You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

By Philip Kendall

So you’ve been living, lounging, working, or studying in Japan for a while now. The feelings of homesickness you first experienced are but a distant memory, and whenever you Skype with your family, you unconsciously use the word “home” to refer to your place in Japan rather than your home country. Not only that, you can finally navigate the Tokyo Metro without getting flustered, barely even notice when a girl dressed in kimono passes you in the street, and you think nothing of visiting a convenience store two or three times a day, sometimes just to flick through the magazines.

But what about all of the things you do unconsciously or that seem so normal to you now but would make you stop and stare back home? Today, we bring you a list of 10 moments that, if and when they happen to you, you can safely say, “Wow, I’ve been in Japan too long.”

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

1. The very thought of taking a bath without showering first makes you feel dirty

In Japan, baths are for relaxing and warming up in, not getting clean. Part of the reason why whole families have no qualms about sharing the same bath water, and in many households the water is piped to the washing machine to do laundry with once everyone has taken a dip, is because it remains almost completely clean the entire time it’s in use. People always shower and wash their entire body before stepping into the tub, being careful to rinse off completely and ensure that not a single soap-bubble should enter the bath, so the water stays clean. It’s actually a really nice custom, and kind of makes you realise how gross sitting in bath water you just used to wash the dirt off your body with is.

2. You ask for a non-smoking table in a restaurant when you visit your home country

In some parts of the world, it has been illegal to smoke in bars, cafes and restaurants for almost a decade. Customers are asked to take it outside or use special smoke rooms to get their nicotine/tar fix if they really can’t resist the urge, but everyone else gets to enjoy their food or drink without the accompaniment of cigarette smoke.

In Japan, an increasing number of cafes and restaurants are saying no to cigs, but visit pretty much any family restaurant and your greeter will immediately ask whether you want a smoking or non-smoking seat, and if it’s a bar more often than not you can expect there to be smoke in the air. So when you fly back home or visit a country where smoking bans have been in place for years, you’re bound to look a little odd insisting on a non-smoking seat since, well, they’re all non-smoking…

3. You give someone a gift because they gave you a gift

Gift-giving is about as big a part of Japanese culture as exchanging business cards at meetings. Certainly, some of the younger generation ignore some of the older customs, but it’s not in the least bit unusual to receive gifts when someone moves into the apartment next to yours, or when signing up to a new gas or electricity supplier, or if a coworker returns to work after taking time off, or because it’s summer or winter (seriously), or just, you know, because there are gifts everywhere to be bought and given.

But when you get a gift, even if it’s just a bag of apples received from a well-meaning neighbor, it’s generally considered polite to return the favor at some point in the near future. Of course, this can result in a seemingly never-ending exchange of presents and giving presents because you got presents, and once you’ve been in Japan for any length of time it’s not unusual to find yourself thinking, “Oh, I must get something for XX-san to thank her for that XX she gave me.”

Speaking of having something to give in return…

4. You stockpile emergency presents

There are no birthdays coming up, it’s not Christmas, and you have yet to upset your significant other this week, but you’re buying a gift-wrapped box of chocolates or rice crackers, or a set of posh tea towels anyway. What with Japan’s gift-giving culture being what it is, some people – including foreigners who’ve been here so long that they keep forgetting the English words for things - will make a point of having a small, pre-wrapped gift stashed away just in case you receive one and having nothing to give in return – something that, in the West, only the ultra-organised and those who own paper address books could be imagined to do. Oh, and if you got a gift from someone and you specifically didn’t open it so that you can give it to someone else at later date, that counts too. You’ve been in Japan too long.

5. You bow while talking on the phone

Come on, you know it had to make the list. Whether it’s a quick nod of the head or a five-second-long nosedive, bowing is a big part of Japanese culture, and you find yourself doing it. All the time. You used to laugh at the way your Japanese coworkers would bow while talking on the phone (“They can’t see you doing it!” you’d laugh), but you’ve just called Pizza Hut (or perhaps a sushi place that does home delivery…) and, just before you ended the call, you offered up a little nod as if to say, “I humbly put my baked dough and toppings in your honorable hands.”

