Photo: Benny Marty/Shutterstock

5 Things French People Learn When They Move to Japan

by Agnès Redon Jan 28, 2015

1- Bite your tongue!

The French are well-known for their love of debate. We believe that people should be actively engaged and never shy away from expressing and defending their opinions; we expect others to disagree and argue with us. Conversely, Japanese culture places great stress on distinguishing the “hone”, one’s genuine feelings, from the “tatemae”, what one must say publicly. When the Japanese government promotes Tohoku as the Promised Land for more than three years, the French expats in Japan fully understand that they must suck it up and carefully avoid controversial subjects.

2- We’re backwards when it comes to recycling.

Come to France and witness the ecological horror: everything, including paper products, cans, bottles, tin cans, everything goes in ONE PLASTIC BAG. Recycling in Japan is much more advanced than at home. Household waste must be separated into burnable and non-burnable, and there are a dizzying array of recycling categories to break your non-burnable waste into. The whole Japanese recycling obsession makes sense in a country where individually-wrapped fruit and cookies are common sights, but the rule “keep it in your house until 7am on pick up day” makes it damn near impossible to follow. When you live in a small space, with seven different trash cans going at once, sometimes you feel like you have moved into a landfill.

3- We’re not the only one with a hygiene issue.

While we French have to deal with persistent negative stereotypes about our standards of hygiene (“the French never bathe and camouflage their stench with perfume”), the Japanese stand at the other end of the spectrum. The country is indeed incredibly clean and, for a French person, it is hard not to notice how a big city like Tokyo is constantly spotless (even the train stations!). However, the mask drops when it comes to private spaces. If you ever wondered why the Japanese lack enthusiasm at the idea of having you in their home, here is your answer: it’s because the place is not presentable. Not only that, but the supposedly squeaky-clean Japanese population does not enjoy washing their hands with soap after using the bathroom or using hot water when doing the laundry. Who’s the dirt bag now?

4- Paris is a haven of peace and quiet.

Unnecessary announcements in train stations, endless loops played in stores, talking escalators and ATMs, and the use of cranked-up loudspeakers just about everywhere. The constant ear-bashing that one endures in Tokyo on a daily basis is the ultimate test of one’s patience. While the rest of world is aware that the noise causes stress, Japan didn’t actually notice.

5- Tokyo is a technological smokescreen.

In movies and TV shows, Tokyo is always depicted as a high-tech hub, a wonderland of science and innovation, to the point where you expect robot ASIMO to greet you at the airport. The reality, however, is that real estate and police stations work without computers, ATMs close when the bank does, and there is no central heating. Traditionally, Japanese houses have always been built to let as much air flow through them as possible, because the summers here are very hot and humid. If you dare complain about the lack of a proper heating system when the temperature drops below zero, the Japanese may simply recommend you to wear two sweaters and one coat indoors. Add the fact that a typical Japanese office still uses paper like the stuff grows on trees and communicate with fax machines and you may feel that you live in a country stuck in the 90s, technologically.

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