Asia,  Japan,  Travel

6 Culture shocks in Tokyo I had as a New Yorker

Born and raised in New York City, I didn’t find the environment of Tokyo too much different from New York. Both are big cities with a cold attitude. Everyone minds their own business. But because this is on the opposite side of the world, the cultures are vastly different and every day I spend my time here, I learn something new. Every once in a while I get culture shocks in Tokyo and even though I have been living here for a total of a year and a half, it feels as if it’s a whole new world every time.

Saving seats at a cafe

Japanese cafes are often a hotspot and during weekends and lunch, they can be quite crowded. Most Japanese people often save their seats before ordering to guarantee a seat. This means leaving a pic of your item on the table/chair before you head to the counter to order. These items can range from their jacket, scarf, to wallets or even phones.

I have definitely still have not gotten over this culture shock in Tokyo. I’m still baffled to see their valuables out in the open with no supervision. In New York, one’s item wouldn’t even survive for 5 minutes until it’s in someone else’s hands.

Culture shocks in Tokyo Saving seats at a cafe
Bags and umbrella
Culture shocks in Tokyo Saving seats at a cafe
Suitcase and bags

A great video showing this is a youtube video from the channel Life Where I’m from. They did an experiment in which they placed a MacBook pro laptop in an unattended for 25.

Just as I’m typing this at a local cafe, there was a point where 3 of the tables in front of me were completely unattended with one table even having a MacBook out.

People line up for the trains

Japanese people wait in lines for anything, even trains. On the train platforms, there are usually indications written on the floor about where to stand, along with which cart and door it is.

In New York, it’s basically a competition to get a seat so they aren’t afraid to knock down a person or two.

Through my time so far, I haven’t seen a single person cut or skip the line so make sure to always follow this rule!

People line up for the trains Culture shocks in Tokyo
the line on the train platforms

Some of the lines can get very complicated, like the ones in Shinagawa. To be honest, I’m still not even quite sure where to stand sometimes. It seems to be divided with the trains heading to Haneda airport, express trains, and local trains.

People lining up at Shinagawa Station

Can’t talk on the train

While we are on the topic of trains, every time I go on trains I remember how vastly different it is then the ones back home. The words “IT’S SHOWTIME” are forever engraved into my head.

Japanese trains are so quiet and so silent that sometimes I think if you dropped a pin, it would be heard. You aren’t allowed to talk on the phone and speaking loudly to others on the train will get you a few frowns. Phones have to be put on silent mode as well.

One stereotype that people have about Japan that I think is untrue is thinking that the trains are super packed all the time. This is only true if you ride during rush hours in the morning and evening, and even so, I rarely see people pushing each other to get on the train.

Silent train rides

Also, fun fact, did you know that in most major stations, there are birdsongs on the train platform. The birdsong in Japanese stations is for visually impaired people. It lets them know where the stairs or escalators for the exits are. Some stations even have a different bird song for going up and down, like the Keisei which uses either a cuckoo or bunting song, with a warbler for the bi-directional ones. Culture shocks in Tokyo are really something else.

Fruits are expensive

Did you know that some fruits can go up to thousands of dollars? Some uniquely shaped watermelons and a certain brand of melons can be retailed to up to $25,000. Some other fruits that are considered luxury are strawberries and mangos. Fruits are usually given as gifts to others and are rarely eaten at home. I personally love fruits so seeing how expensive it is, it was definitely a culture shock in Japan.

Culture shocks in Tokyo - Uniquely shaped watermelons
Uniquely shaped watermelons

Culture shocks in Tokyo – Bathrooms

I am so tempted to write a whole blog post just on Japanese bathrooms and I might just do it next. They can be found everywhere from train stations to convenience stores. If you need to use the bathroom while traveling around Japan, you are sure to find one within a 3 block radius.

VenusFort bathroom
VenusFort bathroom

The bathrooms are so clean and there is always never a speck anywhere! Some bathrooms even have a button to call out a cleaning staff in case you see something you want to be cleaned. There’s a huge section of bathrooms are sections to clean yourself up with full-length mirrors and great lighting to make sure your makeup is in perfect condition.

Another thing that I love is the bidets (also called Washlets). There are so many features to this and the best part is that it comes with the toilet seat being warm! There’s really a special feeling when it’s cold outside and then you sit down to a warm toilet seat. I can never go back to cold seats anymore.

Bidet Toilet in Japan Culture shocks in Tokyo
Bidet Toilet

This was definitely the biggest culture shock in Tokyo for me.

Japan in General and Culture shocks in Tokyo

Of course, every time I go out I’m reminded that living in Japan is much different than New York or any or country. There are always tons of different culture shocks in Tokyo that I go through every day and it’s an adventure every day! If there’s anything you want to share or were surprised with anything feel free to contact me!


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