Another Culture Lesson Learned the Hard Way- #16

Today, I will review a case study, which will, if committed to memory, prevent your new Japanese friends from committing seppuku (suicide) after attending a party at your apartment.

Harasi-san, a Japanese male in his early twenties. A recent graduate of Tokyo University. (The Harvard of Japan) Harasi-san attended a cram high school in order to pass the entrance exam to TU foregoing extra curricular activities in order to dedicate all available hours to studying. He attended a cram middle school to attend the high school. He attended a cram grammar school to attend the cram middle school. He was birthed at a cram hospital where he had to demonstrate proficiency in two instruments prior to discharge. Harasi-san is smart. Harasi-san doesn`t talk much. He smiles sweetly when engaged in conversation and can only maintain direct eye contact for short bursts. He`s extremely polite and deferential to anyone considered his senior. Harasi-san gives up his seat to older people and pregnant woman on the train as he has been taught. He is typical of his age and gender in Japan. Harasi-san will be a prime mugging target in the US.

Harasi-san`s job on the biking tour was riding in the back to ensure none of the tourists fell behind. Normally this meant there was no need for him to interact with the group on a routine basis as most groups play follow the leader well.

Who knew the person living in Tokyo would be the one causing the most problems?

The Social Chairman, ” Ouisar-san- look! There`s a great little shop with tiny little cats! I need to take a picture so we can come back.” She stopped. We stopped. He stopped. We lost the group ahead of us. He called to find them. We moved on.

The Social Chairman, “Famous Funny Author- let`s stop real quick and take our picture with the Sky Tree in the background! This is a great spot! I need to take a picture so we can come back.” She stopped. We stopped. He stopped. We lost the group ahead of us. He called to find them. We moved on.

The Social Chairman, ” Do you see those guys fishing up ahead? I never knew you could fish here. HEY- What are you fellas catching?”

Blinking, non-comprehending stares from underneath straw hats answered her question.

She stopped anyway, lifting baskets to investigate the day`s catch. The old men looked at Hirisi-san and back to the Social Chairman. She talked at them in English, smiling loudly, when it occured to her that a photo had not been taken. “PICTURE!” She yelled and started directing the old men and the rest of us into position.

These old weathered men had seen a lot of fish but not a lot of blonde Americans from Tennessee. One asked Hirasi-san something along the lines of,

“What the Hell?”

Hirasi-san answered very typically,

“Mr. Fisherman, this exuberant yet eccentric American woman is most interested in documenting her journey- in its entirety – and most respectfully requests a picture with you and your fellows. Please, if you would be so kind. I`m so sorry for the intrusion. Thank you. ”

Harasi-san took a picture of the Social Chairman with 5 unsmiling fisherman. “I had to have a picture so we can come back.”ย  We`d long lost the group ahead of us. He called to find them. We moved on.

Harasi-san smiled and patiently navigated us through Tokyo even though now he and the tour guide had accepted the fact that it was better to let us ride as two groups to prevent the constant stopping and calling. Especially when the lagging group continually stopped traffic ultimately bringing the wrath of a policeman on the patient and humble Harasi-san.

By the end of the ride, Harasi-san was enduring endless jokes about finding an “American style girlfriend” since in the US he would have much more time for extra curricular activities. He didn`t comment and avoided eye contact as we contrasted the buxom, shot slamming American co-ed to her Japanese counterpart.

The ride ended and in Japanese style, was marked by popping the tab on a 12 pack. While one paid, the other tried on t-shirts, the next one exchanged email addresses, and this one pulled up Facebook. It was time for goodbye. Then the Social Chairman stepped in it.

She turned to Hirasi-san and before he had time to run gave him a full Southern style hug.


Never, never, never, touch your Japanese friends.

Although not apt to bite or strike,ย  Japanese friends must have a high exposure to Western people prior to initiating body contact of any sort.

And please, for God`s sake, if you`re European, don`t kiss them. If you`re Arabic- please don`t do all of the above.

Harasi-san gave the Social Chairman the straight arms in order to prevent body contact. Afraid she might kiss him, he turned his head and leaned back as far away as possible. I believe his legs were also peddling backwards as he attempted to pull away but the Social Chairman now had him in a full grip. He wasn`t going anywhere for at least 5 seconds as Southern hugging etiquette requires.

Ouisar-san “SC- I think we are going to have to teach Hirasi-san how to hug before he goes to the US- he doesn`t know how.”

Hirasi-san was blocked by three big dudes thus was unable to flee. Although tempting to force the demonstration on Harasi-san, it was too evil- even for me.

O- “SC- we`ll demonstrate on each other- gimme the full on.”

We embraced like long-lost lovers. Or just women who hug first and say hello next.

O- ” Hirasi-san- observe. Bodies touching the whole way down. Heads over each other`s shoulders, arms gripping each other`s backs, hanging on for dear life- 5 seconds. You`ve got to learn this or people might think you`re cold.”

