What do foreigners find strange about Japan?

February 17th, 2012By Category: Culture

Japan has many unique customs which may appear strange at first glance to foreign visitors.

A reporter for the NTV program “Zoom In!! Saturday” went to Omotesando in Tokyo to ask foreigners to give some examples of things they find strange or weird about Japan. The interviews (in Japanese) appear in the program’s segment titled “Gaikokujin kara mita Surprise Nippon ~Koko ga hendayo Nippon hen~”


French man (20)

He finds Asahi Beer Company’s golden flame-shaped object a little bizarre. When the interviewer asked him what he thought of the object when he saw first it, he answered “I don’t think I can say it in public.”

 Papua New Guinea man (22)

He answers that Japanese girls wear very short skirts. Then a Japanese girl wearing a short skirt comes along and the interviewer tells her what the Papua New Guinea man said about girls wearing short skirts, and asks her what she thinks. She replies that it’s perverted, leaving the guy at a loss for words.

 New Zealand woman (31) 

She answers that “Japanese people try to force their way onto crowded trains, so I was surprised when I saw some station staff pushing people into the train. Japanese people are that desperate to get on a train.”

 Iranian women, aged 29 and 21

The 21-year-old says “there are so many traffic lights in Japan.  I am also surprised that there are so many drunk people in Japan. Many Japanese men are two-faced, aren’t they? You (the interviewer) are showing us this face now, but I think that you are different at night.”

The interviewer notices that they have jewelry on their teeth (see the image above) and they reply that it is trendy in the Middle East. They say it is very rare to see Japanese people with that kind of fashion, and that many Japanese frown on that sort of fashion.

 Norwegian man (25)

He answers that “Japanese staff are polite. After I stayed in Japan for a while and got used to being here,  I went back to Norway and felt like I was surrounded by rude people.”

 American man (26)

He is an elementary school teacher, so the interviewer asks him about some of the differences between Japanese kids and American kids. He replies that Japanese kids love ‘kancho’ (poking someone’s butt like the inset image). In America, there’s no such thing as ‘kancho,’ so that surprised me.”

 Indian man (51)

He answers that only Japan does not have TV news in English. “It’s most important to know the latest typhoon and earthquake information,” he says. “However, emergency news flashing across the top of the screen is always in Japanese, so foreign people cannot read it.”

 Italian man (29)

 He finds fruit extremely expensive, especially melons and pears. The interviewer asks him the price of a melon, and he answers that he saw a melon in a beautiful box for 6,000 yen. Then he says that you can buy the same melon for only 1 euro (about 160 yen) in Europe.

Thai man (37)

He says that the Japanese language is difficult but he loves it. But he’s puzzled. He asks why “Matsushita” is written with “Matsu” (松) and “shita” (下) and “Yamashita” is written with “Yama” (山) and “shita” (下), but why does “Kinoshita” have “no” in between  “Ki” (木) and “shita” (下).

Brazilian man (38)

The interviewer asks him what news is interesting to him and he answers that Japanese people often talk about the economic recession, but he feels they can be more positive because their life is not that hard. He says he knows times are bad but “there is nothing to be gained by staying home, watching TV and whining about how bad things are.  Be positive. If you give up,  nothing will get better.”

 Russian woman (23)

She remarks that there are so many people in a hurry in Japan. “For example, I feel embarrassed when I see people running in the hope of getting a seat when they transfer from one train to another train. In Russia, when people see an empty seat, they make sure that no one else wants it before they take it. In Japan, I’ve seen older women competing to get a seat and the one who misses out has a sour look on her face. I’ve also seen the person in the seat, pretending to be asleep, when there are older people standing. It is quite embarrassing and surprised me.”

 French man (28)

He says that “even though I speak Japanese, Japanese people always respond in English. I understand that they are trying to be nice, however I would like them to respond in Japanese too.”

 So there it is. What did you find strange when you first came to Japan? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • MD108 says:

    Probably a cultural thing. In some ways they are more polite like bowing and stuff but in others they aren’t as polite.

  • japenter says:

    Cool show

  • Johnny Price says:

    I hate it when Japanese people don’t say, “Excuse me!” when they walk through crowds.  They don’t even ring their bike bells or say from where they are approaching when they ride their bikes past pedestrians on a sidewalk.  This is so annoying. Is this a regional or cultural thing or are all Japanese people jerks with an inability to be considerate?

  • Manuel says:

    What is the real point of talento? I do see the purpose with celebrities, actors, actresses, and singers, but what does a talento do?

  • Manuel says:

    I noticed that in each of these interviews, there’s a small camera in the bottom right corner. I see this in many variety shows. It’s kind of weird, and I’m not so interested in seeing other’s expressions.