6. You wave your hand in front of your face to indicate ”no”

Gestures, like yawns, are infectious. And when you’ve been in the company of people who do the infamous waving-hand-in-front-of-the-face hand gesture that, in Japan, translates as “no” but with an added dash of modesty, you tend to start doing it yourself. Which is fine, but when you’re with people who could only possibly interpret that same gesture as ”something-smells-and-I-am-wafting-it-away” it can cause confusion. And makes you look a little bit silly. 7. You pronounce Japanese words “correctly” even when speaking in English

Yes, in their native language, ‘karate’ and ‘karaoke’ are pronounced ka-ra-teh and ka-ra-o-ke (with that ‘ke‘ at the end said like that in ‘Ken’), respectively, but most English speakers simply say ”karahtty” and “carry-okey”. Depending on the kind of people your friends and family are, pronouncing such words as these “correctly”, whether intentionally or not, will be met with either amused smiles or the rolling of eyes, but most likely the latter, and perhaps for good reason. As my mother used to tell me back when I was growing up in the UK, “No one likes a know-it-all smart-ass,” so if you’re slipping into Japan mode when with non-Japanese speakers, perhaps consider knocking it on the head.

8. You unconsciously throw up peace signs on photos

You’ve chuckled at schoolgirls in Shibuya and couples in "purikura" photo booths as they flash the peace or "bui sain" (V sign), and thought how amusingly Japanese it is, but after living in Japan for a few years, and when everyone else around you is doing it, sometimes – maybe not always, but sometimes – you throw one up. And then all your friends see your photo on Facebook and laugh at you.

9. You have an impressive collection of umbrellas in your home

You’re caught in a shower so pop into a combini to grab a cheap plastic umbrella–they’re only about 400 yen, so no big deal, right? You’re over at a friend’s place during the rainy season when the heavens open, so you borrow another one. Someone comes to visit and leaves an umbrella in your entryway. The latch broke on your old umbrella broke (shouldn’t have opted for that cheapo one after all!) so you bought a new one and have been meaning to throw the old one away, but thanks to Japan’s somewhat complex refuse sorting systems you’re not entirely sure how. Before you know it, you have six or seven umbrellas lined up by the front door, and there’s probably another one floating around in the back of your car. Oh well, you can probably turn them into makeshift Christmas trees or something…

10. People wearing shoes indoors gross you out

Visiting home, you insist on taking your shoes off when indoors and hate it when others don’t. Watching TV dramas and sitcoms, seeing characters put their (shod) feet up on the couch/bed/coffee table totally grosses you out. And when people come to your home and march in wearing the same shoes they’ve been traipsing about outside in all day, although you might not say anything about it, you can’t stop glancing down at their shoes every few seconds, squirming in your seat and quietly thinking to yourself, “Unclean! Unclean!”

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- 10 weird and funny things Japanese people do -- 10 things Japan gets awesomely right -- Boxers, manga, umbrellas… ABSOLUTELY FREE!

© RocketNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

A US friend who has been in Japan 25 years says "Ouch" is no good any more. He has to say "ITTEEEE!!!!"

9 ( +10 / -1 )

I agree with your friend gokai. I also remember last year I was standing on a beach in California, speaking in Japanese to a travel insurance agent (someone had stolen my watch and I was making a claim). I finished the call and turned around to find all my US friends sitting on the beach crying with laughter. Apparently the whole time I had been on the phone I had been bowing and I had no idea I was doing it!

12 ( +14 / -2 )

In what country shoes indoor are normal ? I live in East Europe and we also dont walk in house with shoes .

0 ( +10 / -10 )

ohh My God I’ve been in Japan too long. !! しょうがない !!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Why would you intentionally pronounce words wrong if you know how to pronounce them correctly?

