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Tokyo Customs

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Tokyo Customs
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Bath Houses (Onsen) in Tokyo:
Living in Tokyo takes its toll on the Salarymen and OL (Office Ladies) that work there.  It's a high stress environment working 6 days a week and sometimes even coming in on your only day off (Sunday).  So what's a city guy/gal to do? 
Well, for centuries the answer has been to go to the spa.  Not like Americans do though!  They're not going to the spa for a day to get a massage for an hour and maybe sit in a sauna for 20 minutes, they'll take a weekend or maybe even a whole week off and bring their entire family or take the entire office on a field trip (or retreat) to a far-off hot springs resort they call Onsen (pronounced Ohn-sen). 
Dogo Onsen

Onsen can be lavish (as pictured above) and many have outdoor baths and hot springs.  Some onsen feature different types of bath salts or treatments in individual heated pools to suit different tastes. 

Onsen Tubs

 There might be a rose petal or a silk bath, or maybe a large communal hot pool outside and small individual barrels of hot water inside.  Something for everyone.

Onsen Tubs

If you're interested in relaxing at a hot springs, you'll need to know the etiquette upon entering.  

First, please know that an Onsen is like a hotel and the baths are included in the price of food and lodging.  There are a few exceptions (please click here for information on a day spa at Yomiuriland).
Second, please know that you must NOT enter a bath to wash yourself.  The bath water is not drained and refilled after each customer, it is meant to soak in after you're completely clean.  You should wash yourself first, either in a shower or sometimes with a bucket of hot water and soap.  Wash yourself for a long time and completely rinse off before you get into the tub, because you don't want to get those suspicious looks that you're a foreigner in the bath house there to make it a filthy mess.  Please see the link below for english Onsen instruction's on cleaning yourself before you go into the baths.
Onsen Yukata

Third,  although everyone gets a summer robe (Yukata) upon entering, you should know that many people may be sharing a bath with you and that you will all be naked.  The proper etiquette in the onsen is to discreetly cover your below-the-waistness with a washcloth prior to entering the water.  If you've taken a shower and you're supposed to walk down the hall to your bath, then you would wear the Yukata that you were given when you arrived.  It's a little fussy but try to remember when you wear the robe to have the left side on top.  It's opposite to how you probably wear a bathrobe at home, if you're standing naturally holding the robe in each hand, just use your right hand first and cross over your body, then with your left hand cross over the front of the robe and tie it on your right hand side.  Worn the wrong way and it could send a signal that you're disrespecting a japanese person's departed relatives.
Fourth - Traditionally Onsen are co-ed, but most are now separated into a women's bath area and a men's bath area.  Children may be there too, because it is a family outing type of place.
YakuzaFinally - Many onsen are forbidden to people who have tattoos.  This is to keep out the Yakuza (japanese gang members) who are generally intimidating to the other patrons and might not follow the onsen rules (and who could stop them if they didn't?).  Please don't take offense if you have a tattoo, it's kind of like the "No shirt.  No shoes.  No service." policy at many U.S. establishments.  There are some onsen that will bend the rules for you if you're clearly a gaijin with a tattoo and not a gang member, but they will probably ask you to hide the tattoo while you're there so that other patrons don't get upset, and so they don't get in any trouble with the Yakuza. 
NOTE: If you are taking a regular bath in a Ryokan or as a guest in someone's home in Tokyo you'd follow the same rules as above, washing and rinsing yourself completely outside the tub and then soaking in the tub afterwards.  When you're done soaking in the tub do NOT drain the water unless it's a private bath for your own use only. 
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Chopsticks and Rice in Tokyo:


Please know that you'll rarely come across a fork or a knife in Tokyo.  They do have spoons for soup.   Please see the diagram below for using chopsticks, and try to practice chopsticks before you go to Tokyo so it doesn't limit your dining options.  



If you can't see the diagram please read the following explanation:

first anchor the bottom chopstick under your thumb and resting it on top of your ring finger,

then you can hold the top chopstick between your index finger and your thumb and lift the chopstick up and down (hold this chopstick like you would an ordinary pen or pencil for the best control). 

If your bottom chopstick is properly anchored, now you can use the top chopstick to "pinch" the food and hold it between the two.

There are a couple of Tokyo rules with chopsticks that you don't learn in your local chinese restaurant.
#1 If provided, use your chopsticks rest.  That little block of wood, origami crane, or small polished rock on your table is actually a chopsticks rest.

#2 If there isn't a chopsticks rest, you'd place them  on your plate with the ends (that you eat from) facing left. 


#3 When sharing food (pretty rare in Tokyo), please use the back end of your chopsticks (the end you didn't put in your mouth) to pick up food from someone else's plate, or from a shared portion in the middle of the table.

#4 If you use your hands when you talk, try to remember not to hold your chopsticks when you talk.  You probably wouldn't talk while waving around a fork, but for some reason chopsticks feel so right when you're in the middle of a conversation.   Don't do it. ;-)

#5 Don't leave your chopsticks in your food, but especially not in rice.  Leaving your chopsticks in a bowl of rice sticking up is an insult to their ancestors (and relatives who've passed away), so try to not leave your chopsticks in any food just in case. 

Speaking of rice....



Rice is the bread & butter of the Japanese meal and they're not concerned about carbs.  They eat it with every meal and because it's been their staple diet for thousands of years, it's also used ceremonially in a sacred way.  For that reason, there are a couple of rude ways to handle rice that you should avoid.

#1 is the same as above, please don't put chopsticks into your rice and leave it there.  This is symbolic of an offering to their dead ancestors.

#2 Don't pour soy sauce directly onto your rice.  Just dip your rice into the soy sauce dish provided.  Pouring soy sauce onto rice is another offering for the dead and you don't want to make someone cry at the table...or do you?......hmmmm.....Do you?!.....Just don't do it!

Now you have all the tools at your disposal to be a nice, polite, welcomed guest at someone's table...or a living nightmare.  How you choose to use this information is up to you.

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Gifts (Omiyage) in Tokyo:

Gifts aren't just a casual afterthought in Japan, you'd never think to run to a drugstore to pick up a gift or card on your way to a birthday party.  In Tokyo, gifts or omiyage (pronounced "Oh-mee-yah-gay") are a part of your life and privately a pretty stressful obligation most of the time. 

OmiyageTwice a year it's imperative to give your coworkers presents and your boss a gift that's worth more than one he's supposed to give you, when you go on vacation you're obligated to bring back a gift to anyone and everyone who knew you were going on a trip or else you're considered selfish.  You also have to bring a gift when you visit someone's house.  For this reason it is sometimes true that a Ryokan owner might expect a gift, this is especially true if the Ryokan is like a bed and breakfast at someone's home.  If you feel you might be obligated to give an omiyage to someone below are some guidelines to remember when giving a gift in Tokyo.

1.  Choose a fairly inexpensive* treat from your home town (or home state/country).  Usually food or alcohol is a good idea, if you're from Vermont - maple syrup might be a good idea, from California - maybe some california wine, Texas - a western buckle will do.  A souvenir from home that doesn't cost more than $25, but says something about where you're from.

Custom MMs

*Don't choose a gift that's expensive because it burdens your host with the obligation of giving you a present back that's equally or more expensive.  In Tokyo, giving a pricey gift says "There you go!  Now you owe me big time!"


2. Wrap the present.  In Japan presentation is equally as important as the gift.  That being said, if you went to a cool store that had a unique shopping bag (like the M&M's store for customized candies), the bag will suffice as a decent presentation of the gift.

3. When giving the gift, please try to give the present with both hands and slightly bow, this is even true for business cards.

Two hands

This will make certain your host knows that the present is for him/her.  If you were to just hand it to them, they might think you wanted them to hold it for you in some back room, if they misunderstand they will not clarify this with you, because that would be rude.  Giving the present with both hands and bowing is telling them "This is for you." 

4. When you give an omiyage they are NOT supposed to open it, so don't ask them to.  If you receive an omiyage, you should take the present with both hands and say "thank you" or in japanese "arigatou" (pronounced "ah-dee-gah-toh") and slightly bow.  Open the present later on. J

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Love & Capsule Hotels in Tokyo:

These short-stay hotels are unique to big cities in Japan.  One has been created for the weary salaryman to rest up after pulling an "all-nighter" at work, and one has been created to fulfill the need of young couples who still live at home with their parents (which probably comprises 90% of those people between the ages of 17 and 35).  We'll start with Love Hotels first.

Love Hotels

In this case, "love" means love.  These hotels are designed to fulfill an actual need that young couples have to keep their relationships private from their family members.  A love hotel is a place where young couples (even married couples) can go to get away from their parents and have some alone time.

Shibuya's "Love Hotel Hill" area is pictured below:

Love Hotel signIt's very rare for a young couple to get married and move into their own house, the custom is for the couple to move into the groom's parents' house and depending on the couple's age, the groom will then become head of the household and voila!  you own a house.   But how do you "start a family" or plan a trip, organize the bills, or finish an argument with your mother-in-law in the next room?  Well, if you need some alone time you can go to a Love Hotel, the sound-proofed rooms are usually charged per 2 - 3 hours (called "Rest") and some are decorated in romantic themes. 

This isn't necessarily an embarrassing outing, for one thing these couples could just legitimately need the room to argue (because hashing things out in front of the in-laws just isn't cool) and since public displays of affection in Tokyo are considered taboo ( you can't exactly hold hands and snuggle out on the street) it's considered appropriate to rent a room just for the purpose of holding hands or talking things out.  Recently, Love Hotels have even taken to being "family friendly" by adding video games and karaoke to the room, in case your kids also need a little R&R from the grandparents.
Some of the rooms are quite nice and a bit pricey like this "Sweet Room" (pictured below) from a Love Hotel in Shinjuku (7800 for  2 hours), but most Love Hotels are priced between 3000 - 6000 for a rest and about 8000 for the night.
Love Hotel Room

Of course, you can also "get it on" with your spouse/lover but the front desk clerk will likely pretend that you're there for a platonic chat. 

That being said, there is some confusion among foreigners that Love Hotels are brothels.  So as a foreigner, you might get a weird look when you first walk in.  Don't worry about it, if you ignore it and act like everything is normal, they'll treat you like anyone else. 
A note about the Sex industry:  The kabukicho (pronounced "Kah-boo-key-cho") area in Shinjuku is the red light district where all sorts of sex acts can be legally procured at "soaphouses" and the like.  There really aren't strip clubs in Tokyo, they have hostess clubs instead.  Hostess clubs hire scantily clad beautiful women to walk around and talk to the patrons at their tables, if you buy them an overpriced drink, they'll sit down, have a chat with you and pretend you're the most interesting person in the world.  The much milder and "cute" version of the hostess clubs are maid cafes, please click here for more information on maid cafes.

Capsule Hotels

You might have heard about these space-age type of Tokyo hotels where a person literally sleeps in a capsule, like you're an astronaut on the space shuttle or something.  Well, it's true.  It's the kind of place you dreamed of as a kid, you know....you're sleeping in a chamber to go into space, or in some sort of train compartment with a curtain in the upper deck.  See the silly clip below from "The Fifth Element" that was filmed on location at Japan's first capsule hotel, meant to simulate their "seats" for a flight they were taking:

Well, it IS a movie, so unlike the clip above, there's no such thing as a double compartment.   You sleep alone.  In fact, capsule hotels are generally reserved for men only, because of its locker room style accommodations with a shared shower area and bathroom down the hall.

 Capsule hotels run between 2,500 and 5,000 a night, cheaper than a taxi ride home after midnight.  A typical capsule (shown below) will have a tv with remote, an alarm clock, radio, mirror, reading light and fold out table.  If you have luggage they'll store it at the front desk for you in a locker.
Green Plaza Capsule

The newly invented Sauna + Capsule hotels (like the Green Plaza Shinjuku pictured below) have added a touch of luxury including saunas, onsen style baths, nice restaurants, living rooms, massage rooms, and after you've had a hot bath, a massage and a nice dinner they can even sell you a crisp new dress shirt to wear to work in the morning.  Ahhhhhh....

