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Accidental Habits

These are the accidental habits I brought back to America after living in Japan for one year. I’ve heard of others, like bowing when you’re on the phone – even with someone in your home country. These are different from feelings of reverse culture shock  – they are more like small lifestyle changes.

Brushing after lunch


In my school, there was a time designated for brushing your teeth right after lunch time. It was in the schedule – five minutes to take care of your teeth. They even played the same song every day, so we knew when it was time to brush our teeth. It wasn’t a song about brushing your teeth either. It was an old pop song in English, and I wish I knew what it was, but only know it’s sung by a woman who is probably Swedish.

At my current schools, students are not expected to brush their teeth, which is a little disappointing. Most teachers brush their teeth and some students at least rinse with the water used to rinse out their milk bottles. I brushed my teeth after work most of the time for a while after going back to America, but because my schedule was so inconsistent, I got out of the habit again.

Back in Japan, I brush my teeth after lunch every day at work again.



Carrying a small hand towel

I started to carry a hand towel to work (and most of the time when I went out) to use after washing my hands in public places. A lot of public bathrooms don’t have hand dryers, although the nice places do. A few super nice places have cloth hand towels you can use. I haven’t ever seen paper towels for drying your hands in bathrooms in Japan. I see most women carrying their own towel and most men carry a handkerchief for the same reason. If you work in a school, there won’t be anything for drying your hands, so bringing a hand towel is a good idea.

Saying “ne

Ne‘ means something like, ‘right, isn’t it?,’ and for women generally, is added to the end of phrases in mostly casual conversations. (Men tend to use, ‘na.’)

I caught myself frequently adding ne to the end of a sentence back in the USA, even to people who don’t speak Japanese at all. It’s sort of awkward and embarrassing to speak the wrong language to someone.


Using tissues instead of napkins

In Japan you can see a tissue box at the dinner table in a lot of homes, and I have never seen paper napkins/serviettes for sale. Everyone has different habits about what they use at home, but I grew up with napkins.

I don’t see any option like napkins at (non-fast food) restaurants, but sometimes there will be a roll of toilet paper (this is common in classrooms, as well as in Korea) or a box of tissues. I started to bring a small cloth to use for a napkin during school lunch, but rarely use it and have either a handkerchief or hand towel with me most of the time anyway. At home we have a box of tissues on the kotatsu and use them often.

Having a small package of tissues with you is nice for occasional spills and nose blowing needs during allergy season, but also nice when you want to use a bathroom in a public park. In general public park restrooms don’t have any toilet paper. (Remember this for your next hanami party.) You can get small packs of tissues with an ad inside (see photo above) around busy stations, or just buy them. They are way cheaper here than in the US, maybe because they are used way more often.

Taking my shoes off inside

This is something I grew up doing, although not strictly at the door or in a designated place like genkan (entrances) in Japan. It was always kind of awkward when I had room mates and I wanted to take my shoes off inside, but they didn’t. I kind of went along with the expectations at the house I lived in.

In Japan it’s a expectation to take your shoes off right at the door, and there are even closets for shoes at the entrance of most homes and even schools, where students and staff change to school shoes.

Back in America, I always took my shoes off at the entrance, regardless of what housemates did. I think it’s a good custom to keep the house clean, and especially so with the dirty floors around squat toilets in Japan.

Wearing my hair tied back for work

At my first job in Japan, I was given the impression that everyone in a professional job who has hair longer than shoulder length is expected to tie their hair back at work. This was generally true at my workplace. My current company never mentioned anything like this, and my boyfriend confirmed it depends on the company and if leaving your hair down will be a problem. I have coworkers now who regularly wear their long hair down, although most do tie it into a ponytail.

I continued tying my hair back every time I was at work in America, so coworkers asked why, then suggested I leave it down sometimes. I would occasionally try, and get compliments from students, but it always felt weird. Even though I don’t technically have to now, I continue to have a ponytail at work, even if it is a side ponytail sometimes.

Nodding or bowing

I continued to nod at people I walk past or bow slightly when greeting people, even back in the US. It kind of evolved into a more upward nod than a downward bow-nod after a while. I stopped bowing after feeling awkward about it enough times.



Air drying laundry

This is normal, even in America for a lot of families, but can be seen as being lower class in the states these days. It makes a lot of sense and clothes dry quickly when the weather is good.

In Japan, I don’t know anyone who owns a clothes dryer. We have a washing machine with a dryer function, which has never been used, even in winter. It’s seen as a waste of energy to dry clothes and Japanese people use less than half the energy of Americans. There are all kinds of cute laundry items for sale in Japan, like mesh bags with Hello Kitty designs and hanging clips for small items like socks. On nice days in Japan, you can see laundry hanging on balconies everywhere. On colder or wet days, clothes can be dried on hangers inside open closets or hung from the curtain rods over windows.

For me, it was a waste to spend money on the dryer when it was always sunny in southern California. I didn’t have a balcony but used the closet or the backyard for drying clothes.

Spoon of coffee at coffe background

Drinking instant coffee

Before moving to Japan, I lived in Portland, Oregon. Land of coffee snobs. I Never drank instant coffee, or even considered it. I had access to really good coffee beans at any supermarket (or even roasted by housemates), and made coffee at home or had coffee with friends at one of the many great coffee shops.

When I moved to Japan, a cup of coffee was usually 250 yen and up in a normal place, or 500 yen and up for a really decent and tasty coffee shop. I couldn’t find any reason to buy coffee beans when they weren’t freshly roasted and it was a waste of money to buy even can coffee at the convenience store each day. Usually I drank coffee from the pot in the teachers’ room, but on weekends, I started drinking instant coffee to save money. I was already drinking mediocre coffee so it wasn’t too different. (Now, all 7-11 convenience stores have affordable brewed coffee – 100 yen for an eight-ish ounce cup, but four years ago, it was rare.)

Next I moved to San Diego. There is some decent and affordable local coffee, but I had access to stick coffee (instant with sugar and powdered cream in packets) at work. I started to buy instant coffee from the 99 cents store and went out to the coffee shops only sometimes as a treat.

Back in Japan, in my city of Kurume, I found a local coffee roaster that I occasionally buy freshly roasted coffee from. For convenience and cost, at least half of the time I stick with either instant or disposable pour over coffee at home.

Not huge changes, but there are definitely several cultural differences which have become completely normal to me, after just one year of living in Japan.


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This entry was posted on April 6, 2016 by in Living in Japan and tagged , , .

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