And wearing shoes in the house is just gross. You track all the crap you stepped in outside all over your flooring. Yuck.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

I guess marrying one of the locals is a pretty good indicator.

Thinking how uncouth some gaijins (other than yourself) are.

Accepting that a million people at a Tokyo firework display is to be expected.

No longer thinking buying a bag of just 4 potatoes is unusual.

Getting annoyed if the train is 2 minutes late.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

OMG! Evenif i didnt stay that long in Japan. I am actually doing it! 100% sure

3 ( +5 / -2 )

No. 6: I actually did this, and the waitress sure was amused.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Number 7 is interesting. It reminds me of the phenomenon whereby kids who have lived abroad in an English-speaking country and have near-native level pronunciation skills on returning to Japan deliberately or unconsciously adapt their speech to the level of everyone else (including the teacher) in the English class, and start using katakana English.

I still haven't gotten into the habit of having emergency gifts ready just in case, nor do I pass on unopened gifts I have received. And I never do the V-sign thing. So maybe I'll stay a bit longer. :-)

You know you've been in Japan too long when -

-You complain that your red wine hasn't been chilled enough.

-You consider it bad service if Amazon delivers any later than two days after you placed your order.

-You're no longer surprised when a client sends you a pile of work at 6pm on a Friday evening and expects it to be ready first thing Monday morning.

-You overlook what day Christmas falls on this year, and look forward the the New Year holidays instead.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Lining up for an hour plus outside any given restaurant / shop and considering it "shouganai". Back home, you see a humungous line and move on. Not in Japan - it's the opposite! Big lines are a good thing!

1 ( +3 / -2 )


Why would you intentionally pronounce words wrong if you know how to pronounce them correctly?

First, I will say that I do pronounce these words the Japanese way even when speaking English, but I am not sure that it is 'pronouncing them correctly' Loan words naturally change pronunciation when entering a new language. When speaking English it might be best to pronounce words the way a native English speaker would. Just like I shouldn't pronounce 'salad, McDonald's, pizza' etc. in my proper English pronunciation when speaking Japanese. It goes both ways.

Cleo- your list is great!

4 ( +7 / -3 )

You know you've been in Japan too long when you did these things and have now stopped.

-4 ( +8 / -12 )

OMG! I have never been to Japan and already number 7 is affecting me?! It UST be all that Anime.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You start ending your sentences (even if you're speaking English) with either 'Neh?", "Yo" or "Desho".

1 ( +5 / -4 )

When "consomme" counts as a valid flavour of crisps.

When you consider pretending watching the same people eat and shout every night is entertainment.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

... you exit a taxi cab in your home country and walk away without closing the door.

17 ( +17 / -0 )

When you don't know if loan words in Japanese are actually real English or not.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

'As my mother used to tell me back when I was growing up in the UK, “No one likes a know-it-all smart-ass,”'

Forgetting the difference between US and UK English is obviously a problem too. 'Arse' if it isn't too much trouble, mate.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I refuse to assimilate.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I have been here too long. I now say "Issh" or "Isho" when I exert myself. Please make it stop! A simple grunt will do!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I naturally bow while shaking hands with someone.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It may have taken me longer than others, but I finally know the difference between good rice and bad rice. Good green tea versus cheaper ones. And I just can't get enough of wasabi on my sushi.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Loan words naturally change pronunciation when entering a new language.

That's certainly the case, but in the case of both karaoke and karate there is strong regional variation in how that is pronounced by an English speaker. There is no "correct" English pronunciation of those words, so if you know how they should be pronounced in their native language, why would you use anything else?

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

When you start finding the mothers of Japanese university students more attractive than the their daughters...

