4 Cultural Tidbits Indonesians Could Learn from the Japanese

I had to make this listicle before the idea vanished and while the image of Japan is still etched in my brain.

So, prior to visiting Japan, I did a lot of extensive research (thank you, Google University and YouTube Academy) on Japanese customs and culture. I didn’t want to look and act like a total ass when I was there. I watched numerous YouTube videos, from amateur videos showing me how to buy a Suica card to dark documentaries depicting the lives of depressed salarymen. I was glad I did my research, because I was able to blend in. As for my other companions… eh, not so. They still brought their Indonesian customs to Japan, resulting in minor culture shock and a bunch of problems.

Here we go then. Of course, these are my personal anecdotes.

1. Order and tidiness

The first impression I had of the Japanese was “Holy deity whom I still question its existence, these people are so tidy and orderly!”

As I exited the airport, I saw people actually throw garbage into their respective bins (peels in combustible, PET bottles in PET bottles, cans in recyclable, etc.) Later on, my tour guide said that the “bring your garbage home” movement has been gaining quite the popularity these days. During my days in Japan, I always carried a plastic bag to put my trash in. I’d wait till I found a garbage can to toss in to. In Indonesia, people would just litter or absent-mindedly leave their garbage on benches or tables.

Also, I was amazed that taxis and buses kept to their lanes and didn’t rush to get passengers. In Indonesia, you’d get taxi drivers dropping you off in the middle of the road and bus drivers maneuvering dangerously through traffic just to let one man on.

All in all, I was utterly amazed at how people queued. When I grew up in Canada, I was very accustomed to waiting for my turn on the see-saw. We formed a straight line, no pushing or shoving (except that one fucking bully). In Indonesia, I try real hard to be a good person and queue at the mini-market. But there’s always… ALWAYS that one motherfucker who thinks they’re too cool to queue and rushes to the front because they have an important anal bleaching appointment.

In the subway and the Shinkansen, people queued according to the floor markers. Green lanes were for reserved seats, red lanes for non-reserved. The results? Nice, orderly queues. No rushing, pushing, shoving or roughing (of course, I have yet to witness the 8 AM Ginza Line rush hour). Also, disembarking people always get priority. As far as I’ve seen, the Japanese involuntarily stop and let people disembark first before they themselves embark. In Indonesia, you have to literally fight your way onto or off a bus/train despite signs telling people to give priority to disembarking passengers. I fucking hate taking the TransJakarta bus during rush hour. At the arcade, especially crowded games like Project Diva arcade and MaiMai, people queue nicely and wait for their turns. They don’t pile up near the machine and hoard credits. At the convenience store, there are floor markers indicating where the lines start. People actually line up at these places and the result? No unnecessarily messy stores and quick service!

Those are small examples of how the Japanese value order and tidiness. Indonesians could really learn a thing or two, especially queuing. It’s so fucking hard to find a decent person in Indonesia who knows how to wait in line.

2. Punctuality

Punctuality is a fucking virtue; I cannot stress enough. I fucking hate it when someone is late for a scheduled appointment. Unless you can provide a reasonable and justifiable excuse for your tardiness, I will be in a very bad mood if a person is late.

It’s a good thing the Japanese share my views. The train is punctual to the minute. While in Japan, I have never been stood up by a train or a bus. The train arrives 2-5 minutes prior to its departure time, and departs on the departure time. I could easily schedule my plans.  Even the tour guides are strictly punctual. If the tour starts at 9 AM, it fucking starts at 9 AM. If you’re late, too bad, you just lost your money.

On my flight home to Indonesia, the plane was delayed. The flight crew issued apologies, face-to-face, for the delay. Now that’s service.

You can’t fucking do all that in Indonesia. Only a select few buses run on a schedule; the rest run on a whim. The bus only departs when it’s full of people crammed like sardines in a can. You can throw schedules out the fucking window; no amount of planning can accommodate the inflated time accrued during traffic jams. And group activities tend to start late. If a plane gets delayed, nobody gives a shit about the disgruntled passengers (I’m looking at you, Lion Air).

3. Honesty

While in Japan, I got to experience an episode of Japanese honesty. I was at a convenience store in Karuizawa and accidentally left a glove at the cash register. When I came back for it and asked the cashier, she happily returned it. In Indonesia, I would have had a 50-50 chance of losing the glove forever.

In another story, I took a taxi with my group members back to the hotel. In Indonesia, I usually gave a bit above the taxi fare. If my fare was IDR 18K, I would give a 20K bill and tell the guy to keep the change. Apparently, that’s not how it works in Japan. If they owe you change, they sure as hell give you the change. The taxi fare was about 1,000 yen or something. We gave the driver 1,500 yen and told him to keep the change. He didn’t want to and insisted we took the change.

One time, I was at a convenience store buying a sandwich and coffee for breakfast. After I paid and exited, suddenly, the lady at the cash register came running out shouting “Ogyakusan! [something something in Japanese]!” Apparently, she gave me the wrong amount of change. She gave me a few coins followed by several bows. How nice.

4. Consideration

The motto of the Japanese seems to be “put other people first”, which ties in nicely with the tidiness virtue.

From anime and comics I learned that people didn’t normally talk while on the train. While my group were in the subway, I remembered what I learned from the anime and comics. While in subway, the Japanese either sat quietly, slept, had earphones on or fiddled with their phones. It was quiet and orderly. As Indonesians, my group loved talking so much, it invited unwelcome glances from the other passengers. I tried shushing them, but it was futile. It’s rude to talk in the subway because it could disturb other people.

Such consideration for other people also shows in restaurants. At restaurants, guests are expected to clean up after themselves. You know, so that the next guy doesn’t have to sit at a gross table with ketchup stains and burger grease. I’ve seen people tidy their food remains and use tissues to clean the table up, and then dumping their remains into a bin and leaving the tray on top. I did that at a hot spring cafeteria too. The Japanese really care about the person after them, not just themselves. Whereas in Indonesia, we think that “If I don’t leave a mess, what’s the busboy for?” When I eat at McDonalds in Indonesia, I always try to tidy up after myself. Once, I even got a sincere “thank you” from the busboy. It’s nice being nice, is it not?

And that concludes my listicle of the four cultural virtues Indonesians should learn from the Japanese. Of course, feel free to add more; I’d love hearing about it. And also, in anticipation to butthurt Indonesian comments: fuck you and your unwillingness to emulate good behavior for the betterment of yourself and possibly the entire country.


3 thoughts on “4 Cultural Tidbits Indonesians Could Learn from the Japanese

  1. not sure about the honesty part coz living there taught me about the worst trait of the japs: they are one of the worst two faced racist people you’ll ever met, especially towards non Caucasian. they’ll always all smiles and compliment when you’re around but turn your back for a minute and they’ll start talking shit about you just because you’re a gaijin.

    while I admit that I greatly admire their technology, punctuality, overall service and cleanliness and of course their pop culture. but nothing will ever make me loves their personality. though, I agree with you that we Indonesian need to learn a lot from them when it comes to punctuality, service and cleanliness.


  2. One more thing about consideration is that Japanese always return seat reclining at Shinkansen to normal position before disembark. It amazed me so I quickly copied that behaviour.


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