the right side. We were guilty of going on whatever side if it was empty enough, so there were some discrepancies, but please try and obey subway courtesy while in Japan! There is a flow for the busy workday. So respect it as much as you can!
Japanese baseball fans seem to be much more enthusiastic than American baseball fans. I'm sure part of it is the Japanese cultural mindset of blending with others, which causes them to dress the same, sing the same songs, clap together, sit in silence together, and do synchronized waves through the crowd. In America, on the other hand, we like to be individuals, so many of us would rather wear unique clothing that hints at our team allegiances, often we sit grumpily when the crowd starts the wave, we attempt to yell "funny" things when the crowd is quiet, and we mercilessly boo and ridicule the opposing team. Neither is bad, just different!
Some of the customs are more subtle and harder to notice or imitate for a foreigner. For example, it is obvious that the crowd chants and sings for each better, but it might take a while to realize the song has unique lyrics for each home player. Japanese are not as spontaneous as Americans, so they often will not high five strangers like Americans will (usually they won't even talk to people they don't know). Another small and unique thing: Japanese fans pick up their trash and take it out of the stadium with them. Also, Japan fans dress up in their team colors for the game, but they often change at the stadium rather than traveling in their favorite player's jersey (again, I think this is all about fitting in with cultural norms).
Don't be daunted by the huge crowds using the trains in Tokyo. We have all seen how packed the trains are either in photos, in media, etc. No worries, they have a cool system!
While there we have not felt inconvenienced at all as the Japanese are very efficient and courteous people. After getting off carriages, they automatically get on/stay on the left side of the escalators/walkways. This allows for those who are rushing to go so they can use the rightside of the laneway/escalators, etc. They folllow this strictly!
Don't expect to find paper towels in the public restrooms in Tokyo. There may be hot air hand dryers available, but even in some very nice restaurants you may be expected to provide your own hand towel. Most people carry a washcloth size towel in their pocket or purse for just such needs. While traditional Japanese style toilets are found in most every restroom that provides service for more than one person at a time, thankfully they usually have at least one western style toilet. For those of us who are rather old and decrepit and can hardly sit down safely, much less squat over an open vessel, this is wonderful.
Every Japanese family has a seal, called a hanko. Japanese sign their documents with this kanji seal, which comes in a cute little case with its own ink pad. You must register the hanko with the government, and thereafter, no document is considered executed until the seal has been placed upon it. However, the government does not expect westerners to use hankos; thus, having married a gaijin, my daughter-in-law can now sign her documents and they will be official. It's much easier just to stamp things with that little seal, though!
The list of unwritten rules runs seemingly forever. The fortunate part is that, as a tourist, you get a free ride on most of them. That should not mean you shouldn't learn, but don't be all that worried about doing something wrong. Pay attention to the locals and you will pick it up.
Here are a few things I learned in the week I was there. I know it was not alot of time, but trust me, I got plenty of important research done durning that time...
If there is a pitcher of beer, don't fill your own glass. Someone at your table will fill it for you. Do the same for them.
Many of the smaller bars require memberships. These can be pretty pricey and often you have to have your own sauce there behind the bar.
Japanese beer often comes in tiny glasses, so look into this before getting excited about that cheap Guinness.
Don't tip. It is sometimes considered rude. Rather, express your gratefulness to the server.
Head, (the foam at the top of your glass), is not pulled from the top of your glass. I think might actually be added to make it look more full. This is common, and was done even by the nicest of bartenders in the city. Don't be offended.
If doing some marathon drinking, make sure to plan ahead. The subways close at midnight. (Don't cancel your trip yet....here's the good part) Many places serve all night. You might be able to party until the first train comes.
Beer in Japan is not all that fancy. If you aren't partial to rice beer, expect to be dissapointed or pay some high prices for imports. One great alternative was the mixture of oolong tea and sake over ice that my new hero Tomoko introduced me to.
The oshimori is an humid towell that many restaurants give you and it's provided to clean your hands. You should put it on the table instead in you legs. Don't clean your nose with it, and never ever clean you nose in a public place!
In Japan, you are supposed to turn off your cell phone when you are on a public transportation such as a train, a subway and a bus. make sure it's off or silent before get on and if you forgot and it rang just hang up and turn off. Also people get annoyed if someone is loud on a public transportation too.
On any public transportation, everyone has their cellphone on vibrate and do not talk on the phone. If you forget and your phone rings, excuse yourself and switch to vibrate quickly. You'll also notice no talking on cellphone sign everywhere. Because it cost less to send email than to talk, people tend to rely on emails.
There's a proper way to drink alcohol in Asian society. I'll outline the salient points. For the purposes of this example, let's assume you're having an after-work drink with your boss.
You never pour your own drink. Your boss pours a shot for you, and you pour a shot for him. Each of you hold your cup while the other pours. But there's a proper way to do it...
Since he's higher in status than you are, when you pour, you pour with two hands on the bottle (or you can touch your free hand to your pouring arm). However, your boss holds his cup with only one hand.
Then, when he pours for you, you hold your cup with two hands, and he pours with one hand.
When both of you have filled cups, you toast (you can say "Kampai" if you're in a Japanese restaurant) and touch the cups together. Again, since he's higher in status, make sure the rim of your cup is below his rim when the two meet.
Then drink. Again, since he's higher in status, don't face him directly when you drink, but turn slightly away from him. (If you were drinking with someone very high in status, it would not be inappropriate to completely turn away from them before downing your drink).
Of course, some fun results when you have two people trying to out-humble each other. Remember, you don't lose face by being overly respectful to others.
In Japan, it is NEVER okay to wear your shoes inside someone's home. Shoes are also often taken off inside schools, bath houses, and other public places where it makes sense to maintain cleanliness. Usually a house "slipper" will be provided so where those if they are. When going to the toilet, there is usually a separate slipper you should change into.
Yes, the main rule to remember when you are drinking with japanese-never pour your own glass. The rule is-in turn one person pours for everyone in the group, so be sure to hold up your glass when someone is pouring. But if noone notices your empty glass..best thing in this situation is to pour everyone else a drink so that someone will after pour yours. Also tricky situation-somebody wants to pour in your glass, but it's full..the right thing to do is to take few gulps so that the person can fill your glass..but because everyone is continuining filling everyone else's glass, you never know how much you drank, which is..very good or very bad;))
It doesnt matter how talented you are with chopsticks..it's better to follow some rules. If you are taking some food from communal bowl or tray, you are supposed to turn your chopsticks unside down and use the part that hasnt been in your mouth, after you put the food on your plate you turn chopsticks back to their proper position. The exception is chabu-chabu and sukuyaki (you put chopsticks in communal bowl with boiling broath, so it's killing bacterias). Also a very important rule-never stick your chopsticks down vertically into your bowl with rice and leave them there, which is done when a person has died. Also never pass anything from your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks-that's done only to pass the bones of the cremated. I found this info in a book about japanese cuisine which i studied carefully before my trip.. indeed a lot of useful things:)
While most of Tokyo is clean and organized, at Yoyogi Park, there is a small revolution.
You can see artwork of graffitti on the wall. On weekends, there are bands of rockers that do not look like typical Japanese.
With forested areas, ponds and open grassland, it is a great place for family outdoor picnics and activities.
Yoyogi Park was the site of the Olympic village in 1964. Easy walk from Harajuku station.
Bowing (Ojigi) is a usual and an important custom in Japan and is done quiet regularly. Generally, they greet each other by bowing in place of handshaking. It is impolite not to bow in return. Japanese people tend to become a little uncomfortable with the more physical forms of contact but accept the handshake with westerners.