14 ( +16 / -2 )

When you look before "changing lanes" while walking to avoid being struck by a bicycle.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The concept of " overtime" no longer exists for you. You form a strong bond with those that joined the company the same year as you. Your own " doukyusei" in a sense. You learn to take shit from your bosses and can handle power plays by old fools. Gaman for the team. Younger co workers that dont do " aisatsu" and show propper respect drive you crazy. You do a high pitched "ahhhhhhhhhh ume!" On that first sip of beer at a party. You can sit in silence without feeling uncomfortable before the official enkai Kampai. You suggest having a girlfriend with your pinky finger. You make a thankyou call to the person you spoke drunken dribble to for hours the night before . You go on drives, just for the sake of driving. You reffer to OTHER foreigners as gaijin. Sorry, could go on but will stop there. Who doesnt love being an ex pat in this wacky country???? 18 years and going strong.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

When you put your index finger on nose tip and says "ME"?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Lived in Tokyo in the 1980s. Husband is from Wakayama. Family, many friends in both places. I return nearly every year, he 2-3x/yr. We are HAPPY at the changes in the U.S.! MANY people ask guests to take off their shoes. Everyone (even my high school students) loves sushi, edamame, panko, yakisoba, ramen, ... and they know how to use hashi. We can buy kara age powder, wasabi, nori, sake, furikake, satsuma imo, etc. at any supermarket! It has become easier and easier to enjoy Japanese culture while living in Oregon.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The only thing that I do unconsciously that I learned from the Japanese habits is when I have to walk in front of someone and I use my hand upright, palm open, to sign I will walk thru. My friends don't understand this at all.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

None of these things except for the shoes. Bowing when on the phone? What a weirdo. Dunno if i can navigate the Tokyo subway well only been their once, Japan is a far bigger place than just the capital.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

when you start backing in to every carpark, even when driving in forward is easier.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

When u start dreaming in Japanese.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

when you start counting everything in japanese

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've lived IN and OUT of Japan for over 15 years, and can say I don't do MOST of that, especially waving one's hand in front of my face..bowing on the PHONE?!, nope, why WOULD you? Ridiculous.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

I caught myself thinking 'oh there's a foreigner' when passing another Caucasian on the street...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I think 1, 3, 4, and 10 are just as normal in US or other countries. Depending on your own upbringing, these 4 categories are actually quite common in US or UK. 2 no longer applies since most restaurants in the states no longer allows smoking but I used to do that back in the 80s and 90s. And I brought that notion to Japan when I go into a locals restaurant.

For 1, I think its quite universal. That's why so many masters bedroom in US has separated shower stall and a big tub or clawfoot tub in the middle class above homes. Or a shower leading to an in-room Jacuzzi. Its quite normal actually. I have one of those.and another one in the sunroom with a open style shower several yards away from the hot tub and the pool outside. Its not that unusual. People generally take showers before relaxing in a bath or hot tub.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

You know you have been in Japan too long when you remember reading these 20 years ago (apart from the smoking one).

Personally I have come to really enjoy making those little choppy actions with your hand when you want to get through a crowd. And I found they work abroad...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Japanese baths are great but I cant understand that people think the water is clean, you still sweat and give off body oils then you wash your clothes with the water?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

When you change the way you beckon your kids from a palm-up to a palm-down 'come here'.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

When you think idol groups in their late teens are a bit old.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

When you look at bathtubs back in your home country and think, WTF?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

When you realize that you can't "be in Japan too long" - when it becomes like a marriage, when the mystery and familiarity jell to create an neverendingly interesting but quite comfortable place.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think you're in Japan too long when you go back to your home country and miss all those small ramen-ya, soba-ya and udon-ya noodle restaurants and restaurants that serve teishoku set meals.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Why would you intentionally pronounce words wrong if you know how to pronounce them correctly?

