Culture Tips

When I first arrived in Iwakuni, I was amazed at how different Japanese culture is from traditional American culture. There were so many things to learn about and things to remember so our Japanese hosts don't mistakenly think we're being disrespectful. I know everyone picks these things up as they go along, but I thought I would try to list some of the most surprising things I encountered.

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Wifi: You will rarely find wifi, much less free wifi in restaurants or public spaces.

Coffee: You will probably never find a coffee shop in Japan with normal American business hours. In my experience, most are open from 10am-4pm. However, you will frequently find hot coffee in vending machines!

Desserts: People humorously say that Japan has the best-looking desserts. The attention to detail is amazing and you will find yourself salivating over what looks to be a chocolate dessert. Once you try it, you might discover that it is actually azuki bean or prune flavored!

Cell Phones:
It's considered rude to speak on a cell phone in Japan, or at least in public. You're not allowed to talk on the Shinkansen (I was scolded!), so get used to texting. We use SoftBank with our iPhones and like it.

Paying Bills: Online bill pay does not exist in Japan. We're lucky to have automated bill pay for utilities, but we still have to deposit yen every month into our Japanese bank account at Yamaguchi bank (located at "four corners" intersection outside the main gate).

Taxis: Apparently it is considered rude to open your own door (the driver presses a button to open and shut it), and you do not need to tip your driver. I'd also recommend having a bilingual friend write out your address or destination in Japanese for when you run into a driver who can't speak any English.

Climate control: There is no such thing as central air or heating in Japan (in my experience). Utility costs are very high in Japan, and Japanese value the character that enduring hot and cold weather builds. You will most likely have an AC/Heat wall unit in your living room and bedroom. They are effective (but loud) and you will always have air blowing on you. I usually end up just wearing socks and having blankets handy in the winter.

Banking: Having an NFCU (Navy Federal Credit Union) account will be helpful for checking and the customer service has always been top-notch for me. I also use Community Bank (operated by Bank of America) for dealing with Yen. You will not need a Japanese bank account if you live on base, but the bilingual staff at the Family Housing Office on base will help you create your account at Yamaguchi Bank (located at the second intersection outside the main gate ("Four Corners")
if you live in town. NFCU and Community Bank are both located in Crossroads on base.

The first thing you'll notice is a moist towel. In the winter, they are hot, and they are cold in the summer. You're supposed to use this in lieu of washing your hands in the bathroom. It's impolite to use it on your face. Sometimes a restaurant will offer forks and knives, but most of the time I find myself using chopsticks. To order, sometimes there is a button to press when you are ready or if you need the waitstaff's attention. Otherwise, the waiter or waitress will approach you. During your meal, the waiter or waitress will discretely place the bill on your table. You just bring it to the cashier whenever you're ready to leave. Tipping is not practiced here.

Restrooms: You will encounter Japanese-style bathrooms that require squatting in most parks and train stations, and Western-style bathrooms that frequently feature special effects like courtesy noise, bidets, and heated seats. Many Japanese people habitually carry a small towel with them for hand washing. Restrooms rarely provide paper towel for drying your hands, and even hand soap is not to be expected. Bring your own antibacterial lotion if this bothers you.

Greetings: I knew that Japanese bow to each other as a sign of respect, but I didn't realize how rude I was being by following the American custom of keeping eye contact. Apparently holding eye contact during a bow is considered aggressive! This stems from sumo wrestlers holding eye contact as they bow between bouts.