1. You protest vehemently when they think you are Chinese
Let’s face it: people will keep saying that you are Chinese in most of the non-Asian countries, at least for another couple of decades if not centuries. If you are Japanese, I bet you have tried to explain the differences between China and Japan many times, often in vain.
Some people say the reason that it bothers Japanese people so much is the rivalry between China and Japan. But this is no more than an uneducated guess. Further study is required.
2. The sight of Japanese flags makes you somewhat uncomfortable
Japanese flags have negative connotations for most Japanese people because of World War II and various ultra right-wing political groups. The Japanese national anthem evokes similar uneasiness too. A few years ago, the Japanese government made it compulsory to sing the national anthem in school ceremonies and many teachers protested. The relationship between the national flags/anthem and Japanese people is somewhat complicated.
3. You know how to make a paper crane
You don’t really remember how you learnt it, but you know how to make a paper crane from a piece of square paper. If you happen to be from Hiroshima, you remember making hundreds of cranes for the victims of the atomic bomb.
4. And, you do this with oshibori
Oshibori is in itself something very Japanese. So what’s more Japanese than to make a crane out of it? (It was actually me who took this photo. Yes, I get bored in restaurants sometimes.)
5. You say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’
Let’s say you invite a Japanese guy to your house in Harajuku. You ask him if he likes Korean food, which you are planning to cook. He says yes and you go ahead and cook. However, when he comes to your place and has dinner, he doesn’t seem too excited about the food. It turns out that he doesn’t like spicy food.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” you ask him. To this, he answers that he didn’t want to hurt your feelings because you were very enthusiastic about cooking Korean food. He tried to imply he wasn’t totally happy about it by saying ‘yes’ in a slightly hesitant way, but you failed to pick up the cue because his way was too subtle.
Likewise, many guys get confused when they try to date a Japanese girl; she gives you her phone number, she replies to your messages and she even accepts your invitation for a drink. Yet, it turns out she is just being nice to you.
6. You say ‘no’ when you mean ‘yes’
Again, you invite a Japanese guy to your house in Harajuku. This time, you make sure that he likes the Vietnamese food you are cooking. When he gets to the house, you ask him if he wants something to drink because it’s a hot day. He says no.
After a while, he says that he has run all the way to Harajuku because he was almost late. Come to think about it, he is kind of sweating. You ask him if he is thirsty again, and this time he admits he is dying of thirst. In fact, he was waiting for you to ask again so that he could finally say, “well, yeah, I guess I could drink something.” He thought it would be rude to bluntly say that he wanted something to drink.
Well, if he is someone who speaks English fluently, the chances are he will be more comfortable with telling you what he wants. Also, young Japanese people seem to be less hesitant in this situation than older ones.
7. Being ‘on time’ is not good enough
Japanese people are known to be punctual. In 2005, a JR train in Hyogo came off the tracks, resulting in 106 deaths. The driver was said to be going too fast in order to be on time because he was a couple of minutes late.
For Japanese people, being on time is often not enough. We need to be five minutes earlier. In Japanese schools, teachers constantly tell you this and if you are just on time, they will be quite unhappy.
8. You become overwhelmingly nationalistic when Japanese sporting teams are playing against South Korean teams
The US and Canada, Brazil and Argentina, neighbours tend to have strong rivalries and Japan and South Korea are no exception.
Even if you are uncomfortable singing the national anthem at school, you can’t help feeling a sense of pride when Japan wins a sporting match against South Korea.
Some Japanese football fans get so excited that they literally jump into the river. (I am not sure why but jumping into the river seems to be a particular way of expressing joy for people from Osaka.)
9. But you love South Korean music and drama
Korean musicians seem to be the only non-Japanese musicians who can top ‘J-pop’ charts. A lot of Korean girl/boy groups release Japanese versions of their songs and they are wildly appreciated.
Although the initial frenzy seems to have gone, Korean drama is quite popular amongst Japanese women. Again, they seem to be the only foreign TV shows that can get the attention of Japanese mainstream audiences.
10. You know what your blood type is
Somehow, Japanese people have this idea that your blood type (A, B, AB, and O) will affect your personality. The Japanese have some consensual idea of what kind of personality each type is supposed to give people and they talk about how they fit or don’t fit to the ‘norm’. As a consequence, it’s almost imperative for a Japanese person to know what their blood type is.
11. You make self-deprecating comments when you don’t have a date on Christmas Eve.
A Japanese Christmas is different. Sure, it’s not even a proper tradition. (Since when was Japan a Christian country?) But Japanese people love to import various festivities. They often add some twist to foreign traditions; for instance, Christmas Eve is primarily a romantic day in Japan.
Many single Japanese people cannot help expressing how unromantic their Christmas Eve will be. When Christmas is coming around social media is full of comments like “yeah, I guess I’ll just be working until the last train on Christmas Eve”, “I’ll just go for a drink with my friends and moan about my non-existent life”, “There’s nothing wrong with spending Christmas Eve alone, right?”
They are trying to say they don’t really care about this Christmas thing but, ironically, by making these statements, they make it obvious that they just can’t help thinking about it.
Those who have boyfriends/girlfriends usually don’t say anything, maybe for fear of making other people too jealous. Or maybe they are just too busy getting busy.
12. You clean the table after eating in a restaurant
Japanese people often have an urge to clean the table after eating in a restaurant. They feel bad if they make the table messy and simply cannot leave it.
13.. You think Japan’s still Asia’s number 1 economy
Technically, China has a larger GDP than Japan, but Japan just cannot forget the former glory of the world’s number 2 economy. Japanese people can come up with endless reasons why Japan’s still better.
14. You can recite multiplication tables in Japanese
If you have learnt elementary maths in Japanese, this is something you will remember for a lifetime. Japan has its own way of memorising multiplication tables and it is quite efficient.
15. You send ‘Happy New Year’ messages to everyone you know
My father spends many days preparing Happy New Year postcards when the year’s end approaches. He sends them to all kinds of people (old friends, former co-workers, business related people etc), most of whom he will never meet again.
Many young people don’t really send physical postcards, but they still send emails and text messages. In fact, Japanese phone lines ritually stop working between midnight and 2-3 am on January 1because too many people try to send text messages. (Warning: if you go out with your friends on New Year’s Eve, make sure you stay together. Otherwise, you won’t be able to contact them until the phone line is clear.)
16. You can tell when other Japanese people are saying something without really meaning it
When you meet a Japanese person and she says that she’d like to invite you to her house sometime, the chances are she doesn’t really mean it. Likewise, Japanese people often say something without really meaning it because they think it’s polite or socially expected.
Many guys get confused when they try to date a Japanese girl; she gives him her phone number, she replies to his messages and she even accepts going for a drink. Yet, it turns out she is not really interested in him.
If you are Japanese, you are supposed to be able to handle these situations. But I have to say that it’s not always easy.
17. Cherry blossom reminds you of new school years
The Japanese school year begins in April which is the season for cherry blossom. Many schools have cherry blossom trees near the entrance gate so that students will see the flower blooming every day at the beginning of a school year.
Many Japanese dramas/novels/manga depict this and it reinforces the association between cherry blossoms and the first semester of a new school year.
18. You feel obliged to buy ‘souvenirs’ when you go on holiday
When you tell a Japanese person that you are going on holiday, they often ask you to bring back good souvenirs. It is pretty much socially expected; you are supposed to buy souvenirs for co-workers, friends and family. As a result, a third of your suitcase on your return trip will be filled with stuff you buy for these people.
This is such a deep-rooted habit made by years of social obligation. Consequently, you can’t help feeling a bit guilty when you don’t buy souvenirs even when you don’t really have to.