Japan has a population of some 128 million people and nearly all of these are Japanese. There is a very small percentage, around 1%, of the population who are of foreign origins and most of these people live in the major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.
If you choose to live in Japan, then you will be classed as a second-class citizen as the Japanese find it hard to accept other races into their culture or to see them as equals. This has nothing to do with racism but more to do with the cultures and traditions of Japan.
No matter how much Japanese you learn or culture you absorb you will always be seen as an outsider. This isn´t shown in the face of the Japanese people, but more in the way they accept you.
I have no problem with this as the Japanese ways are very old and the traditions very complex. Even walking into somebody´s house is a humbling experience.
The Japanese are a very proud race and everything must be done certain ways and with certain manners. These are steeped in the old ways of the country and even though Japan is a very modern, progressive society the old ways still come through into modern life. For example, the honor system is still widely in use in Japanese business. This means that you, as a worker are the lowest form of company life, but your supervisor is of a higher standard than you and so on… This leads to problems where the supervisor will work late and all the lower employees are expected to work at least until the supervisor goes home, if not longer. It can be frustrating for westerners sometimes but as its a different culture, patience is required.
People in Akashi Park
Celebration in Akashi City park during
Cherry Blossom, March 2001
Japanese home life is similar, the husband will go to work and his wife is expected to stay at home and look after the house and the children. If she does work she is still expected to be home before the husband and have a meal prepared for when he gets home. This is the norm, but things are changing as the country becomes more westernized.
The Japanese society has some very good points as well. There is a respect for the property of others and burglary is virtually nil, although car crime is higher in cities. Expect your house to be the same as you left it even if you leave doors and windows open.
This too is changing as the country becomes more westernized; crime is on the rise in Japan, Unfortunately!
There are a few foe pars that should be avoided at all costs whilst in Japan. The first is the hand shake, it is very rare that the Japanese will shake hands, even in a business situation. An out stretched hand will nearly always be looked upon distastefully that is unless its offered to you first. It is more polite to greet your friend, associate or colleague with a bow. How low you bow depends on the social standing of the other person. For example, when I first met my father in law, I had to bow very low, where he only bowed slightly. Even now I am his son in law, I still bow whenever I meet him, even if first thing in the morning. To be honest I prefer this system to ours as it show a mark of respect for others.
Another thing that you should be aware of is visiting somebodies home and some smaller businesses. The tradition of removing your shoes before entering must be addeared to. Most if not nearly all Japanese houses have a vestibule area (called Genkan no ma) just inside the front door and once inside you must remove your outdoor shoes before proceeding inside. It is also polite to rotate your shoes to point outwards, this gives a sign that you have intentions to leave. This tradition is called “dosokugenkin”. Some houses may have spare slippers available for you to wear inside the house, but these are not always available. This tradition is also observed in most of the temples and castles I have visited and this is to preserve the interior, usually the floor, of these houses and monuments. Clean, presentable socks should nearly always be worn in Japan. A Genkan no ma is usually recognisable as a wooden or marble area with a step up into the rest of the house, its also usually full of shoes!
The Japanese house or apartment is also very different from western houses, but as the country becomes more westernised this is also changing. The floors of Japanese houses are usually wood, or covered in tatami mats and it is very rare for the house to contain western style furniture. Most tables are very low and are to be sat at on the floor. Internal doors are usually made of traditional wood framing with rice paper screens and beds are usually futon beds, which are a soft mattress, which is covered by a quilt. Not the type we get in the western world, a wooden frame with a mattress covering. These beds are usually tidied away at the start of every day and put down again before bedtime as space is at premium in some houses and this method allows one room to be used for many different purposes.
So, what do Japanese do for fun, Well, this is going to sound very corny but, Japanese women love to shop, (I know I´m married to one), do Karaoke and go out for meals. Japanese men like to play golf, watch baseball, football or horse racing. Another big pastime in Japan is Pachinko. I will do my best to explain the game but I don´t get it myself.
You start of by putting money in the Pachinko machine, which kind of looks like a vertical pinball machine. Once the money is in you turn the handle, this controls the flow of little metal balls, which fall from the top of the screen to the bottom. On the way down the balls will bounce off little pins inside the machine which controls the way the ball will move, left or right. Also in the machine are little holes, where the balls will fall into and then a little mini game will start. Usually like a fruit machine. Depending on what comes up when the little fruit machine spins depends on if you win. However you aren´t financially rewarded immediately, you´re rewarded in balls. These are then collected and cashed in at the end of the session. Confused! Yep it´s a hard game to understand but the Japanese love it and there are Pachniko halls all over Japan. If you do venture inside, be prepared for two things, the first is the noise! Loud! imagine 100 machines all working at the same time. The second is cigarette smoke. If you don´t smoke it can be very uncomfortable.
The newest form of entertainment especially amongst the younger generation is computer games and almost every city in Japan has an area which is full of buildings containing the latest video games. These are not a few machines like you would find at the end of a Blackpool pier but as rows and rows of arcade halls full, on many floors. Take Osaka´s Shinsaibashi area, which is a large nightlife area which has a full street of arcade centers located on several stories. Well worth a visit if you can stand the noise.
It seems the Japanese like noisy games.