Pandabelle -- you were kidding, right? Japan is the world's leader in mis-pronouncing foreign words. In fact, that is one things I would add to this list -- You know you are in Japan too long when you start saying things like "shorto", "redo", "cakee" or "steakee". Another would be when you reflexifly say 'Sumimasen" to everyone, even though you are not in Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I naturally bow while shaking hands with someone

I skip the hand shaking part.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

When you come back to America and realize how quiet and introverted you are compared to other people.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

SimondB - your comment about a million people at a fireworks display made me laugh! Not only is this absolutely true, but everyone leaves in such an orderly manner that it is easy to get back home. I avoid crowds in the US if more than 10,000! Chaos!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The dude in the pic is too funny! Hee hee!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In Canada, no one wears their shoes indoors. This notion that Japanese people are cleaner than Western people just isnt true.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I have had people come to visit me at home outside Japan, and by the time they leave I am virtually foaming at the mouth and gnashing my teeth as they stomp all over my house in their outdoor shoes. Of course, I could ask them to simply take them off, but I am British, and asking someone to do something like that is even more painful and mortifying than simply shampooing the carpets afterwards. Or possibly Im just a wuss.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am british (my ancestory) and I have always thought that we british are the most open to sarcastically chastising someone who is doing something wrong. The British invented stinging sarcasm for the whole world.

You could say to your friends:

Do you think it takes more effort to clean dirty carpets or to simply remove your shoes when you enter a home?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Number 2 depends entirely on where you're at in Japan. True some restaurants are going non smoking but the vast majority of izakayas and bars still allow smoking. Back home (Chicago) it's become hard to find a bar that allows smoking inside.

Number 3 always annoyed me simply because my wife insists on getting everyone gifts when we go places without realizing that the gesture is not returned when it comes to Americans.

Number 8 should read, you might be a weeabo if.......

Number 10, not strictly a Japanese thing. I'm not Japanese and I was raised that you don't wear shoes inside a home.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You feel psychologically stuck between Japan and the U.S. and concoct a bold, jet-setting plan to live for six months a year in each place.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In Canada, no one wears their shoes indoors. This notion that Japanese people are cleaner than Western people just isnt true.

That depends. I wear my shoes indoors in my Canadian home. I ask my visitors to do the same if they wish. I prefer that to them throwing their shoes all over my entrance (as there is no specially designed shoe area or room for one in my home).

That said, I don't track mud in. That's what mats (and sensibly removing soiled shoes) are for. I simply don't perceive shoes which have been worn down a carpeted hallway to the indoor parking, in the car, and across a few feet of pavement as "dirty." I don't believe I need to shampoo a carpet because it has been stepped on by the sole of a shoe. (Oils in the feet are far worse for carpets than a clean sole. Ask the carpet retailers.)

Dirty is a perception that varies. It is not a set or agreed upon standard even within a culture.Therefore, the first thing people do (in most cultures) is to identify those who are "other" as dirty or smelly. It's a form of discrimination--pure and simple--as are many things on the list.

There are many habits that Japanese people have which are not at all clean to my standards. Similarly, they must think my relaxed attitude toward footwear indoors appalling. So be it. That's what makes them "uniquely" Japanese and me a "dirty" foreigner. I can live with that.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In japan for 7 years. no, no, no, no, no, yes, yes of course, HELL NO, no, yes

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When you light up a cigarette in the john and clip your fingernails in the office.

Seriously, I think it's when gaijins speak katakana English or Japlish with perfect intonation and all the mannerisms but still can't really speak fluent Japanese at work or to hold a deep conversation. However I think they are revered for their commitment though.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Using all your eight days of paid vacation per year is selfish and extravagant, you believe.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I pronounce Japanese correctly (the scant few words I know anyway), but I don't live in Japan. Yet. I just think that since it's a foreign word, it should be pronounced the native way. You see it in supermarkets, all the bimbos mispronouncing the names of wines and the like, and it makes my skin crawl. I've never really thought about the shoes thing (mostly because I have stone floors in the hall, and in winter the floor is freezing cold), and as for the baths, I just plain don't have them. Shower only. Still, it's all very interesting.

With regards to the "peace" sign, I just do it because making a pratt out of myself makes other people laugh. I'm used to being a right pillock anyway, so it makes no difference in the end.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

One last one, a US friend of mine said he knew he was in Japan too long with he realized that sumo was the main sport in his life. As a fan, not a wrestler.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

when you start looking for old folks on top of the roof during a hurricanes!!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites