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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Golden Rule(s) for Living in Japan


Living in a foreign country requires adjustments, some minor, some not so minor.

Unless you live in a diplomatic compound or in an area full of other expatriates, your neighbors will have different ideas of how to live, what is (in)appropriate, the done thing, etc. This may result in conflict.

In Japan, with a high population density and somewhat complicated interpersonal relations, this takes on even greater importance.

Here then is a short, arbitrary list of suggestions for making life in Japan smoother. This is especially true if you live in a neighborhood as opposed to a "mansion" (apartment in a large building).

1) 挨拶(aisatsu)Greetings

Always greet your neighbors. A simple おはようございます(ohayo gozaimasu, "good morning")goes a long way. Even if you speak no Japanese, learn and use simple greetings.

2) 静かに(shizuka ni)Keep it quiet

No piano practice after 8 pm. Turn the volume down on the tv at night. 近状迷惑(kinjo meiwaku)literally means to cause trouble for the neighborhood. This is about the worst thing you can be accused of. It is usually related to too much noise--especially at night--or #3.

3) ごみ(gomi)Garbage

Put your garbage out on the correct day, at the correct time, in the correct bag or container. Not the night before. Not two hours early. Not in the wrong bag or container.

If you are unclear, ask the women in the neighborhood. They know everything.

If your garbage gets mauled by crows or stray cats--or not picked up because you put it in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong colored bag--this is serious "kinjo meiwaku."

4) 参加(sanka)Participation

If you have a neighborhood festival, clean up day, sports day, children's festival--take part. It's a couple hours out of your life, and will earn you many, many brownie points in the event you "screw up" later on.

5) 回覧板(kairanban)Circular Notice

Some think this is a plot by the neighborhood association to monitor behavior, and in a way it is. What happens is you will get a file folder-like binder with notices and ads. Stamp or sign next to your name, which will be printed in a list at the bottom. Then walk it to the next house, your neighbor. It's fairly painless. If the notice sits on your door step for days on end gathering dust, this is "kinjo meiwaku."

Standards are low for foreigners, especially men (women are supposed to understand things related to the home and hearth better than men). You don't have to sell your soul, just put out the garbage and turn down the volume a bit and say hello.

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