Winter is coming to Japan. If you are visiting right now, you’ll see a lot of Japanese wearing a surgical face mask. Three main reasons for a face mask are:
- they are sick and don’t want to spread germs.
- they don’t want to catch germs from others, and
- they are concerned with air pollution (although Japan’s pollution level is very low).
When I was growing up in Yokohama in the 70s, we’d wear a mask only when we were sick.
Face masks are just one of the many modern day Japanese culture that you’ll see and experience during your visit. You might have read about various traditional culture and customs in Japan, such as kimono, sushi, sake, sumo, kabuki, etc, but you’ll also enjoy experiencing everyday modern day Japanese culture as you walk on the street, take trains and eat at restaurants here in Japan.
I’ve picked three key modern day Japanese culture that I myself find amazing. I am a native Japanese, but I continue to be amazed by things that Japanese do in public space.
Japan is a quiet place. Of course it’s all relative, but when I come back to Tokyo from overseas, Narita/Haneda airports are so quiet, and so are trains and busses. If you close your eyes on the public transport in Japan, you start thinking that you are at home, with all gadgets turned off. Even in cafes and restaurants, you’ll hardly see Japanese talking too loud.
Half way to 100 years old, I love living in soundless Japan. At the same time, it is peculiar that nowadays the sound of children playing is considered as noise pollution in this country. Apparently there were some plans to build much-needed kindergartens, but residents nearby opposed to the plans and the projects got cancelled.
Japan is known for its cleanness. Japanese cities are often spotless clean and it’s one of the worst social crimes to litter in this country. You won’t find many rubbish bins in public space, such as train stations and on the street. You are expected to take any rubbish home or back to your hotel room.
In the 60s and 70s, however, many Japanese people were dumping rubbish on the street. I remember seeing car drivers clearing cigarette butts out of car window. Air in Tokyo and Yokohama were extremely polluted back then. 50 years on, Japan is an extremely clean country. Japan is a good example that cleanness can be taught.
How people think of ‘aging’ affects the way they live and do things. And in Japan, a society that is rapidly aging, elderly people seem to be quite energetic and taking extremely good care of themselves. This is no wonder – Japanese boast the longest life expectancy in the world. They are living longer and longer, and today, a ‘100 year life’ is one of the most trending buzz words today. Health related products are selling like hotcakes, and the pet industry is extremely lucrative many thanks to the aging population who pour money and time into caring their dogs and cats.
When you visit outside Tokyo and Osaka, you’ll be amazed by what has become a typical sight – you’ll see a lot of elderly people there, but not many young people or children. While there is a lot to celebrate about elderly people enjoying their longer life expectancy, a childless society is probably one of the most upsetting modern day Japanese culture.