Some Japanese Thoughts on America


There are some interesting buildings in Philadelphia.

By Dan Moeller and Akimi Iwamoto

As JETs, we have special access to Japanese culture and can learn many things, but do we know how we are perceived? In summer, a Japanese native travelled with her American boyfriend for a two week stay in his homeland. (Hint: Dan is the boyfriend and Akimi is the girlfriend in this story.) She went sightseeing around Philadelphia, experienced a party or two, and dined on some extremely non-Japanese foods. It was very exciting and maybe a little difficult. The following is a list of culture shock items experienced in the two weeks. Hopefully, by showing this opposite side of the cultural spectrum, we will be given a glimpse into a Japanese psyche and possibly a glimpse of American culture and ourselves. Keep in mind these findings are ethnological and in no way empirical.

What Surprised Me about America …

Americans go in their houses wearing shoes. They track in dirt and walk barefoot on the same floor. Sometimes they sit and lay on the floor. I heard about this custom many times before, but it was shocking to actually see it. I wore sandals in houses when everyone else was wearing socks or barefoot. Hopefully no one noticed! I don’t think I could ever get used to shoes indoors.

American houses are very lovely and most houses have chimneys. They are so cute. A lot of Americans have big yards. Some even have basements and pools.

One especially cute house.

Americans talk loud and fast (without exception). They all seem so confident. I want to be confident in this way, too, but it’s shocking that even some Americans are shy.

They sometimes hug and kiss people they know. I think this is a good custom. It’s quite possible we are put on this earth to love everybody all the time. Being close and sharing feelings is very important. Maybe Japanese people don’t show their feelings enough in this way.

Many people are tall. This is very cool from afar. Up close, this can be quite intimidating. Many people are obese. This is unhealthy and I wonder how they feel about all the problems that come from such circumstances.

There are big supermarkets in America. The shopping carts are huge. They have many kinds of food and big “economy” sizes, too. Moreover, they need even bigger fridges for all this food they’re storing. This is all very strange for me. If I only shopped once a week, I still couldn’t make use of an American shopping cart. How do they carry all those big bags of groceries into their homes?

There are fast food restaurants everywhere. Also, they serve big portions in many restaurants. These big meals are very delicious, but sometimes too fatty and/or too sweet. My body was definitely not accustomed to the high fat and caloric intake. Taco Bell was delicious, and cheesesteaks…wow.  The pizzas are generally much bigger than Japanese pizzas. I also ate a square “Sicilian” pizza. Mmm!

These are just the cheesesteak condiments, and they’re free!

Some Americans say Japanese food doesn’t have any taste. I enjoy a bowl of rice, but I don’t think Americans would agree with me.  Americans don’t enjoy the taste of fish as much as Japanese do. Dan and I brought some takosen, or octopus crackers, for his parents. They were semi-mortified and maybe the dog was the only one to eat them.

Their kitchens are very cute and have a big oven, a range, a microwave, a toaster, and a toaster oven. I have half of these appliances and they are all smaller.

I thought these were burritos, but they were delicious anyway.

Dan’s parents joked about my daily wash loads. I’m not sure I saw his parents do one load of wash while I was there, which is a little mysterious. They have huge washing machines and dryers and they don’t hang their clothes to dry. Doing wash and hanging clothes outside is very simple. I don’t get it.

I really enjoyed my time in America. Even though I have many gripes, it is a very interesting culture. Dan and I have plans to live there starting this summer. Hopefully, I have no problems getting my visa! I’m very excited, but have many worries. I really don’t have any friends there, my English completely sucks, I’m shy, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do much without Dan’s help. Well, Ganbarimasu!

All photos by Dan Moeller and Akimi Iwamoto.


  1. Great article! Nice way to turn the tables and help us see our own culture through a new set of eyes. And I really have to agree with you about the size of the shopping carts — I’ve been back in the U.S. 4 months now after 3 years in Japan, and I STILL think the shopping carts look way too big every time I see them!

  2. Interesting, but I’ve got to be honest, this doesn’t sound like the America I know… not entirely anyway. One thing: regions are very, very different. Lots of houses don’t have chimneys, lots of people hang clothes to dry, lots of people like fish, some people talk very slow… etc. I think no matter what other culture you are in (yes even for foreigners in Japan) it’s not necessarily a good idea to lump everyone into one box – since there are many exceptions.

  3. It was very interesting to read about this from ‘the other side!’. My JET friends and I are always talking about cultural suprises we find in Japan, so it’s nice to get the other perspective! Thanks Akimi and Dan. And Akimi, good luck for your move to the USA! 🙂

  4. Great article, but some of the comments make me want to reply in troll-mode!
    Akimi (what’s this name-fuzion “Akimoto” bs?), you will be fine in America! It’s okay to be quiet and shy, you will just attract friends that appreciate those characteristics more! Living in a foreign country is easy as long as you are accepting of the surrounding people and culture. It’s okay to be proud of Japan and voice opposing opinions, most Americans will be interested, and almost none will take offense. 大丈夫だ!

    Of course different regions of America are different. The article said from the start this was just one perspective based on one experience. No one was being “lumped in”.

    I love big shopping carts, but only because I have perfected riding them like go-karts!

  5. I think this is really funny because for the most part (as an American) I agree. I do think you mostly focused on the negative aspect. I have lived in Okinawa for three years, now in Iwakuni Yamaguchi for another three years and if they let us we will stay longer. Beck made a good point!! You went to Philly.. if you went to Miami or Nashville your experience would have been much different. I can say that the Japanese in Oki are much different than the ones on Mainland. My experience has been completely different as the regions are different.

    As an American living in Japan… we are the only American family in our neighborhood within 2 kilometers. We stick out!!!! I can hear our TV from the street, my kids play outside with no shoes (shocking!!!!), and I run and play with them. So far everyone seems to have welcomed us.

    Now from an American in on Japan:

    You might think it to be gross with the shoes… but it seems to be okay to publicly pick your nose, men to urinate on the side of the road, just suddenly stop while driving to answer the phone, the curtains that are hanging outside of public restrooms never seem sanitary, squatty potties (you are standing on other’s urine), it is so expensive to travel, they use American models at stores (why???).

    With that…. I LOVE that I can let my kids play outside because it is so safe, no guns and crazy shootings, it is so beautiful here, you can order you food from a converior belt or vending machine, there is always a celebration, people are friendlier and they love my kids.

  6. I wish I could “like” comments.

    I use the “squatty potties” when necessary, but it is still an adventure every time.

    Do I take my pants all the way off?
    If my one pant leg is off, how do I stop it from touching the ground?
    I bet Japanese do this way different…
    Am I allowed to hold onto the plumbing?

    And I never truly feel satisfied when I’m done.

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