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Stinky train tracks, expensive imports and no weekends: Netizens remember Showa-era Japan

By RocketNews24

The Showa period (1926-1989) was a time of immense change for Japan when the country went from being an imperial power to a poverty-stricken post-war nation and then becoming an economic powerhouse that dominated automotive and electronic industries around the world. Twenty-seven years since that era ended and the current Heisei era began, fond memories of “Showa Japan” still flood many Japanese minds.

But a recent online poll asked netizens to take off their rose-tinted glasses and consider the aspects of daily Showa-period life that, while seeming completely normal back then, would be unthinkable now.

The Showa period gave us some pretty fantastic art in ads and some great anime, but there were some parts of Japanese society, like corporal punishment that bordered on child abuse, that are not likely talked about when waxing poetically about the good ol’ days. Wanting to take a look at parts of life in Showa Japan that some have a tendency to forget, the online news site MyNavi Woman asked its readers to submit “overlooked Showa moments” in a recent poll.

More than 450 readers were asked, “What are the top things about the Showa era that we rarely think about?” and were able to submit multiple answers. The results of the poll, along with the percentage of respondents who submitted the answer, are as follows:

1. Drinking water during exercise was discouraged (28.9%)

The top answer most readers submitted was that it was considered common practice to forbid drinking water during any kind of exercise. Many net users couldn’t quite remember why this was considered good for the body at the time, but one remembered hearing their gym teachers telling them water would “thin out the blood.” Others recalled being told that drinking water during physical activities would actually cause your body to be further exhausted. Luckily, science caught up and taking water to sports practice became the norm.

2. Train toilets emptied right onto the tracks (22.8%)

Before modern trains came along with their fancy toilets equipped with a holding tank, it was common for train toilets to be barely more than a hole in the floor. For obvious reasons, passengers were not allowed to use the toilets while the train was standing at the station, but those living near the tracks often complained of the smell of human waste, and some even fell sick from being near open sewage. Apparently as late as 2002, there was still a train with this kind of toilet being used by JR in Hokkaido.

3. Everyone went to school and work on Saturday mornings (21.5%)

Forget Saturday morning cartoons, much of Japan still remembers a time when Saturday mornings were nothing more than another weekday. Children went to school and their parents went to work and the weekend didn’t truly begin until Saturday afternoon. But some actually looked back fondly at those memories because classes were often more casual and they enjoyed spending their Saturday mornings with their classmates.

4. The yen was about 1/3 weaker (20%)

Today, about 120 yen buys you $1, but from 1949 to 1971 the exchange rate was fixed at 360 yen to the dollar to prop up Japanese exports. Even though Japanese industries loved being able to sell their cheap goods overseas, the weak yen made imports prohibitively expensive and trips overseas only a dream for the rich.

5. Need to fix the TV, just give it a whack (16.5%)

Many people who grew up in the Showa era remember when giving the TV set a good smack could improve the picture. This was because wires in the heavy CRT TVs of the past could be whacked back into place or dust that had gotten in knocked out after a good slap. Although this method of TV repair was common practice back then, we really recommend you call your local repairman instead of going Mike Tyson on your screen.

Besides these five overlooked parts of Showa life, other readers recalled how socially acceptable smoking was, to the point that people lit up in hospital waiting rooms and subway trains needed ashtrays. And another reader remembered how pay-day during this time mean cold hard cash, making the man of the house very popular when he came home that day. How do these “forgotten” memories of Showa Japan stack up to what you know about the era?

Source: My Navi Woman

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- ‘Smell my spit!’ and other Japanese teachers’ corporal punishments -- Incredible New Animated Music Video “Transfer” Wins Fans the World Over -- We got some Japanese radish sparkling wine, but didn’t expect it to taste like this…

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corporal punishment that bordered on child abuse

No need to sugar coat it. Much of the corporal punishment back then was far beyond borderline child abuse.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Driving one's car into a road side benjo.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I got paid in cash up to 1999 when working in my village. That super thick wad of cash in my envelope every month made me feel like a millionaire.

Drinking was something that almost everyone seemed to do back then, too. Drinking and smoking.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"corporal punishment that bordered on child abuse"

Heck, my elementary school principal hit my backside with a big ol' long wood board several times for the crime of doodling, lol.

Ah, riding the trains and seeing people reading newspapers or books instead of playing with their phones and videogames.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I almost fell into a honey bucket.