Thinking back on it, we should have had the Hermosa Beach Hotties demonstrate the man hug. Ah well, one step at a time. That may have too much for one lesson.

According to Andretti-san, hugs are reserved for “lovers.” (I need to teach him new words for that.) “Lovers” will hold hands when walking in Yoyogi Park together but interestingly that`s the only place I`ve ever seen it. The only form of touching acceptable in Japanese culture is the handshake which is reserved for foreigners. Every now and again I forget and touch a Japanese person, only to be reminded when the touch recipient`s back goes rigid and their eyes either glaze over or roll back in their heads before regaining composure. I`m a bad combination of over exuberant and slow learner. My Japanese friends know this and always give me a very wide berth never within my reach.

So- the other bits of advice about America?

Don`t talk to strangers.

Travel all over.

It`s interesting to think about your own culture. What would you have told someone moving to your country for the first time?

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32 Responses to Another Culture Lesson Learned the Hard Way- #16

  1. Bob says:

    Very cool piece of info, I knew the Japanese were reserved but had no idea the extent. Good thin they are more afraid of us, than we them.


  2. Very funny! Our hugging activities are usually limited to family and close friends – so I guess we would fit in in Japan.


  3. Michi says:

    Oh boy. I’d be in trouble!! We’re all about the kisses here, and back home, we’re all about the hugs. I’d most likely barrel into a combination of the two, demonstrating “lover” behavior with a quarter of the Japanese population.


  4. Tar-Buns says:

    Ha Ha! I remember that touching thang. Hard for some foreigners to learn those culture lessons.
    How’s the heat? Are they still conserving energy by turning the AC down? I remember how sticky hot it was there, especially since I got to my schools by gidensha, neh? Sweaty pool when the bike stopped at my destination. Don’t miss that! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • So far not hot at all- still in the rainy season. I haven`t heard much about the power cuts yet. So far, TEPCO has encouraged everyone with astronomical price hikes. All the nuclear plants have been shut down so it looks like unless you want a $2000 electric biil we`ll all be self regulating! UGH


  5. Too damn funny–and even more so for someone who has met you! Since you’re from the South this is even worse for you. We’re huggers down here, aren’t we? I know it didn’t go over so well in Vietnam either.


    • Truly- my Japanese friends now know to stay out of arm`s length- they also know I`m trying to keep my sticky fingers off of them. Good thing the Japanese are forgiving of my fax paus!


  6. In NYC I can spot the tourists a mile away. They’re always making eye contact. And smiling. *shudder* ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. I feel bad for Harasi-san. Probably because I relate to him about the touching (despite the fact that I’m not Japanese, I’ve always been like that, I think). I have gotten used to my culture, though. Although, I often wonder how I would have turned out had I been raised in Japan. Or America, for that matter, as I’m Australian.

    Schooling is the one thing I would be worried about in either of those two cultures. That I’ve heard of, the two extremes of high-pressure on academics in one hand, and harsh social climate on the other, doesn’t make me want to be on either end.


  8. This aversion to “touchy” sounds a lot like the way Presbyterians are. You don’t go around hugging people, no siree. We are allowed to hug the wife/husband. Up stairs. Bedroom. Shades pulled, light dimmed, door locked. Not for more than half minute. We are allowed to publicly hug children too, but Christmas and birthdays only.


  9. Dana says:

    Interesting! I think the advice I would give to somebody coming to Canada for the first time would be: 1. smile a lot, 2. say hello a lot, 3. wave a lot, 4. maintain a lot of eye contact, 5. say sorry a lot. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  10. Angie Z. says:

    This was hilarious, Emily! I think I knew that Japanese, and I think the Southeast Asian culture in general, were not touchy like we are. Maybe the extreme politeness throws Americans for a loop. I remember listening to a review of Dreaming in Chinese on NPR and the thing that struck me was the author saying how family in China don’t talk politely to their family members, please and thank you and such. Using such manners is a formal thing, not an intimate thing. I think of that whenever I have the urge to grab and squeeze my daughter’s always-kind Japanese preschool teacher.


  11. Jackie Paulson says:

    Oh how I have no idea how I would address a new person from a foreign country. See your Japan ways are not something I know of, thus my custom is to hug you kiss on both cheeks and welcome you. But, wow I never thought of your touching only for hand shakes! I just am not that kinda gal. Good question today.


  12. Yousei Hime says:

    My impression from anime and manga (a questionable source, I’m sure) is that the no-touch was slowly changing. Harasi is obviously not part of the changing younger culture. I bet he blushed very cutely too.


    • Maybe something the younger generation aspires to but I don’t see it borne out. The most I observe is holding hands in the park- no public displays at all. Around 3 all the young couples go to the park to get some “alone” time and I’m usually running then.


  13. “Never, never, never, touch your Japanese friends.” โญ


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