GreenPlaza Shinjuku

Luxury isn't free though, this one will cost 8,000 / night (twice the price of a normal capsule hotel)
Also lately, some capsule hotels have been catering to foreign tourists and a few even have floors reserved for women (see YouTube below).
It's not as scary as it might seem, so if you're up for an adventure a capsule hotel (for a night or two) might be just what you're looking for!
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You're supposed to leave your shoes in the foyer when visiting friends in Tokyo, but we were surprised to learn that there's more to shoe etiquette than just that so here's a short list of the do's and don'ts concerning shoes.
DO leave your shoes at the entrance to someone's house, unless they tell you not to.  Try to remember to point the shoes towards the exit.  (It's kind of a cool custom, this way arriving guests can tell just by looking at the entrance how many people live there and how many people are just visiting).
DO wear socks/nylons with no holes in them in Tokyo, because you never know when you'll need to take off your shoes and it's rude to walk into someone's house barefoot.  If you want to walk around in sandals or flip flops then try to carry a pair of clean white socks with you.
DON'T remove your socks/nylons when you remove your shoes.
DO take your shoes off at the entrance of any restaurant, teahouse, store or establishment that has a foyer with a shoecubby (shown below). (Although this will be pretty rare in a big city like Tokyo)
Tokyo Shoe Cubby

DO wear "guest" slippers (as shown below) if provided.
Guest Slippers

DON'T wear the guest slippers in a tatami mat room (shown below).  Usually, the tatami mats cover the entire floor in one room of the house and the guest slippers may ruin the mats.  Please note that the woman in a skirt below is wearing nylons and isn't barefoot.
Tatami Mat Room

DO remove your guest slippers and walk in socks/nylons on a tatami mat.
DON'T wear the "guest" slippers in the bathroom.  
Bathroom Slippers

 DO remove your guest slippers and use the "bathroom" slippers (as above) only in the bathroom.
Keep in mind that they know you're a foreigner and will understand if you don't know the custom.  Just know that if someone looks at your feet strangely while you're in their house/place of business, it's probably for one of the reasons above.

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Shrines and Temples

There are two major religions in Japan: Buddhism and Shinto.  There are many branches of Buddhism, but the most popular in Japan is the Lotus Sect which teaches that you should live your life as purely as a lotus flower even if surrounded by mud.  Shinto is a uniquely japanese religion that was first created as a worship of the Japanese Imperial family as gods.  Shinto teaches that everything that exists on the earth (rocks, plants, animals etc...) has a "kami" (spirit) and should be respected as such to ensure harmony and peace. 


 On english maps of Japan, Shinto places of worship are typically called "Shrines" and Buddhist places of worship are called "Temples", both temples and shrines have one or more gates (Torii) at their entrance (as above.) 

One feature unique to a Shinto shrine is a purifying prayer rope called a "Shimenawa" (as pictured below)



 If you see a Shimenewa then you can be sure you're at a Shinto Shrine.  Also uniquely seen at Shinto shrines are Ema tablets and Omikuji paper.  

Ema tablets are bought at the shrine as an offering to the gods, then a wish is written on the Ema and hung at the shrine.  If your wish comes true, you might be nice enough to buy another Ema tablet and write a thank you note for the gods for granting your wish. 

Ema Tablet

Omikuji are a bit like the fortune telling papers in american fortune cookies (and you thought fortune cookies were chinese!).  For a donation (usually 5, it's sort of like a lucky nickel), you blindly choose a fortune slip from a box to see your fortune. 