5 ( +5 / -0 )


I remember getting paid in cash, too, in the old days.

A Japanese colleague got drunk one payday, fell asleep on a bench and had his wad stolen. Unlucky, maybe, but exactly the same thing happened the following month.

Happy days!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Back in the dark ages of being a graduate student in Japan, I remember my constant amazement at standing on a packed platform at the local station with everybody else shuffling off to work/school on a Saturday morning. I also remember some of the seedier boozers that catered for the legions of salary men. They were invariably located under the railway lines themselves. I also remember being admonished by a old professor of mine (about 80) for using the toilet on the train while it was still at the station.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Interestingly, around the world wages paid with checks or direct deposit into your bank accounts are very recent developments, mostly happening in the last 30 years or so in most of the world (though earlier in the USA). Indeed, back in the 1990's many company employees in Japan were still paid in cash, which was kind of strange considering Japan had put in a modern banking system by the 1960's.

As for drinking fluids being good for you during sporting events, that started to happen when Gatorade was developed in 1965 as a means to keep American football players functioning properly in the warmer, more humid climate of Florida. Its very success by 1967 in making University of Florida players play better (Gatorade was named after the univerisity's sports team nickname, the Gators) in the hot Florida climate made people stand up and take notice, and essentially why doctors discovered increased hydration was very necessary for many athletes, overturning years of belief that consuming fluids was not good for you during exercise. Indeed, that does kind of explain why there are beverage vending machines all over Japan nowadays, very necessary given Japan's hot and humid summers.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Why am I not surprised that that little bit of history from around 1930-45 doesn't even appear to be on the radar!! Gee wonder why that is, not!

Yeah I remember being paid in cash, was great initially because when I first landed it was near impossible to open a bank account for christs sake!

I also remember the locals carrying off huge wads on "bonus" days, and I got ZIP! A few buds who are still friends todays used to buy me a couple beers & now I am glad to return the favors!

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Hydration in sports? Same thing happened when I was a kid. We were told not to drink because it would make your muscles cramp.

Going to school on Saturdays? .... erm the author clearly doesn't live near a high school now, because the kids are STILL going to school almost every saturday, and seem to split the day between morning classes followed by afternoon club.

Percussive maintenance for TVS? Same thing back home for me. A good whack, and failing that fiddling with the tuning endlessly. That's my biggest memory of childhood, manually retuning the TV every time I wanted to change channel. No remotes, no preset channels, just fiddling with a dial until you found the channel you wanted, then fiddling with a smaller dial until the picture was only a bit blurry.
6 ( +9 / -3 )

I even remember when the hair color of nearly all Japanese under the age of 50 was in varying shades of black.

Serrano@schools in New Mexico permitted teachers to whack the backsides of their students with yard-long plywood paddles. Is that where you're from?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

In my first job in the 70s I got paid through the bank - yes as a lowly forn Engrish teacher, I had a bank account as a matter of course, the first thing my employers did when I turned up for work was get me a hanko made, then down to the bank to open an account. But no bonus. After marriage, in a 'proper' job in the 80s I got paid in cash, with a twice-yearly bonus.

The first three days of the New Year, everywhere was shut, you really did have to stock up on food to last the duration, and Tokyo was a (rather pleasant) ghost town for those three days.

International telephone calls were so expensive you counted the seconds off on a stop watch as you spoke. Communication was by one-sheet, fold-over aerogrammes that could take up to two weeks to arrive and didn't always arrive in the order they were sent, which was sometimes confusing for parents back home. (Things aren't perhaps all that different now - a Christmas card & letter I posted to Florida about a week before Christmas eventually arrived on the 9th January).

5 ( +8 / -3 )

"The yen was about 1/3 weaker (20%)"

Three hundred sixty is NOT one-third weaker than one hundred twenty.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I loved the jet black glossy hair and bright red lipstick of Japanese women in the 1980's.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Interestingly, around the world wages paid with checks or direct deposit into your bank accounts are very recent developments

Japanese labor law still requires payment by cash. Payment to a bank account is optional at the employee's discretion (not the employer's).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Apart from school on Saturday mornings and the exchange rate none of this is exclusive to Japan. Weekly cash payment and a five and a half day working week were normal when I started work; my first wage as an apprentice was 3 pounds 17 shillings and 6 pence per week! That's about 500 Yen in today's money.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not sure if this is supposed to be geared to "negative" things or just all aspects that people seem to forget.

