Japan has a lot of unique customs, and not all of them make sense to newcomers. Eating fried chicken on Christmas Eve, anyone? How about the weird ritual of girls giving chocolate to guys on Valentine’s Day (do guys really like chocolate more than we girls do?).
But it turns out that there are plenty of customs that even Japanese people think are a waste of time. Here’s the top seven worst offenders, and why they are so annoying…
A poll conducted by Yahoo! Japan asked 200 people in their 20s and 30s which Japanese societal customs they’d most like to see abolished. While we were expecting some of these, others kind of surprised us and got us marvelling over the fact it’s not just us foreigners who like to grump about Japan’s strict set of social rules.
1. Pouring sake for people senior to you in the company
Japan has a strictly hierarchical society, and those on the bottom rung of the ladder must kowtow to those above them – that’s just the way it’s done. At company drinking parties, you’re expected to keep your superior’s blood alcohol levels well topped up by attending to their glass and making sure it never runs empty. Here’s what some of the pollees had to say:
“If I constantly have to attend to someone’s glass, I can’t enjoy the party or concentrate on talking to anyone else.” – Male, 36
“Everyone has their own drinking pace, I can’t be expected to know theirs.” – Male, 37
2. Having to endure tedious “entertainment” during a drinking party
At drinking parties in Japan, it’s common to play silly drinking games or make up chants and songs, and pressure coworkers to down glasses of beer. Not surprisingly, many people find these antics childish and prefer to just de-stress from a long workday by having some drinks and conversation.
“Surely it’s enough to just eat and have a few drinks with everyone?” – Male, 37
“It’s stressful enough without being made to perform like a sozzled seal” – Male, 39 (we might have ad-libbed with “sozzled seal”.)
3. Giving chocolate to coworkers out of obligation
▼ Deliciously indifferent.
On Valentine’s Day in Japan, there’s two types of chocolate being given out: “honki” chocolate, which is the kind you give to someone you genuinely like or have affection for, and “giri” or obligation chocolate which you have to give to all of the men in your department. And we do mean ALL of them, since if you leave out Suzuki-san from the third floor for having halitosis and constantly looking down your blouse, you will bring shame upon his entire family and possibly find yourself bearing the brunt of some judgemental water-cooler gossip about what a stinge you are with your chocolatey treats. But what did the general public have to say?
“It’s just a waste of time” – Female, 31
“It’s a burden for the one who has to make it and for the people who have to fake enthusiasm about receiving it” – Female, 37
“It’s a pain having to return the favour on White Day” – Male, 32
4. Returning the favour after receiving gifts given to you on special occasions
When Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory complained at Christmas that “you haven’t given me a gift; you’ve given me an obligation,” we reckon he didn’t even know the half of it since he’s never received a gift in Japan. Here, it’s customary to receive monetary gifts on special occasions like weddings, but it’s not really all that nice a gesture since you’re duty-bound to return the favour with a gift that costs exactly half the amount of money you received. Having to calculate this amount and find a cost-appropriate gift can be a real pain in the bum and sucks the fun out of getting free money. In fact, the whole thing seems like an exercise in time-wasting to us. Why not just give less money in the first place? The survey takers said:
“I’d rather just not get the money in the first place, since it’s so annoying trying to return the favour” – Male, 29
“It’s inconvenient for both the giver and the receiver” – Male, 37
5. Going to an afterparty after a drinking party
▼ The night’s just getting started…
If it wasn’t bad enough that salaried workers in Japan have to spend their evenings drinking with the boss, there’s something called a “nijikai” which literally means second or afterparty and is used to describe the (yes, mandatory, or at least heavily peer-pressured) process of going from the drinking party to a second bar or restaurant and carrying on the whole rigmarole for a few more hours. Needless to say, some people find this utterly pointless.
“Since we’ve already had one drinking get-together, why prolong it? Let those who want to go home bow out gracefully while the rest carry on” – Female, 36
“I’m usually done after the first one, I don’t want to carry on for the sake of a change of scenery” – Male, 34
6. Having to pay money to attend a wedding
Wedding guests in Japan are usually expected to cough up a few hundred dollars to cover their attendance, and even more if you’re a close relative. Usually they get to stuff their face with good food and drink, though, and even receive a gift in return (see number 4). But many take issue with being invited to a wedding and then being asked to pay to be there.
“It’s like I’m being expected to pay my own entry fee!” – Female, 38
“It’s expensive and if you really want me to come, why do I have to pay you?” – Male, 33
7. Bringing back omiyage (souvenirs) for everyone in the office after a trip
▼ Only a total monster would visit Hokkaido and NOT bring back delicious Shiroi Koibito cookies for everyone.
In Japan, once you’ve inconvenienced everyone in your office (right down to the cleaning lady and the bloke who services the printers) by taking a week (if you’re lucky) to go on holiday, you must atone for your sins by bringing delicious souvenirs from wherever you’ve visited. And make sure you don’t forget creepy Suzuki-san from the third floor because… well, you remember point number 3, don’t you?
“It’s expensive to bring omiyage for everyone in the office” – Female, 38
“It sucks the fun out of my holiday having to buy it. And some people never take any holidays, so they never bring any omiyage – the whole system is unfair and unbalanced” – Male, 35
So there you have it, seven bothersome Japanese customs that even Japanese people wish didn’t exist. Personally, I love afterparties and omiyage, so I’d lobby to keep those two. The others, though? Meh.
What Japanese customs do you think should be done away with?