Observations of Japanese Culture: An Outsider’s View

Duck Waves at Local Shopping StripAmericans are often poked fun at for our particular ways of looking at the rest of the world—viewing what lies beyond our red-white-and-blue painted boundaries. An American’s point of view isn’t inherently judgmental, insular, or negative, but perhaps it could be said that the average American might fulfill the stereotype of being a little ignorant of the people and cultures outside of “our great nation.” Keeping updated on world news is one thing, but understanding a little more beyond surface level other ways of life is quite another, and is what we should be aiming for. Me being interested in Japanese literature and film and all those who create and consume it created the first cracks in this wall of ignorance that I had of Japan and its people. But by living for a period submerging myself in Japanese culture and in what became like a second home to me, the wall began to shrink, its bricks disappearing with the realization of new facts and new fictions surrounding the realities of life in Japan.

Itabashikuyakushomae Subway Station

Perfect Public Transportation

Along my journey spending several dazzling months in Tokyo and surrounding areas, I discovered a decent amount of cultural and I suppose structural differences between the way of life I knew in America and the one I observed in Japan—the most obvious being transportation and its implementation and use. Public transportation is something it seems every single Tokyoite takes advantage of very frequently, if not daily. This level of use and the overall efficiency of Tokyo’s public transportation system are what stand out to an American outsider familiar with grimy Philadelphia subways and tardy regional rail trains. The subway cars of Tokyo are often literally packed—one body, sweaty from running in heels or wool trousers to catch the train, pushed up against another—and a foreigner’s first encounter with the constantly living and breathing subway of the city can be a bewildering experience. But what stands out about Tokyo’s transportation besides its high level of use is its timeliness and convenience, its iconic subway stations and meeting spots, and its deep intertwinement with the daily lives of most Japanese. And Tokyo’s trains and trolleys aren’t the only ones with a good rep; the seamlessness of this system extends to other prefectures throughout the country. In this way, Japan does transportation a little bit better.

Japanese “Clothes-Consciousness”

To those observing from afar, Japan is known to be fashionable, trendy, and usually tastefully unique, but this experimental side of Nippon isn’t the norm; the colorful and loud wonderland of Harajuku isn’t a gathering of your average Joe Japanese. What’s normal in Japan, though, is a certain clothes-consciousness: an acute awareness of dress and a tendency to up the fashion stakes on a daily basis. This doesn’t necessarily mean they go all-out with their attire, and certainly doesn’t mean they adopt the outlandish, but instead the Japanese make more of an effort to wear nice things, even if plain or simple in style. Spotting sweatpants in Japan was a rare event and the saggy, soft slacks were dearly missed when I returned to the states. Grocery stores boasted views of smartly dressed shoppers navigating the aisles and even suburban streets contained homemakers out for a walk in nothing short of a nice “day on the town” look. Most people seemed to make a conscious effort to pump up their outward appearance and this actually created a cleaner overall view of Japan to someone used to the casual and sometimes cringe-worthy appearance of the average easygoing American.

A Cleaner, Clearer Picture

These briefly detailed and very admirable traits of Japanese culture exist and stand to define the country and its people for many reasons, some of which are traceable to an extent. Those who get the opportunity to delve into Japanese literature—and even those who are familiar with Japan’s sprawling and epic timeline—know that the Japanese have always been particularly conscious about outward appearances. Countless aspects of Japanese communication, both verbal and nonverbal, are based around the idea that the outside tells all, so others should be able to feel or get a sense of things from the outward layer that envelops our inside emotions and desires. Maybe this is where the “clothes-consciousness” I observed comes in. Even without knowing their exact origin, it is obvious that these special traits of Japanese life are beneficial in many ways, and create a more pristine and focused image of a country that seems to have a lot going for itself. If an immaculate transportation system like that of Japan were to be incorporated into the daily lives of Americans, it could create a more cohesive union of states and their people and culture. The observed success of these pieces of the Japanese way of life can give other countries something to think about…Man Fixing Gates at Subway Station


This post also appears on EZKonnect.com, a company that provides “convenient and affordable telecommunications options that connect people with their extended families living around the world” (http://www.ezkonnect.com/about-us.html/). My post appeared on the site’s blog on August 18th, 2015. Check out EZKonnect’s blog to see this post at: http://www.ezkonnect.com/blog/Observations_of_Japanese_Culture_An_Outsiders_View/

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