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I'm from the south in the US, specifically the Appalachia (`app-uh-lai-chuh` for us) region. The culture I grew up in and Japan aren't so dissimilar. That's partly why I live in Japan.

Aside from people being on time and getting food to you -- "things" (for lack of better term) move slow here. Some examples:

- It took me three weeks to get a debit card from one of the national banks here. They have a web login and send me an email every time I swipe my card; however, there's no way to check my balance online.

- At restaurants / coffee shops you'll stand in line for an exceptional amount of time. In NYC, if a line gets "out of hand" baristas / servers shorten the amount of attention they give to each customer. It's expected when you get to the counter, you know what you want. Not in Japan (or at least all the places I've visited). Many times people will get to the counter, after standing in line, and debate with their friends what to purchase. It's always great that you know the person behind the counter is giving you their full attention, but it's frustrating when you're behind 2 - 3 people who are taking their time with their purchase. It's especially ironic in a culture that is fixated on not inconveniencing others.

- Swiping a credit card is weirdly complicated. In most places in the USA / the rest of the world -- it's a 'swipe and go' sort of deal. In Japan many systems are geared more toward physical money and transit cards (Passmo / Suica). In many cases, using your bank card requires closing the transaction on the register, printing a receipt, keying this in on another machine, waiting, and signing (in some cases). The efficiency that transactions happen with in the USA is definitely something I took for granted.

- In terms of it being traditional here, I liken current Japanese culture to the US in the 1930s - 40s. A majority of people who work in Tokyo will be in suits (sometimes known as 'salary men' depending on their position), and the gestures of bowing and greeting are much like America's pre-WWII culture of tipping hats / more formal language. I've always been fascinated with more humble, traditional culture(s). I think it attributes to better humans.

Though it seems like I'm giving Japan a hard time in some ways -- it's just "different," but I wanted to highlight some of the ways that (as a foreigner) your predispositions affect your expectations of a culture. I largely attribute my own to media coverage of Japan in the U.S.

Tangent to all of this. One of my favorite things that was unexpected, but obvious once I knew about it was the Japanese concept of "monozukuri"[1]. Many things are so well crafted here, because of a cultural emphasis on producing things with quality. I also think this is a part of why things move slow here. Americans are so focused on immediacy that there's a line of books exploiting that, Sam's "Learn X in 24HRs." I respect Japan for not being the "face paced" culture SF / NYC have turned into. Tokyo feels so tame in comparison, and (for me at least) that's a good thing.

1 - http://www.japanintercultural.com/en/news/default.aspx?newsi...




Interesting observations. But for me, (been in Japan many times over the last 5 years), I didn't notice any of the items you mentioned.

Seemed similar to NY/SF speed in Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama.

To me, there is less or no small talk- definitely in places like Lawson and 7/11, but even department stores, with local or foreigner customers.

I noticed things go slower in Kyoto and other small towns, but no slower than small towns anywhere else in the world.


> To me, there is less or no small talk- definitely in places like Lawson and 7/11, but even department stores, with local or foreigner customers.

Even though I'm pretty basic, there are a couple of cashiers I'm friendly with / make small talk. I think it's there if you initiate it. Albeit, I'm pretty friendly / jovial.

> I noticed things go slower in Kyoto and other small towns, but no slower than small towns anywhere else in the world.

I think it depends on where in Tokyo you are. Ginza feels slower than Shibuya and Shinjuku to me. I'd say Tokyo is most like LA in how many different "feeling" neighborhoods / micro-cities you have within one area.


> It's especially ironic in a culture that is fixated on not inconveniencing others.

I can explain this paradox: Japanese will wait patiently for their turn without complaint, but when it’s their turn it’s THEIR TURN.


> - At restaurants / coffee shops you'll stand in line for an exceptional amount of time. In NYC, if a line gets "out of hand" baristas / servers shorten the amount of attention they give to each customer. It's expected when you get to the counter, you know what you want. Not in Japan (or at least all the places I've visited). Many times people will get to the counter, after standing in line, and debate with their friends what to purchase. It's always great that you know the person behind the counter is giving you their full attention, but it's frustrating when you're behind 2 - 3 people who are taking their time with their purchase. It's especially ironic in a culture that is fixated on not inconveniencing others.

I never got this. The thing is, it seemed to me that the people who are waiting are totally "cool" with it. They are not bothered and will, in turn, take their time to pick. I think it is just a cultural thing. But yes, it is interesting given that Japanese are not annoying people, and they value time.

The points you make are valid. I think people perceive Japan as a high tech country because they have a highly developed and efficient transit system. I mean when you go there as a tourist, that's practically what you are interacting with. Oh, and high speed Internet. That certainly will strike the average person as a high tech country.


> I never got this. The thing is, it seemed to me that the people who are waiting are totally "cool" with it. They are not bothered and will, in turn, take their time to pick. I think it is just a cultural thing. But yes, it is interesting given that Japanese are not annoying people, and they value time.

They are definitely cool with it. I think Americans and a lot of the world are consumers out of convenience, whereas (for coffee and other similar goods) people in Japan are consumers for the experience. I think the choosing portion is a part of this experience that they're there for. Just a hypothesis, though.

