Visiting foreign countries can be a life-changing experience or maybe not. No one returns to their home country the same person as they left.
I had the privilege of visiting Tokyo, Japan for 3 months for a business trip. I stayed in one of the Hotels in the business center of Tokyo. Yes, I stayed in a hotel for 3 months. You might think it’s too costly, right? Yes, it is, but it’s a company expense anyway. 🙂
Though I don’t have roommates like most travelers did in Japan that opted to stay in hostels and dorms, I still got the chance to observed their culture and how the Japanese live their life.
Upon laying your first step in Japan, you can really feel that there is something good that is ahead of you. But you can’t deny the fact that it’s a new environment, new people, new culture, new learnings and you really need to adjust quickly else you won’t last long.
Living in Japan for 90 days had taught me life-changing lessons that I would like to share with you.
Here are some of my take away from visiting Japan – 15 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned in Japan
Always thank people
Japanese do always thank for any favors done to them even the smallest ones. They don’t forget to say thank you again and again the next day they saw you. It may sound too much but, it really feels good when you are on the receiving end right? Japanese will always make it to the point of saying ‘thank you” all the time. I find it weird sometimes that in restaurants and food stalls, or any stores, the staffs will say “Arigatou gozaimasu!” (thank you) like almost all of them when they saw you walking out from the store premises! Weird but nice, isn’t it?
Be polite as much as you can
Japan is known to have the “politest” people that I know of. Politeness is really pervasive in their culture. They are very polite that you can easily notice it in the way they speak (the use of honorifics is highly observed). The politeness of the people just went beyond saying welcome, please and thank you (Irrasshaimase, Onegaishimasu, Arigatou gozaimasu). Politeness for them means being a little selfless. When you ask for direction, they are happy to give you a detailed sketch, a map or they will accompany you to a place where you will be on your right path.
It is appropriate to use the entire hand to point someone rather than just using the index finger. Bowing down is a sign of showing respect especially greeting someone or asking for an apology. Bowing down to someone is awkward if you’re not used to it. In my case, for 3 months staying in Japan and being with my bosses most of the time, I got used to it that even when I came back in Cebu, I bow down to the cashiers in the convenience store and they were like “what the hell are you doing?”. My friend gave me a sarcastic look and told me, “you’re bowing down”. Only then I realized that I’m already in Cebu. LOL
Always return favors, no matter what
Good begets good. Returning favors is paramount to smooth relations for the Japanese. Almost everything good you do for someone will be exchanged with a kind gesture. Like someone is offering a hand to you in fixing something on your office laptop, buying them something to drink in the vending machine is good enough to show an appreciation.
Be selfless in celebrating relationships
Japanese always find ways to celebrate relationships. Despite being too passionate about their careers and work life, they always find time to celebrate. The nicest way that Japanese show it is by giving much importance to someone by putting them first. Common examples of these are: giving the biggest piece of cake to your friend, giving the best seat to your mother when dining in restaurants and another one is having your honored guest seated in the middle of the dining table and have them in the center position when taking photographs.
Include everyone in the group
No matter how angry you are to one of your teammates when it comes to gatherings of the group, you need to include everyone. It is a must in Japan to invite everyone concerned even if you don’t like their presence. This teaches me a lesson to accept all people and promote tolerance for people that we don’t like or to those who have different personalities.
Respect the property of others
There’s no room for theft in Japan. “Finder’s keepers” is also not applicable! If it’s not your property then surrender it to authorities, it is not for you to take and keep. This is one of the reasons why you can find several lost and found stalls/sections around.
Drinking does not really mean begetting violence
I must admit, I learned how to drink beer while in Japan. Who would not learned drinking when all your bosses and colleagues invite you to a night out and you would only be drinking tea, juice or soda? Besides, Japan has a unique variety of beers, I might as well have to try most of them. LOL.
