Things Rarely Seen or Heard in Japan
(Created April 11, 2014; last edited February 18, 2019)
Here are some things rarely seen or heard here in Japan because of purely cultural reasons or tastes. Things that are not seen or heard because of self-imposed taboos are presented on the taboo page.
People walking in the rain without an umbrella
Unless it rains very unexpectedly or the person you see is a foreigner (and particularly one who has not lived here for a while), people walking in the rain without umbrellas are quite rare.
People carrying or even owning guns
This is something that Japan got right. The government makes it virtually impossible to own a handgun and effectively too difficult to own any kind of firearm to make it the weapon of choice for people wishing to kill others or commit "armed" robbery. These statutes are uniform and apply the same way regardless of where you live in Japan.
People licking postage stamps
Apparently, Japanese have a great aversion to licking postage stamps, whereas many of the Westerners I know think nothing of chowing down on the glue backing postage stamps.
Compared with the post Vietnam War popularity of vegetarianism and veganism in the US and other Western countries, Japanese are unlikely to be vegitarians and extremely unlikely to be vegans or even understand why someone would decide to be a vegan. Veganism among Japanese is virtually unheard of, regardless of what some Westerners think when they arrive here. Unlike many Westerners, the Japanese did not have a post-Vietnam war love affair with "Eastern" religions and do not go on guilt trips about killing animals. No guilt; pass the sushi, the hamburger, and the glass of milk (not necessarily at the same meal, of course). Almost all of the vegans you will encounter in Japan will be foreigners, and many of them must avoid eating out, as vegan restaurants and even restaurants with "vegan choices" are extremely difficult to find, and the places most Japanese would think to go to eat and drink would offer virtually nothing that vegans could ingest anyway.
Towels or hand dryers in a train station toilet
You can tell a foreigner has just come out of a train station toilet very easily, because they are shaking their hands in an attempt to dry them as the exit the toilet. With the exception of venues likely to be frequented by foreigners who would complain about no towels, paper towels in toilets were quite rare until very recently. While towels are still rare, some places (but not train stations) have hot-air hand dryers, but some of these are being shut down to save energy (and perhaps reinforce the idea that the Japanese really need to crank those nukes back up).
Apparently Japanese have dents fixed within 20 minutes of having an accident. The condition of taxis is immaculate, unlike taxis in major Western cities.
Pouring soy sauce over rice
This is considered strange by Japanese, particularly if done in a public setting such as a restaurant. Why spoil the flavor of the rice? Some foreigners I know say they do this because rice does not have any flavor. If they stay in Japan long enough, some of them might learn that this is wrong, as rice does have a flavor.
Nose-blowing in public
Nose-blowing in public, and particularly in an eating establishment, is considered bad form.
People setting their stocking feet down in a genkan
Allowing your stocking feet to touch the slightly lower genkan area of a Japanese home as you exit is considered bad form, but doing it before you climb that small step into the home is even worse, because the lower genkan area is considered part of the dirty outside area. Most Japanese have learned to adjust to this by being able to get their shoes on and off without allowing their feet to rest on what is considered dirty.