If you get the "吉" symbol (seen in the top right of the paper in the pic  below) that kind of looks like a cross on top of a box, then it's a good fortune, a blessing and you get to keep your fortune with you happily all day.   Good Luck
If you get the "凶" symbol that kind of looks like an "X" inside of a box, then it's a curse, and you need to tie it up near a pine tree (matsu) at the shrine to hopefully cancel the curse out.  Pine tree (松) and the verb "to wait" (待つ) are both pronounced "matsu" (mah-tsoo), so the idea is that if the curse is sitting by a pine tree it will feel compelled to wait.Bad Luck 







A distinguishing feature of a Buddhist Temple would be a pagoda (pictured below).  Pagoda's are monuments to Buddha and will hold a remnant (body part, clothing, finger nail etc...) of the specific Buddha worshipped at this temple. 



A main practice in Shinto involves frequent bathing and washing to show respect for your surroundings through "water purification".  Incidentally, this is another reason why Onsen (Bath houses) are so popular in Japan.   For many years Shinto and Buddhism were taught simultaneously as a unified religion in Japan, blurring the lines between the two religions.  For that reason, both Buddhist and Shinto shrines will often have the Shinto custom of a running water source (or a carefully placed well with cups to draw water) so visitors can wash their hands and mouth before entering the shrines. Shrine Water


 To wash your hands and mouth:

With your right hand, take the cup (with the long skinny handle) provided and fill the cup from the pool/fountain

then carefully bring the cup up and out (just outside of the fountain and over the drains at the sides)

pour a fourth of the water over your left hand to rinse, then pour a fourth of the water over your right hand to rinse...

Now pour a fourth of the water INTO your left hand, use your hand to put the water into your mouth and either swallow the water or discreetly drop the water from your mouth into the drain below....

Next, tip the handle to allow the remaining bit of water that's in the cup to drip back onto the handle of the cup to purify it and set the cup back where you got it.

Please see the YouTube video for a demonstration:


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It's hard to remember that there was a time in the U.S. when you were asked "Smoking or non-Smoking?" upon entering a restaurant, bar or even when purchasing airline tickets.  And those were the nicer restaurants and bars because the seedy ones would just assume everyone smoked, remember? 

Smoking in Restaurants in Tokyo

In Tokyo today, there are still smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants.  Because you're a foreigner, they won't ask you before they seat you, they'll put you in non-smoking area unless you specifically ask to sit at a table with an ashtray.

Restaurant Smoking












Smoking outdoors in Tokyo

Even though it's legal to smoke outdoors in Tokyo*, there are marked smoking areas to be polite to others.  The custom there is to be polite and wait until you see a designated smoking area (like at Shibuya station below) and light up there. 

*There is one area in Tokyo (Chiyoda Ward) where smoking outdoors is illegal, but don't worry too much as the fine is only $20.

Outdoor Smoking

 Smoking rooms in Tokyo

There's also smoking allowed in most stores, train stations and office buildings, but to accommodate for the increasing number of non-smokers in Tokyo, there are now "Smoking Rooms" available.  These see-through cubes are usually located in the Lobby /Main area of the building.  See the video below to get an idea:


Smoking customs in Tokyo

Nearly every man in Tokyo smokes, so if you see anyone smoking it's probably a stressed out salaryman.  Women make up about 10% of the smoking population, if you see a woman smoking, she's probably under 30 and pretty rebellious.

Just because you're a smoker doesn't mean you're not polite!  The Japanese are extremely polite and instead of throwing their cigarette butts on the ground and putting them out with their foot, they carry portable ashtrays around in their pockets.  They figure it's as convenient to carry as a cell phone and the government even hands out generic ones (pictured below) for free.  So there's no excuse to not have a handy-dandy portable ashtray.

Portable Ashtray














If you're a smoker you might fall in love with the carefree ease of the Tokyo smoking lifestyle, and please know that portable ashtrays are very affordable and can be found in any convenience store (like 7-11).  It might even make a cool souvenir.

Portable Ashtray














If you're a non-smoker, then please don't worry about it.  The Japanese are very polite and as a consequence while in Tokyo our personal experience was that we never found ourselves "dealing" with cigarette smoke at all. 