But only in Japan I realized that drinking doesn’t necessarily beget violence and misconduct. I found a lot of drunk men on weekends but no one has ever been misbehaving. They just love to drink and get drunk, pass out, only to wake up and drink again and they are happy about it. They are peaceful drinkers generally.
Government control is really a good thing
Public services in Japan are really commendable. I have tried their postal systems and its really excellent and are inexpensive. The quality of service is way better compared to ours not to mention their world-class railway system.
Be organized and less assertive
What impressed me most about the Japanese are their being gentle and organized. They are willing to wait in long queues without any complaints because they trust that the systems work. They handle things with poise, calm and orderly manner even in desperate times. You can’t expect them to bend some rules for you. You can’t even encounter road rage, raised voices or rolls of the eyes from the Japanese.
Be a good listener
Being a good listener is the key for someone to open up more. We need to let someone speak until the end before starting any conversation. Jumping directly to conversation, challenging immediately what they’ve said and or cutting them off will cause a debate. And while on an argument, the voices will raise and make someone judgmental at times. Japanese are generally soft-spoken and I seldom hear Japanese talked each other with a raised voice not unless they are at war. LOL.
Be considerate to other people
It cannot be avoided that when we’re traveling we got some calls. In our country’s setting people generally don’t care and answer the calls even if inside public transport. Some phone have those very loud ringing tones set to level 20. 🙂 It’s really disturbing sometimes and when they answer the call, it seems like they are talking to all the passengers that even the passenger on the farthest seat can hear clearly.
In Japan, while traveling, you can notice that most people will step out of the seating compartment of the trains and stand near the doors to answer phone calls in a hushed tone. Even in other public places, people tend to answer their calls in a hushed tone and promptly informing the caller to call back as they are in transit and will revert the calls as soon as they can.
There are signs also asking people to switch off phones and refrain from answering them. It is really disrespectful in Japan to talk loudly on the phone when in public transport.
Do your best always (Ganbaru!)
Ganbaru or ganbatte has no direct translation in English. It’s like telling someone to keep on no matter what, and do ones best always! Most of us will give up easily especially on something that takes much of our time, effort and money. We often think that it’s pointless, but not for the Japanese people. It was instilled in their minds that they are expected to make it through until the end with the sole expectation of doing the best they can. “Ganbatte kudasai!”
Commitment means honor
The Japanese culture had taught me a lot about commitment. When they say they are going to do something, they really mean it. It’s worth noting that Japanese won’t forget! If they commit on something like confirmed their attendance to an event, they really feel obliged to come. No matter how bad the weather is. You need to call in advance that you can’t make it to some appointments and send someone on your behalf. Last minute notices and no-shows are really not tolerated.
Respect each other’s time
The most important lesson of all is that being on time always. This does not only show our respect for others but being on time really make everything runs smoothly. In fact, in one of our weekend trips I was late for about 10 minutes and my Japanese colleague was like calling my mobile phone for the 5th time already. And oh, I didn’t answer it as answering calls from the train is highly discouraged. That incident had taught me to always take the train earlier in our succeeding trips. It’s okay to be 10-15 minutes earlier though.
Cleanliness means business
Honestly, I had to admit that it’s really hard for me on my first few days in Japan figuring out how to dispose my trashes properly. They have like at least 4-5 trash bins and you need to sort it out else that will be rejected for collection. What I find it weird at first was that the bottle caps had a separate trash bin from the bottle itself. Also they have separate trash bins for tin cans, glass, food wastes, etc. but most common labels were: Paper, Plastic, Metal, Glass, Food and Others.
So when you throw your garbage, carefully sort it out and place it in the proper bins else you need to pick it up inside the bins and place it where it should be. Also, littering is prohibited.
PS: It’s part of their culture still (though not practiced by all) that women are the ones who will open the doors for men and women will walk behind men. So if you’re a gentleman type that applies the ladies first rule, then probably someone might notice that as some Japanese women really love that gesture. 🙂
What lessons have you learned in your travels? Let us know in the comments section below!