> The points you make are valid. I think people perceive Japan as a high tech country because they have a highly developed and efficient transit system. I mean when you go there as a tourist, that's practically what you are interacting with. Oh, and high speed Internet. That certainly will strike the average person as a high tech country.

Transit is amazing here. Except when it rains, it seems to cause the local trains some trouble, which is unexpected. My internet experience has been hit or miss, but work and cafe speeds are amazing here. Not Seoul[1] amazing, but solid.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_South_Korea


I find a lot of the preconceptions on Japan seem to carry over from perceptions of their economic and industrial prowess from the 80s and 90s and consumer electronics and mobile technology dominance in the 90s-00s.

Things have changed a lot since then - besides high tech the other preconception is the assumption that costs/expenses are quite high - I’ve found these days Tokyo (and doubly so for the rest of the country) on the cheaper end of world class cities/developed countries these days.

Tech-wise there are a few things that I think continue to be interesting:

* As mentioned their transit system is first class. Their touchless pay system continues to develop and works pretty much seamlessly across the country now (there are some cash-only country buses still) and you can use it at just about every convenience store. Phones support Suica natively now and can auto refill - I’m not sure I’ve seen another transit card around the world that works across the whole country. There isn’t real-time GPS tracking for buses and the like but everything runs on schedule so maybe not so necessary

* Japanese vending machines are the best and the rest of the world should get with the program. This is as much infrastructure as technology - having the supply chain to restock and maintain vending machines every 100m (max) in cities and in literally the middle of nowhere across the country is really something if you think about it

* Japanese people still like tiny gadgets and you’ll often find slightly miniaturized versions of everything, which can be neat/charming, although not the insane feats of engineering they were in the past

* Japanese software generally sucks but it’s interesting for me to see where there engineering effort has gone like into pikakura machines, networked arcade games (like MMO horse racing simulators, NFC card-based RTS arcade consoles, etc), etc

* I’ve heard lots about domestic robots but I haven’t seen anything out in the wild. There’s that one somewhat automated theme hotel, but that’s more of a gimmick than anything. The Robot Restaurant is awesome for many reasons, but the mechanical stuff is all RC’d.


> I’m not sure I’ve seen another transit card around the world that works across the whole country.

HongKong but it is a small city. The card also functions in Macau.


As is Singapore's EZ-Link. In fact, you can buy a EZ-Link SINO Visitor Pass, which is both a Singapore EZ-Link card and a Guangdong Lingnan card... I know Hong Kong issues a few cards like this for cities across the border in the mainland.

Still, not nearly as impressive as the Japanese system.


A couple weeks ago, a popular post here on HN was how U.S. culture was actually lagging Japanese culture by about 10 - 20 years, while much of the rest of the world lags U.S. culture by a few years, and how things that were trendy in Japan quite a while ago are just now getting popular in the U.S. and then they will spread to Australia and other places in a few years.

So it's interesting to see your opinion that is contrary to that article.


Do you have a link to that post?



Thanks!


> In most places in the USA / the rest of the world -- it's a 'swipe and go' sort of deal.

In most of EU you never swipe. I have swiped maybe 2x in my life and only because the chip did not work. (The swipe then did not work either...) You either use chip/pin or contactless and pin over 20eur


In most places the magstrip is disabled (both on the cards and in the readers) because it's insecure and there was a lot of low-effort cloning going around.


The hardware to clone magstripe cards is shockingly cheap and easy to get hold of.

I was tickled a few years ago when Samsung tried to roll out mobile payments in the US and had to include a kind of hardware magnetic stripe emulator in their phones, chip & pin is nowhere near ubiquitous yet.


> Many things are so well crafted here, because of a cultural emphasis on producing things with quality.

I think this, at least partially, is the culprit behind being slow. Quality requires time, years of practice, sweat, dedication and experience. And it works really well for craftsmanship. Japan is well known for it's craft, art, cuisine and aesthetics - even in trivial cases like design of manholes or disposable shopping packages. Unfortunately, the same doesn't seem to work for technology, especially for IT. Learn a language/framework today, forget tomorrow, rapidly switch to more efficient solution, keep up with industry standards and everyday learn something new. There's no place for "learn once - master whole life" concept in current enterprise environment. Maybe with exclusion of basic principles. Everything else change on a daily basis. Yet, Japanese web pages tend to look like messy amateur pages on GeoCities 20 years ago and financial institutions wouldn't change for ages (actually, their online pages looks even worse.)

I do disagree about restaurant lines, though. I've yet to see so well organized crowd. And people do know what to order when they reach the counter because in most places they have a menu in their hands long before they get there. And any other lines, on that matter, especially when you compare Western train/metro stations.


> I do disagree about restaurant lines, though

Restaurants ( especially soba / ramen ) are so efficient it's insane.

I should have clarified, I'm talking more about coffee shops / cafes ( 喫茶店 ).


you are just talking about buying stuff, and money

I think your point of view may be a little too americanish


I do like that the Japanese culture seems more apt to actually stop and smell the roses.




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