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Train Etiquette

Trains in Tokyo are a part of daily life and carries with it a certain culture.  Tokyoites will play video games, read downloaded books and take cell phone pics of rude behavior or oddities along their commute.  It's also possible to be comfortable in a completely packed train, to fall asleep on your way home without missing your stop, and to drink yourself under the table and still get home safely. 

Still with all this freedom there are a couple of rules they live by.

#1 Don't sit with your legs crossed or all spread out in your chair (as in the pic below).  Tokyoites are too polite to push your leg out of the way to sit down, (it ain't New York City) so please just sit in one seat (especially when the train is crowded) with your legs together and your feet on the floor.

Train Etiquette










#2 Don't grope women on the train.  In fact, this one was such a problem that they've added a women's only car to trains that run at rush hour (7:30a-9:30a).  This shouldn't be a problem for westerners, should it?  The car is designated with a bright pink sign on the floor of the train platform and on the windows of the train.  FYI: Men like to get on the women-only train after 9:30am for a photo opportunity.  There are lots of "Ooooh!  I'm breaking the law on the women's train!" pics and videos out there.

Women Only Train


















#3 Unlike in the U.S. where it might be polite to give up your seat to a woman (either because she's pregnant or very old, or just for chivalry's sake) in Tokyo the polite custom would be to give your seat up for an older man.  It's a little outdated though, and so it works best with very old men. 

Also, it will really impress japanese women if you're a man who (doesn't grope women and) offers your seat for her.  Japanese women believe that westerners have a policy of "ladies first" (as they call it), so they'll be delighted for the effort.  Please keep in mind that the japanese are so polite that it's rude to accept a friendly gesture the first time it is offered, so they have a policy of declining a request twice and then accepting it a third time.  If you offer your seat just to make her think you're polite than offer it once, if you really want to make her happy offer the seat three times and if she still refuses, well then....she's probably just shy.

#4 Don't help japanese people with their luggage up the stairs.  Wha-ut?!  This is a difficult one to understand so it will have to be broken down into pieces.

First, you should know that there's no such thing as "politically correct" in Tokyo (it's a relief in most cases, but to our American eyes when we see an old lady carrying her luggage up 40+ stairs it's a heartbreak)

Second, please know that large staircases are everywhere in train stations and they have signs to elevators, but you usually have to travel all the way around the entire station and then walk up stairs to get there!  To be more specific, by our second day in Tokyo our motto was "If you like stairs, then you'll LOVE Tokyo." (and we recommend saying that while walking up stairs in Tokyo as we found it oddly comforting, especially since no one could understand us). Anyway, there's a ZERO percent chance that this person didn't know there were going to be stairs.

Third, try to remember that Japanese pride is different than American pride.  If you're japanese and you've decided (at the age of 85) to walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator or sending your luggage ahead then it's because it's how you do things and that's what you wanted to do. 

Tokyo Stairs

Therefore, it's rude because you're telling someone either "Wow.  You sure bit off more than you can chew!  What an idiot!  Let me handle this." OR "You didn't know there were going to be stairs?  In a Tokyo train station?!  Wow-owww!   What an idiot!  Let me handle this."  So as hard as it may be, try to refrain from helping an elderly person with their luggage as you'll probably just get hit with their umbrella.  That said...if you see a foreign tourist struggling with their luggage...uh...er....well y'know what?  They should've read this site and gotten luggage delivery, right?!  Oh....ok...you can help them with their luggage if you want to.

We'll leave you with the peaceful pic of Toyoites sleeping on the train on Sunday.  Wonder why they're so tired? shhhhhh! 

Sleeping on the Train



If you're wondering how they'll know where their stop is, then we'll tell you.  Each train station on the JR line has a specific chime that rings when leaving the station, when they hear their chime it wakes them up and they've made it home. 

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Recycling isn't just a hobby in Tokyo, it's a whole way of life.  If you get an apartment there, you'll get the list of all the curbside trucks that will come and on what day.

