Japan Can You Not?

For my individual research project I have set out for an ethnographic study of social conventions in Japan. I decided to redefine my project through the perspective of an Australian audience trying to understand these conventions via YouTube videos. This comes as Ellis outlines autoethnography “is an approach to research and writing that seeks to systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”, including manners, customs and the ‘Japanese way’.

Social conventions are very much about following arbitrary rules and norms that govern countless behaviours that we all engage with on an everyday basis, without even necessarily thinking about them, take driving on the left side of the road as an example. However, to someone who is not familiar, or has not grown up within the culture e.g. a foreign visitor, this can seem extremely complicated.

I classify myself as an individual that has grown up and engaged everyday with Australian social conventions. However, I have not travelled to Japan, I have been to Singapore and had a vast amount of friends and family visit the country where they have discussed the challenges they faced. Take in Australia, when you’re at a Japanese restaurant for example, they call out to you as they leave and you insist on saying “thank you” back, in Japan this is apparently considered rude as they intend to have the last say. By looking into this I am able to determine aspects of my individual identity, but how can I get to a point in my life where I understand Japanese social conventions instead of Australian?

By reflecting on my past experiences I intend to engage with the statement “about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or possessing a particular cultural identity” (Ellis). When studying Japanese social conventions using autoethnography I must remember it is important to remain objective to ensure personal feelings, assumptions and presumptions are disengaged in order to effectively learn the ‘Japanese way’.

In addition to this, I will examine YouTube videos discussing experiences with Japanese social conventions from inside and outside of their culture. I have decided to document my week ethnographic experience of these videos with the intended outcome consisting of detailed and inclusive analysis, forming a research report.

This weeks study has focused on my initial experience of Japanese social conventions from the YouTube video ‘What NOT to do in Japan’:

Here is a list of the thoughts and questions that filled my mind when watching the ‘What NOT to do in Japan’:

Don’t use your cell phone on buses or trains:

  • So what do they do then?
  • How do they avoid interacting with people around them?
  • Wow, I really do rely on my phone
  • Manner mode? Does everyone just sit there in silence or..?
  • Don’t be loud – if only this was actually enforced on Sydney trains, trying to get silence in the ‘silent’ carriage is hard enough
  • Don’t eat or drink – well I thought that was the case in Sydney too, until that one person gets on your carriage and devours their smelly food

Don’t get emotional:

  • But I’m just generally an emotional person
  • It’s making me angry that I’m not allowed to be angry – can’t tell me what to do
  • Don’t complain? But complaining is a part of my second nature
  • I never realized how much Westerners really do direct their anger at one another – guilty, time to conform to the self-blame game
  • I wonder how often my friends are uncomfortable because I’m in a bad mood – haha sorry friends

Don’t take pictures of strangers:

  • Imagine trying not to get someone in your photo in Sydney
  • Actually, I wonder how many strangers photo’s I’m in the background of – at least I hope I look good in them and I’m not stuffing my face with food or something
  • Blurring people out? Imagine sitting at the Kodak photo machines blurring 60 people out of your photo, may as well just blur yourself out too
  • Maybe they ask people to move out of their photos? Haha surely not


  • Wait did I hear that right, you can’t customize food orders? I don’t think I’d ever survive in Japan – I’m probably the fussiest person you’ll ever meet
  • Oh ouch, I’m ‘childish’ because I pick tomato off my wraps on the daily – I mean lets be honest who likes there food going soggy and tasting entirely like nope


  • Well women can’t show off their cleavage – so there goes half the Australian population – or maybe just the area I live in anyway moving on
  • I agree that excessive cleavage gives woman a bad image
  • Don’t carry pocketknives – that’s probably the last thing I’d think to ensure I had if I was to go travelling
  • ‘Try not to be too noticeable’ – but you’re basically one of the only Caucasian looking people here

Thinking about this now, it must be said that most of my knowledge of social conventions has been formed through my own experiences, and knowledge passed on from parents and educational institutions. This drive, to teach myself other cultures conventions comes from the lack of knowledge, and the fear of travelling without actually knowing. Take being told from a young age to say “thank you” when you receive anything including service, at the time I would have been young enough to have not understood why, but now working in a retail environment it is evident how rude not saying “thank you” can be considered in circumstances, and I think this has considerably contributed to and played a vital role in the development of my social and cultural identity.


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