Things that foreigners find annoying about life in Japan

February 20th, 2012By Category: Culture

Image: MADAME RiRi

When you live in a new environment, it can be very exciting. However, life in a different culture is not exciting all the time,. In fact, there can be times when you find certain things annoying.

Here are some examples given by foreign people living in Japan from an article in MADAME RiRi.

—  Loud voices coming from megaphones (Man from Vancouver)
“There seem to be people’s voices blaring from megaphones or microphones all over Japan such as JR and bars. It is annoying. The words, ‘How was it?’ and ‘Thank you’ stuck in my head and I cannot get them out of my mind.”

— Repeating similar adjectives (Man from Brussels)
“‘Oishii'(Tastes nice), ‘Kirei’ (Beautiful), ‘Samui’ (Cold), ‘Atsui’ (Hot), ‘Sugoi’ (Awesome)…If foreign people understand these words’ meaning, they can understand at least 25% of Japanese people’s conversation.”

— BGM at shops (American man)
“It always seems so loud and sticks in my mind afterwards.”

— School students on bicycles (American man from Canada)
“I often see students commuting to school, lined up across a road, and they don’t pay any attention to cars coming behind them. I get irritated that they seem to think they own the road.”

— Endless waiting for traffic lights, especially when I am in a car (Man from Cambridge, England)

— Cannot read kanji (61-year-old American man)
“I cannot read Japanese newspapers or signs with kanji. It’s not Japan’s fault; it’s my fault.”

— Japanese people praise me when I use chopsticks (Westerner living in Vietnam)

— Compliments that my Japanese is good, sounds when customers come into and leave convenience stores, loud BGM at supermarkets and department stores, speeches before election (Woman from Scotland)

— Impersonal life (Chilean woman)

“Bosozoku” (Motorcycle gangs) (Man from the U.S. Midwest)
“Motorcycle noise is so loud. At noon, it might be OK, but late at night or early in the morning, it is really annoying.”

— Lack of critical thinking (American man)

— Early morning sun in summer (Canadian man)
“It gets light at 4:30 a.m. There must be a better way to optimize sunlight efficiently.”

— I haven’t been to Japan yet (I’m going to, soon), and I am scared that Japanese people will ignore me and that I’ll have some troublesome experiences there. (American woman)

— Poor insulation (Norwegian)
“Japanese winters feel 10 degrees colder than Norway. I’m always freezing because the inside of homes is not warm.”

— Crowds (Man from Latvia)

— Japanese people cannot speak other languages well, they wear suits in the hot summer, perverted old men on trains. (Dutch man)

— I’m often the tallest in a crowd of people, and I get stared at when I practice karate (English man)

 So there you are. Still, if you find some things troublesome, it means you know Japan better, says MADAME RiRi.

If some things about Japan annoy you, please share your experiences with us.

 Source: MADAME RiRi

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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  • Lance says:

    A great new book that explains these cultural differences – “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understanding crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” Lots of comparisons.

  • A. Belxjander D. Serechai says:

    The only suprise I have is when I reply in Japanese and the person repeats themselves in English,  this usually happens when I am first met due to my obviously being a gaijin,


  • Ken Seeroi says:

    Uh, how about being labeled as a “foreigner.”  Like, I get that my race is different.  But how many years does a person have to live here before they’re no longer a foreigner.  Just kidding.  I know the answer.

  • Elia Gaitau says:

    1. I can’t get over how japanese meetings held in small rooms, (let’s say 4-10 people seated) have to use a microphone with their voice amplified through a small p.a system. 
    I’m a musician, and to see this in a tiny conference room throughout japan… I can’t help but think…”What the heck!?” lol.
    The last hotel I was contracted to, held a meeting for 5 people, and sure enough there were 3 guys setting up a p.a system in a small room. For five people! You need a microphone to speak to the other four people in that small room?!?!?!?!?!
    2. It takes 3 japanese people to do a one person job. Honestly I know, I’ve worked in hotels here for five years.

  • Johnny Price says:

    I wish the Japanese people would just say, “Excuse me!” when they past through crowds.  Is it that difficult to say “Choto Gomenasai!” when they’re passing through crowds on a bus or train or even on a sidewalk.  They even ride their bikes without communicating with pedestrians that they are passing from the left or the right.  Is this a cultural trait or is the whole nation a bunch of inconsiderate jerks?  Just asking…

  • Jesse Newbold says:

    Its funny take your shoes off as to not  bring any dirt or filth into the room as we enter a thick smoke filled Izakaiya/ restaurant  only to fill our noses and lungs full of nasty tobacco smoke while we eat.  It’s funny to me.

  • Steven Dunn says:

    Thank you for your understanding.

    Before moving to Japan, I had lived in Hong Kong, Budapest and various other countries. And have always researched how Blacks are treated in whatever country I move to before coming there. I was/am aware of the historical/cultural difference of Japan. I know when the character Sambo was introduced to the Japanese and WHO introduced it.

    But as my original comment wasn’t an indictment of Japanese ppl or Japanese culture, I still wasn’t surprised that that’s how it was perceived.

    Also, funny thing is, most of the time when it’s made clear to me that my Blackness is playing more of a role than my foreigner-ness in me being mistreated, it’s usually by a young Japanese male. Although,  I have been called “kurombo” at least 5 times by older Japanese persons.

  • Brendyn Lane says:

    I am sick and tired of the free to air TV here. It seems all the stations are showing exactly the same kind of program. If its not a game show, its a cooking or a show where they are eating. I know I can always get cable but surely people in Japan need something different.

  • Well….. it’s pretty much the same anywhere you go.
    It’s not like America isn’t at all like that… right?
    So stereotypical to Asians… in movies, cartoons, soap operas.

    I mean… haven’t you seen Family Guy?

    At least Japanese people aren’t nasty about it…. I don’t see them making fun of other cultures in that sense.

  • Well, What Mr. Dunn refers to, I can understand. However, the root of it, is a bit more different, given the historical background of race relations in Japan compared to what we know, with African American slavery and so on.
    Nonetheless, I think as Japan continues to have contact with the outside world, this attitude should change. At least I hope it changes for the better, because ‘passive’ racism is not really better than ‘aggressive’ racism. Mr. Toepfer, passive and aggressive might seem different, but are actually manifesting a similar sentiment, therefore, not positive. We could say ‘it is better than..’, however ‘very bad’ and just ‘bad’ are still not good, are they?

    When the old generation of Japanese, and the baby boomer contemporaries pass away, we might see a change. The new generation are a bit more open minded, and the next more so, I hope.

  • adam toepfer says:

    look at the bright side they aren’t lynching you.  Like what we still see happening in the news in the southern states of the United States.
    Seems as though perhaps you are a little too thin skinned.  Perhaps you need to grow up a little and realize that life doesn’t revolve around you.  50 years ago there were cartoon playing in America much like the Sambo you speak of.  Only difference is there is no one in Japan to represent the the offended and complain. Write a letter to the company and complain if it bothers you that much.  But unless you are doing it in perfect Japanese then I wouldn’t bother.

  • Steven Dunn says:

    Japanese people are so clueless as to just how anti-Black they can appear. I get some damn sick and tired of seeing little Sambo dolls and books everywhere. Plus, all of the negative stereotypical images of Black ppl they put in anime and TV shows as well. (African-American male)

  • Wabi Sabi, and if you dont know what that is you havent lived in Japan long enough