Lack of A/C on trains and buses in Tokyo in the summer, which really didn't make an appearance until the late '70s. Air and water pollution, particularly along the Tokaido areas. No valencia orange juice, only mikan juice. Restaurant paper napkins that were almost exclusive made of rice paper, shiny and couldn't wipe up anything. Absolutely nothing open during oshogatsu. Nothing. The multiplex box in the late 70s that one needed to listen to bilingual programs. The sound of the train ticket punchers at the ticket wickets. The NHK collector. The "extinguish your fire" reminder at nite in Tokyo...still happens in the country, though. Kids going to school in shorts in the middle of winter. Haro, this is a pen. The complete lack of western style toilets in most public restrooms. The abundance and use of sento.

Many more, of course, just some that come to mind.

16 ( +18 / -2 )


I'd reckon six of those in your list were good things.....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I loved the jet black glossy hair and bright red lipstick of Japanese women in the 1980's.

Speaking of hair, do you remember when they didn't bother routinely shaving anything but their faces? Some of them seemed to be wearing both mini-skirts and thick black leg warmers!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I remember that none of the trains had English on the signs for the destination and for the stations and I went to the wrong place a few times.

4 ( +4 / -0 )


The NHK collector.

He still comes round to my place. Every time, it's a different person (I think), despite my saying that I don't have a TV and having put a sign on the doorbell saying that I have absolutely no intention of watching TV. I just don't bother answering the door now (and I don't care if they start tutting and huffing like one of the last guys).

Kids going to school in shorts in the middle of winter.

I still see that. Back home, my brother had to endure this when he was a kid. Thank god I never had to do that. I remember last year I saw a really tall elementary school boy on the train. The shorts were ridiculously short and he had a jacket on - he just looked as if he was wearing nothing on the bottom half.


Speaking of hair, do you remember when they didn't bother routinely shaving anything but their faces?

I remember the days when the men here didn't shave their eyebrows. Wasn't here when hair was still black, but I do wish the Japanese would stop doing things just because everyone else is - especially blonde - they're not westerners. When I first knew I was going to come here, I dyed my hair back to my original hair colour (dark brown to black) because it couldn't grow back in time. I was shocked when I came here and literally everyone had dyed hair. I was so glad I'd gone back to black. I have no intention of following the crowd.

Everyone went to school and work on Saturday mornings (21.5%)

I bet a lot still do. Otherwise, when a public holiday falls on a Saturday, we'd all get a substitute holiday. Absolutely wasted. About as useful as a pedestrian crossing in Japan.

the weak yen made imports prohibitively expensive

Imported stuff is STILL expensive. And that's excluding highly taxed foodstuff, like non-Japanese rice.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Kids going to school in shorts in the middle of winter.

I believe child abuse was already mentioned.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

No karaoke.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

When I went to Belgium in 1995 I was surprised that the toilet opened onto the train tracks.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I used to receive lots and lots of winter gifts, summer gifts and white day gifts. That has changed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Only examples three and four in the article appear to be Japan-specific.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

When I was in Japan in the summer of 1985, it was not exactly a great idea to run a JNR commuter train it you hate being hot--even if the train had air conditioning, the A/C often didn't work that well. Interestingly, private railway commuter trains had way better A/C units back then. I think by the early 1990's, JR Group commuter trains finally got decent A/C units.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Coffee in a coffee shop was more expensive than it is now. Drinking was more expensive unless you got a bottle keep of cheap whisky.

There were three or four kinds of beer, Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin and very occasionally Yebisu.

Petrol was about the same price. Well, at the end of the Showa period anyway.

A lot of cheese in gaijin supermarkets was 100 yen for a 100 grams, which compares with Costco now.

Set lunches were 500 - 1,000 yen, the same as now.

Station toilets sold toilet paper.

No smoling on the Tokaido Line until after Hiratsuka. No no-smoking carriages on the Shinkansen, so you would have a sore throat after travelling between Tokyo and Osaka.

People did not eat in the street.

Young Japanese with passports were rare.

Banks closed at the weekends, so there were no ATMs at the weekends or at night or any other time they were closed. Strangely, Japanese international cards would work at the weekends but only in other countries.