Below is the confusing life of recycling in Tokyo (the example is in Setagaya-ku) spelled out (if that's possible):

Mondays - regular trash man comes (maximum of 2 bags), if you have recyclable items in your trash, then you're fined.

Wednesdays - the first recycle truck comes and removes (maximum of 1 bag each), glass bottles, cans, newspapers and cardboard.

Thursdays - regular trash man comes (maximum of 2 bags), if you have recyclable items in your trash, then you're fined.

Saturdays - alternate between the PET bottles man (max 1 bag) and the metals + "other" (max 1 bag) man.

As a result you'll find trash cans at train stations and in public areas that have several compartments for different refuse.  FYI: PET bottles will be specially marked with those letters (in english).

Recycle bins

You're even supposed to recycle at McDonald's!  Please see the picture below.   You're supposed to pour the drink into the bowl at the front, and put your cigarettes out in the bowl or inverted bowl (whatever that is) in the back.  Then put all plastics (like lids, straws and stir sticks) into the right bin and all paper items (like cups, wrappers and fries containers) into the left, and finally put your tray on top.  You must have to organize it at your table before you take your tray up there, huh?

Recycle McDonalds

What responsibilities!   At least you're doing your part to save the world right?  uh.. right?

Well one really cool aspect of the recycling culture in Tokyo(other than saving the world), is that every vending machine in Tokyo will have a nearby refuse bin suited for the recyclability of whatever you just drank.  Yayy! 

Vending Machine

A note about vending machines: the blue buttons indicate cold drinks and the red buttons indicate hot drinks.  Also, Tokyoites don't walk with their food or drink so finding trash cans that aren't near vending machines are sort of inconvenient.  You're supposed to drink your entire drink and throw it away in front of the vending machine, that also means there aren't too many big (20 oz bottle) drinks for sale.

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Umbrellas in Tokyo

It rains often in Tokyo, the driest months are in the cold snowy winter and the wettest months last all summer and through September (during monsoon season).  Unless you're planning on a white christmas in Tokyo, you'll probably need an umbrella.  Actually, Tokyoites use their umbrellas in the snow so you might need an umbrella anyway. See the YouTube video of a snowy day in Tokyo below:


And come to think of it, on sunny days women also bring umbrellas to use as parasols to protect their skin from the sun!  Let's just say that Tokyoites LOVE their umbrellas. 

When it rains, there's not mad scramble for a parka or a newspaper overhead, everyone has an umbrella.  The long skinny kind that usually has that feature where you can pop it open with the touch of a one-button-release.

In the old days, every store had an umbrella "rack" or "stand" at the front where you'd leave your umbrella unattended to drip while you walked around the store (and smaller stores still use this method). 

If you're going to a bigger chain or just a bigger store like a department store, they have a better solution.  They've installed automatic dispensers at the entrance, so you can wrap your umbrella in plastic and take it with you through the store, then on your way out you take the plastic off and drop it in a container at the exit.

See the YouTube video below to see how the contraption works:


Pretty cool, right?  Just remember to bring a long skinny umbrella when you go so you can take advantage of this feature.  It doesn't really work for those little portable umbrellas.

Tokyo's also pretty crowded so busy people are passing each other all the time holding their umbrellas, in the U.S. you'd have enough room to get around someone or wait for them to pass, but in Tokyo you just have to push on.  So what do you do?  Well, the custom in Tokyo is to tip your umbrella the opposite way to the person you're going to collide with and they'll do the same.  In this way, you kind of form an umbrella teepee between you and no one gets wet.

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Congratulations!  If you've read all of the categories then you've got a good idea of what you can get away with, and what you should probably keep quiet about.  *phew!*   Oh actually, just one more thing...if you lose your cool (and that could happen climbing all those stairs in the trains stations, you might cause people around you to start bowing at you.  This is basically a polite insult, they're telling you "I'm so embarrassed that you just did that...that instead of you apologizing to me...I'm apologizing to you that I watched you make an ASS of yourself."  If and/or when this happens, just storm off to the bathroom or something.  For all they know, you're a hot blooded Italian. ;-)

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そうだ 東京行こう!