When you made an international phone call, you watched the time as it was so expensive.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


OK, now you have me. Which 6 do you think might have been good things? I am not saying some weren't, but I can only count 3 that I think were. Well, maybe 4 or possibly 5 if we want to just be sentimental.


Yeah, the kids in shorts thing still happens, but just seems much less common. (And, yes, @scipantheist, that sort of falls under child abuse, fair point.) As for the NHK collector, true enough, but back then, you sort of felt like you HAD to pay. Particularly if you were a gaijin....and likely the only gaijin in the neighbourhood...

One other thing I forgot. Still in use, I know, but far less prevalent and something that is both natsukashii and was a real pain: the lack of central air/heating and the need for a kerosene space heater in the winter. How many times do I remember getting out of bed, turning on the space heater, and then getting back into bed until the room was a little warm.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Getting paid in actual cash as a full-time salaried employee is something that carried over into the first half of the Heisei Era in the 1990s. Several aspects of daily life in Japan were still very Showa-esque into the late 1990s, especially in rural areas. The rapid development of internet and mobile phone technology changed many things after that. Among other things, the fabled wapuro (word processors) disappeared from offices and got replaced by personal computers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Remember when we had to buy land lines? How much were they?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Ah the good old DAZE! Smelly toilets, expensive coffees and no airconditioners on the trains?? No thanks!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Benjo . . . and seeing the occasional oyaji having a squat in broad daylight over one.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tessa has an interesting point about having to buy land lines. They were about 70,000. You were supposed to be able to sell them to someone else or back to NTT. Can you actually sell them back to NTT now?

Wives became stronger when salaries were paid through the bank. When they were paid in cash, many salarymen would buy an envelope similar to the companies and after removing some money, write out a new payslip. Now their wives take all the salary before giving them their pocket money.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

trains in rance are still like this to this dday!! just holes!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

many salarymen would buy an envelope similar to the companies

In one company I worked for, the company itself obliged by providing two pay slips, one to show the wife and the real one for tax purposes. I asked why and was told that it would be dishonest and dangerous to lie to the taxman.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Some of this was much the same in the Land of the Gaijin: 1. I remember needing that canteen full of water after PT or a march back in the early 1960s. 2. Trains were the same in the States; I remember seeing the road bed whiz by looking down through the hole. 3. Saturday AM was a duty day in 1978 for me; not so long ago. 4. The exchange rate was set at Bretton Woods in 1949. President Nixon burned them down in August, 1971. I remember the term Nixon Shirocku back then. 5. TV sets and also radio sets got the whack treatment in the USA, too. The real culprit was the electron tubes which tended to heat things including connections. Whacking the set would break the corrosion on the pins and sometimes reactivate a tired tube. I saw my first transistor radio in 1958 (Sony) and knew huge changes were on the way.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

1 in 10 railway carriages in the UK still have toilets emptying onto the tracks.

Some parts of the world are still in the Showa era....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Forget Saturday morning cartoons, much of Japan still remembers a time when Saturday mornings were nothing more than another weekday.

I'm convinced that my younger siblings were conceived on those Saturday mornings when I would watch TV in my pyjamas, and my parents would have a "lie-in" with the bedroom door locked. Japan needs more Saturday morning cartoons!

In one company I worked for, the company itself obliged by providing two pay slips, one to show the wife and the real one for tax purposes. I asked why and was told that it would be dishonest and dangerous to lie to the taxman.

Several companies I worked for gave me two pay slips for exactly the opposite reason: a low sum to declare to the tax office, and the other, higher one which was the real pay. It was actually really common practice, especially amongst small eikaiwa who couldn't afford to hire full-time employees and pay for their health insurance, etc.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It was perfectly normal to see topless women on prime-time TV.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Being a native Russian, I thought all my life that train toilets that empty on the tracks are the norm, until I came to Japan. In Russia however this type of toilet is still common, although the local trains obviously have no toilets and people use vestibules or the connection part itself for this purpose.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


1) Mikan juice: Locally-sourced, no waste of resources to import American produce for no real reason.

2) Shogatsu: Everyone got a holiday; nobody forced to work.

3) Train-ticket punchers: personalised, humanised service. Better than machines.

4) NHK collectors. As number 3)

5) No western toilets: Japanese-style are healthier and more hygienic.

6) Sentos: Communal bathing. Friendly. What's not to like?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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